Archive for December, 2009

Bloomberg’s War

December 2, 2009

Bloomberg Declares War On Teachers

“Expect poison from standing water”

William Blake

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. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/26/education/26teachers.html?th&emc=th)

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.

Wow.

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.

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