Bloomberg Declares War On Teachers
“Expect poison from standing water”
Even coming from a man who radiates contempt and hubris toward all and sundry, Michael Bloomberg’s education speech on Thursday, November 26 in Washington D.C. was breathtaking in its ruthlessness and arrogance. Given the fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was standing at Bloomberg’s side, in effect blessing Bloomberg’s ideas, it was also as deeply disturbing as it was revealing. Rhetoric aside, for those who wonder where President Obama really stands on union busting, here’s your answer. For those who remain baffled by Obama’s refusal to lift a finger to help fellow Democrat Bill Thompson, now you know.
On education, at any rate, Mike and Barack are two peas in a pod. And as for union rights…
Contrary to the N Y Time’s highly diplomatic description of the event (“ The speech suggested the mayor may use his third term to take on the United Federation of Teachers,
“) Bloomberg’s speech was nothing short of a declaration of war against the UFT, the organization Bloomberg and his federal prosecutor-turned-chancellor-of-education, Joel Klein, have been doing their best to demonize, undermine, and implode since the mayor assumed absolute power over the NYC school system eight long and dreadful years ago. (
What Bloomberg laid out in his speech was a truncated version of his vision of a well-run school system. A well-run school system for Bloomberg is one in which the curriculum (in the form of researched-based “reading systems” and the like ) is supplied by Harcourt McMillan or some such monster conglomerate raking in millions in government contracts under the No Child Left Behind Act. A well run school system for Bloomberg is one in which subjective attributes such as knowledge and imagination and experience are replaced by the more objective and efficient “data driven systems “ already in place and increasingly central.
A well run school system for Bloomberg is one in which teachers are not really teachers but kind of low level bureaucrats/ trainers who refer to the data driven system to learn what a student knows or needs to know and then fills the student’s head with the missing data. In time, so the thinking goes, this process prepares said students to compete successfully in the ever more competitive global economy. In a well-run school system such low-level bureaucrats/ trainers have no rights and therefore no need for a union to protect their non-existent rights. Their work will be judged on an annual basis according to how well or poorly their students achieve on multiple-choice tests, a true and objective measure of both student learning and teacher/ trainer competency.
The principal in a well run school – preferably 25 -30 years old with little or no teaching experience and a graduate of Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy – should behave not like a principal — which is to say, the lead teacher — but rather like a CEO, ever mindful of the rising or falling test scores, ever vigilant for slackers, techno heresy and noncompliant thinkers of any kind.
He or she should also talk a great deal about the need for community.
In short, for Bloomberg a well-run school system looks amazingly like Bloomberg L.P., the financial software service company that Bloomberg and Bloomberg alone ruled with an iron hand and a steely eye and which earned him his billions and billions and billions of dollars.
(A true and gargantuan narcissist, just as his spiritual soul mate Robert Moses somehow came to see all human problems as transportation problems and their solution in the building of ever more bridges, highways, tunnels and so on, Mayor Mike, who somehow cornered the market on financial data, seems to see all human problems as problems of data deprivation and the solution to said problems in the implementation and deciphering of information produced by data driven systems.)
Generally speaking, Bloomberg announced that he intended to do everything possible to re-write or remove entirely key components of the union contract which provide due process, some modicum of security, and some protection against the inevitable and predictable results of Bloomberg and Klein’s reckless and irresponsible actions. The most prominant of these actions so far have been the closing of what are deemed “failing” schools, decisions which have thrown hundreds of teachers and thousands of students , willy nilly, out of their jobs and schools. At the same time that Bloomberg and Klein have given newly empowered principals every incentive to hire brand new and less expensive teachers in their stead.
The main reason for this, of course, is to save money as, naturally enough, a teacher’s salary rises in terms of their years of commitment and experience. But the move also betrays another Bloomberg/ Klein belief, however unspoken, and that is that teaching is a job that basically any damn fool can do given the proper instructions and that experience is not merely meaningless but possibly dangerous.
Another if far more subtle reason is that new teachers are not merely completely vulnerable (without tenure one can be fired at will with no recourse), they but also tend to be overwhelmed by the demands and complexities of an enormosuly complex and demanding job. As such they are far easier to terrorize and mold into data collecting/ test administrating slugs than are experienced teachers who know what they are doing, are proud of their chosen profession and mindful of human dignity, their students as well as their own.
We will, for the moment, leave aside the fact that such tests measure little more than the ability to pass such tests, have nothing to do with the true meaning of education and are completely scorned in the kinds of schools attended by the children of Mike Bloomberg and Barack Obama – a fact that that should tell you something about both the tests and the character of both Mike Bloomberg and Barack Obama.
Bloomberg and people who think like Bloomberg seem to believe that students are kind of identical empty vessels into which information and data and “strategies” can be injected or poured or somehow or other entered into their brains by a “good teacher.” No problem!
Well, there is a problem actually but the problem is not with this staggeringly ignorant approach to education nor the imbecilic tests nor the cynical demands put on teachers by politicians and other people who have not spent a solitary minute in a classroom, no. The problem is with the “bad teachers” who can’t get with the program
But Bloomberg, as laid out in his speech, has a two fold plan and it will not discriminate. He will weed out the old as well as the new, the experienced as well as the one just out of the egg.
Specifically, Bloomberg announced that, starting immediately, student test scores would be used as a factor in granting or denying tenure, a move that prior to Bloomberg’s speech was considered illegal, cannot possibly be fairly implemented and one that is opposed by just about every credible educator in the United States.
Let’s speak a moment about tenure. Contrary to the union busting propaganda machine now in place from coast to coast, tenure does not guarantee a teacher “ a job for life” nor does it create a situation in which a “teacher cannot be fired.” Tenured teachers can be and are fired if such an action is merited and an impartial board deems it necessary.
What tenure means is nothing more and nothing less than that a teacher who is being threatened with being fired has the right to due process. In other words, a tenured teacher cannot automatically lose their job because a psychotic principal — and sadly, they are legion — doesn’t like him or her. Or because said principal wants to give his or her nephew a job. Or because it is less expensive to pay a teacher straight out of college than it is to pay one whose salary accrues with experience. Or simply because they can.
Tenure is akin to the right to a fair trial. Denying someone tenure on the basis of student test scores is akin to robbing them their right to due process by the luck of the draw.( It is also in a very real sense placing incredible power into the hands of students: the power to determine who works and who doesn’t. Some might call that insanity.) The changes Bloomberg is demanding suggest that Bloomberg and Co want to break the spirit of new teachers before they know what hit them.
Only a brutal mind that knows or cares nothing of human dignity could possibly find such a situation in any way acceptable.
But, of course, if your real goal is to abolish tenure as a giant step in abolishing the teacher’s union altogether such a maneuver makes perfect sense.
Bloomberg also used the speech to urge the New York State Legislature to, in essence, abolish seniority for teachers in New York State and, in the probability of coming teacher layoff, base all decisions on who works and who gets canned on Bloomberg’s beloved “data- driven system”. Which is to say, multiple choice test scores.
Bloomberg also requested the Legislature help him in forcing teachers pay with their careers for his and Klein’s grotesques mismanagement. I refer here to the issue of so called Active Teacher Reserve pools or ATR’s which are a direct result of Bloomberg and Klein’s policy of firing all teachers from what are deemed failing schools. Bloomberg’s pal Arne Duncan, another non-educator, employed the same method during his reign as the CEO of the Chicago School system.
Think of guilt by association writ enormous.
Think of a Stalin like purge.
The UFT responded to this unprecedented barbaric idiocy by successfully demanding that the fired teachers be retained at full salary and work, if need be, as substitutes until a full time job can be found.
Meanwhile, through a combination of schemes such as the Teaching Fellows and Teach For America, and giving principals full control of their school’s budget Bloomberg’s Department of Education is doing all it can do to insure that such ATRs are never re-hired. This in turn gives Bloomberg’s pals at the New York Post and The Daily News ( who thought that Mayor Mike’s underminging of the term limits referendum a splendid idea ) the opportunity to rant and rave about the UFT costing the city millions of dollars a year by demanding that substitute teachers are paid $80,000 a year and so on. Why they might as well be welfare bums !
Of course, not a peep about the process that created their situation. And this from the original accountibility man. Bloomberg’s response to the situation he consciously manufactured and yet another request to law makers in Albany ? That teachers should have one year to find a job to replace the one that Bloomberg took from them. If they fail after one year to find work they should be terminated.
So let me phrase this another way: Bloomberg is asking the New York State Legislature to assist him in undermining the teacher’s union by eviscerating job security and due process and help in the privatization of public education – all apparently with the blessing of the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and hence, the president of the United States.
There is something strange going on here. Over the past few years, a handful of stupendously rich and ruthless individuals, people previously obsessed with earning money and gaining power over others, people apparently not giving a single strand of a dogs hair about education are suddenly obsessed with rearranging — or to use their words, “ reforming “ — the American public education system from top to bottom and across the land.
Some of these men – and they are almost all men – are Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Wal-Mart family to name a few. The fact that all but one are unelected and that none have any experience in anything but earning money and gaining power over others seems to be considered, certainly by themselves and apparently by the general public, to be irrelevant. Somehow they have the right to remake public education in America and remake it in their own image. And if they have to break the last viable union in this country, so be it. Indeed, so much the better. After all, aren’t we supposed to be preparing our students for the increasingly savage global economy in which worker rights and unions are a thing of a prehistoric age ?
It’s all about the kids, isn’t it ?
And across the land there is silence.
There is something going on here that I, for one, do not fully understand. But I cannot escape the feeling that there is more to this picture than as yet meets the eye. The more I look at this scenario, the more another scenario – one that came into full focus only after horrific damage had been done – comes to mind.
I am reminded of the disturbing fact that essentially a handful of extremely willful and narcissistic fools – Richard Pearl, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz to name a few –almost none of them elected and none with any war time experience – led a nation of 300 million by the nose into the cauldron of disgrace, and barbarism and spiritual death that is the pointless and never ending Iraq War.
I do not mean to equate the pointless slaughter of 750,000 Iraqi civilians with the brutal machinations of Mike Bloomberg and Arne Duncan and the rest of the erstwhile educational reformers, however ugly and intellectually dishonest they are. No teacher will be killed in this struggle. No neighborhood will be blown to smithereens. No children will be forever maimed or tramatized by a policy of “shock and awe.”
But at the same time there should be no mistaking that a war has indeed begun and has begun not by declaration and open debate, nor by honest discourse by honorable souls, nor the will of the people. It has begun by stealth and the will of a few insidious individuals whose experience in such matters is zero and whose motives are to say the very least, suspect.
And let there be no mistaking that, depending on the events of the coming months, that there will be casualties. Lives might well be destroyed, if not physically then economically and spiritually. Thousands, perhaps millions of American children may well grow up with the pathetic illusion that to be educated is not to wrestle with the ghosts of Dostoevsky and Emily Dickenson but to pass multiple choice tests.
And surely that is some kind of slaughter.
And for what ?
For what ?
Bloomberg has declared war. So be it. I , for one, am up for the fight.