Posts Tagged ‘Cathie Black’

Cathie Black Emails Shine a Light onto Bloomberg and Education Reform

May 4, 2013
Mike and Cathie before the inevitable.

Mike and Cathie before the inevitable.

Despite his every effort to keep the public from knowing the process of how a key public appointment affecting millions was made, the emails surrounding Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s ludicrous decision to appoint Cathie Black Chancellor of Education of the city of New York are here, at long last, for public scrutiny. One can easily understand why Bloomberg wanted to keep these words far from the public eye.
While there is no “smoking gun “ as Diane Ravitch has opined, there is ample (and tedious) evidence of the sheer shamelessness, arrogance, superficiality and abject cynicism at the heart of Bloomberg’s education policy. Consider the main thrust of the emails: in an appointment that was to affect the lives of a million children and their families, 85,000 teachers, and 14,000 schools reaching into every community in every corner of New York City, the people the Bloomberg administration seeks approval from are not parents or educators or community leaders or any one who will be affected by the move, but celebrities such as Oprah Winfry and pseudo political icons like Gloria Steinem and clueless Caroline Kennedy. (The name of Ivana Trump comes up as well but even the Bloomberg Administration, as disconnected from reality as they are, understood that an endorsement from Ivana might be going a bit too far. )

Indeed, they proved to be the only people Bloomberg reached out to. This suggests, among other dark thoughts occasioned by the emails, that the rich and famous are the only kind of people who matter, or, are in any meaningful way, real to Bloomberg. The rest of us are here to be manipulated, bullied, charmed by celebrities, purchased or simply ignored.
Here you have the minions of the mayor of New York, he who has billed himself the “education mayor”, he who challenged New Yorkers to judge him by how he handles our schools, twisting and torturing their words in email after email in their sad attempts to please their boss and fool the public into believing an insulting absurdity: that Cathie Black, publisher of glossy magazines, was a “visionary” and uniquely qualified to run the largest school system in the United States despite the fact that she had not 30 seconds of educational experience.

Reading this crap, one almost feels embarrassed for these shills. Almost. But then I remember what was at stake here.

The voice of Bloomberg or his speechwriter is heard only in an official letter to then New York State Education Commissioner David Sterner requesting a special wavier for the absurdly unqualified Black. (It should be noted that all three of Bloomberg’s selections for Chancellor required special waivers, which has to be some kind of record.) To his eternal shame, Steiner, son of the great literary critic George Steiner, granted Bloomberg’s request but only after stipulating that a special position be created to assist Black, thereby simultaneously admitting her utter lack of qualifications. Such are the risible decisions one encounters in the Age of Plutocracy.

To be fair to Bloomberg and to put Black in context, Bloomberg was merely implementing a staple of “education reformer” dogma: the insistence that knowledge and experience in education is irrelevant and perhaps even an impediment to bold new thinking that will allow our young ones to compete in the ever more savage global workplace– even if the bold new thinking is an eerie mirror of 19th century production line regimentation in new high tech disguise. Teach For America, NYC Leadship Academy , Eli Broads’ Superintendent Academies are all founded on this reckless notion. (An unspoken corollary seems to be that the higher you are catapulted in the field of education, the less experience you need. Consider non-educator Arne Duncan running Obama’s Department of Education) Excluding Duncan, Black was merely the most obscene and inept example of this foolishness.
And foolishness and cynicism of all kinds can be found all over these emails.
They are beyond sad. They are chilling in their casual indifference to truth and pathetic in their groveling after celebrity. They are also important as they are revealing of a very, very sad and dangerous state of affairs but in that revelation lay the hard, hard road out.

Read them for yourself:


Bloomberg Thwarted As Court Allows the Release of Cathie Black Emails

May 2, 2013
Mike and Cathie: Together Again

Mike and Cathie: Together Again

We will soon know some inside skinny about the day-to-day antics of Cathie Black, Mike Bloomberg’s preposterous replacement for the egregious federal prosecutor turned school chancellor, Joel Klein. Black’s 100 day pseudo reign as chancellor, no matter how well choreographed was nothing short of a spectacle, especially when Black chaired Bloomberg’s grotesque Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) where she was proved incapable of answering even the most basic questions and was openly jeered like I’ve seen no other public official openly jeered. More than any other maneuver by the little mayor, appointing the clueless Black to run the largest school system in America spotlighted “Education Mayor” Bloomberg’s oceanic arrogance and ignorance concerning any thing to do with education. More, Black soon became to Bloomberg what Bernie Kerik became to Rudy Giuliani — the person who called into very, very serious question either man’s basic judgment. It was only a matter of time before Bloomberg discarded poor Cathie like a used tissue, replacing her with the equally clueless Dennis Wolcott who, unlike Cathie, has mastered the art of appearing to be thoughtful and knowledgeable without actually being so.

There is a reason Bloomberg fought like hell to keep these email under wraps. The emails should be a hoot and will doubtless serve to further discredit both Bloomberg personally as well as the Department of Education he has renamed, run and ruined for over a decade. Bloomberg and has minions have hounded and degraded NYC public school teachers for what feels like forever under the pretence of holding them accountable even for things for which they can never be responsible, like the extreme poverty so many of their students grow up in. In doing so Bloomberg has made the working life of every teacher in New York city a pointless misery and has driven many fine educators right out of the field.
Bloomberg was unquestionably responsible for the appointment of Cathie Black. Let Bloomberg be held accountable. For once, let Bloomberg be held accountable.

Looking forward to a good read. And to watching Bloomberg squirm.

See article below.
Bloomberg Loses Final Appeal to Keep Emails Secret
By Nick Pinto Thu., May 2 2013 at 3:10 PM 1 Comment
Categories: Bloomberg, Courts, Secrets

All legal avenues exahusted, Bloomberg must make public emails concerning the hiring of Cathie Black.
Mayor Bloomberg’s fight to keep emails concerning the hiring Cathie Black, whose catastrophic career as school chancellor lasted all of 100 days, has finally ended, and Bloomberg has lost.
The story stretches back to 2010, when Sergio Hernandez, then a Village Voice intern, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for emails related to Black’s hiring. The city first delayed, then refused. Hernandez appealed, and the city refused again. So he sued, represented pro bono by Schlam Stone & Dolan, and he won.

But the Bloomberg administration really didn’t want to let those emails see the light of day; it spent upwards of $25,000 in taxpayer funds fighting the case, appealing to succesively higher courts, consistently losing every time.

Finally, today, the state’s highest court declined to hear the final appeal. The city will have to abide by the initial ruling, which called the city’s arguments “particularly specious” and “wholly devoid of merit,” and required it to turn over the emails to Hernandez within 15 days.

A call to the New York City Law Department was not returned by the time this was posted — we’ll update when we receive their comment.

For his part, Hernandez, who now works as senior business editor for The Week and as a freelance contributor for ProPublica, says he welcomes the court’s denial of Bloomberg’s appeal. “This is their last stop,” he said. “It’s a relief to finally have it over with. I’ll be curious to see what’s in the emails.”
He told the Voice he intends to write about what he finds, and is talking with news outlets interested in publishing what he writes.

[] [@macfathom]

Go to Runnin’ Scared for all our latest news coverage.

There Can Be No Change Under the Reign Of Bloomberg (Except In Ourselves )

April 15, 2011

In a sense, insofar as she so perfectly embodied the hubris, idiocy and recklessness of so much of the education reform campaign and particularly the educational vision of Mike R. Bloomberg, I, for one, am sorry to see the back of Cathie Black.  Of course, she was appalling and an embarrassment to an entire city.  But that misses the point.

No matter how hard Bloomberg and his trained seals tried, Black, unlike Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein or Arne Duncan or Chris Christie, could not be somehow transformed into an heroic figure fearlessly taking on all powerful teacher’s unions, the status quo, and the selfish teachers; those evil foes who were not only damaging the nation’s children (thus hindering them from “winning the future”),  but bankrupting the American economy to boot.

Even aside from her tasteless public comments there was something in Cathie that people could not stomach.  More to the point, there was something so grotesque and so obscene about Bloomberg naming Black the Chancellor of Education and then doing whatever it is that Bloomberg does to bend people to his will to secure Black a waiver that disgusted those generally indifferent to politics. I heard astounded reactions from people who never gave a thought to education before.   And to some extent it galvanized them.   Black’s mere presence at Bloomberg’s insulting Panel For Educational Policy meetings (in which a panel dominated by Bloomberg zombies would pretend to listen to the heartfelt testimonies of parents, teachers, students and community activists before rubber stamping whatever Bloomberg had ordered) created an instant carnival atmosphere where the hapless Black sat like a mute queen, now haughty, now pouting, in silence, surrounded by her praetorian guard (including Dennis Walcott) absorbing heaps of abuse, wholly incapable of answering even the most basic questions of policy.  Her most memorable moment at such “panels” was mimicking the sound of the crowd who jeered when Black protectors grabbed their mics to answer yet another question asked of Black and Black scolded her questioners.

Such moments were at once surreal, illuminating and emancipating. They exposed, as much or more than the most well crafted argument, the idiot logic guiding not merely Bloomberg but all the well heeled narcissistic imbeciles whose imaginations are so paralyzed and egos so bloated that they believe to the core of their beings that corporate business people (like themselves) have somehow attained the highest form of human intelligence and therefore that all human institutions — libraries, hospitals, governments, schools, whatever  –should be  subordinated to the corporate business model.

Like no one else, on an almost daily basis, Black revealed this thinking to be the insanity that it is.   More, as Mike Bloomberg was surely the only man in the entire world who would even consider a person as stunningly unqualified as Black to be the Chancellor of Education for the City of New York, Black revealed Mike Bloomberg to be an arrogant fool.

This, of course, was her undoing. As Bernie Kerik instantly became to Bloomberg’s predecessor Rudy Giuliani the moment people outside of Giuliani’s orbit looked into him, so Cathie Black was daily becoming to Bloomberg:  an embarrassment that called Bloomberg’s  very  judgment into glaring, garish question.

So in the blink of an eye, dilettante “super star manager” Cathie Black was out and soft spoken Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott in. One might think such a self-created disaster as Black would humble a man, at least for the moment.  But not Bloomberg.  Not even for  a moment. Even as he was stating that he “ accepted full responsibility” for the Black debacle, he  sounded pissed that he actually had to say such stuff.   Lost in the shock of the announcement   was the fact that Bloomberg proved again that he is incapable of learning anything as he pulled the same stunt with Walcott that he pulled with Black.

The first sign that nothing will change under Dennis Walcott was the process of selecting Dennis Walcott. Which is to say, there was no process.    There was no search, no consultation with the United Federation of Teachers, no  reaching out to parents, no discussion whatsoever with anyone anywhere over who should replace the disastrous Black and assume responsibility for the education of over one million children in a school system that, from the inside, feels as if it is being held together with dental floss.

Walcott is the man and that is that.  Such is life under the reign of Bloomberg. As both Diane Ravich and Noah Gotbaum have pointed out Bloomberg treats the public schools as if they are his private property to do with as he will.   Many, including friends, have greeted Walcott’s selection with something approximating approval. At any rate, there has been none of the incredulity that came with the selection of Black and remained with her for every one of her 96 days as chancellor. A great deal is being made of Walcott’s public school education, his two years teaching kindergarten, his grandchildren in the system and the fact that he does not need to be surrounded by four deputy chancellors lest some one ask him a policy question. Such banter reveals far more about how thoroughly Bloomberg has degraded the position of chancellor than it does any thing about the qualifications of Dennis Walcott to bear it. Indeed, just like Bloomberg’s  previous selections for chancellor, Walcott does not have the  qualifications.

If anyone has any doubts about why Wolcott was selected, just look at the reception he has received from those who have spent the last decade trying to destroy the public school system any way they can. Geoffrey Canada,  president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone — he who pays the children in his program do do their homework —   and as such a corporate confidence man extraordinaire, called Walcott a “brilliant choice,” adding, “I feel terrific about it.”  Former Chancellor Joel Klein currently employed as CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s   News Corporation Education Division called Walcott “a superb selection” and “ a fighter for kids.”

I, for one, disagree.  I, for one do not hold Walcott’s selection to be a good thing excepting, perhaps, for Bloomberg whom Walcott will certainly fight for.   While it is true that Dennis Walcott is, by all accounts, an intelligent and amiable fellow and one conversant with the nuts and bolts of the Department of Education, while it is true that long ago and far away he worked in the Urban League, while its true he is now declaring that the school system is “ all about a partnership,”  the greater truth is that Dennis Walcott is  Mike Bloomberg’s  stooge.

After faithfully serving  Bloomberg for nine years no man in New York has more intimate knowledge than Dennis Walcott as to what happens to any Bloomberg appointee who dares to think with his  or her own mind, who dares to speak his or her own opinion: who dares, that is,  to be a free and dignified  human being.

Dennis Walcott is more aware than anyone in New York what he has got himself into.  And Dennis Walcott, for whatever reason, has willingly accepted that role. Anyone who believes the replacement of   Black with Walcott will make an iota of difference that is beneficial to students, teachers and the school system is delusional.

What Bloomberg has been permitted to do is shocking and deeply disturbing.  Or, at any rate, it should be shocking and deeply disturbing.  In nine years Bloomberg has  degraded the political landscape of New York so thoroughly that he has rendered the Chancellorship of Education either irrelevant or a joke. While Bloomberg reigns it does not matter who is chancellor. Klein, Black Walcott, whomever,  they are all there to play dummy to Bloomberg’s ventriloquist and they all know that the minute they speak their own mind is the minute their fates are sealed. What’s worse is millions of New Yorkers know this too and somehow it is accepted. Such is the degraded state of our “democracy.”  Indeed, if Bloomberg had any integrity at all he would simply eliminate the position of Chancellor for the duration of his term (if, indeed, his term ever ends) and save the taxpayers the salary of this now ceremonial position.

How many teachers can be hired on a chancellor’s salary?

There is something diabolical   about Bloomberg.  He specializes in corrupting  people by successful appeals to their basest impulses. Of course, all such  appeals would be unthinkable without his absurd  wealth.  Consider City Counsel speaker Christine Quinn. No matter how long she lives Quinn will have to live with the horrible truth that she helped undermine the political will of millions and millions of New Yorkers when she helped orchestrate Bloomberg’s illegal and legally singular third term. And she should live with it.  And she should be reminded of her treacherous and cowardly act every day.

Consider New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner, the son of the great literary critic George Steiner, who must live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he allowed Mike Bloomberg to somehow persuade him to throw his integrity  to the gutter when he approved non-educator Cathie Black’s waiver to be chancellor with the preposterous stipulation that the job of  “chief academic officer “  — i.e. someone who actually knew something about schools — be created to work beside her.  Steiner had to know that what he was doing was wrong if not out right grotesques.  Nonetheless, like Quinn Steiner  debased himself to do Bloomberg’s bidding.  And by dancing the humiliating dance Bloomberg demanded both did irreparable harm not only to their souls, but also   betrayed the people they swore to serve.

Nothing will change for the better with Walcott. Indeed, Walcott will be far more effective in pushing through Bloomberg’s  agenda of total destruction all the time than Cathie Black could ever dream about. He’s already begun.  Speaking before last Friday’s City Council hearing on the mayor’s preliminary operating budget Walcott made the extremely dubious claim that, “By any measure the gains our students have made in recent years have been extraordinary – far outpacing the rest of the State and cities across the nation.”

As a New York City teacher I have no idea  what Walcott can possibly be referring to here —  but the  language is extremely reminiscent  of   Bloomberg’s  and Klein’s  when they were crowing before Congress about the since-debunked  miraculous gains for  New York students under their  since-debunked miraculous  leadership.

Walcott dutifully went on to channel two other Bloomberg fallacies.  The first was how the city had no choice but to lay off teachers, a claim thrice publicly contradicted by Governor Andrew Cuomo who is no friend of teachers.    The second, offered with no evidence whatsoever from this data loving contingent, was how seniority laws (or LIFO as they are now moronically called) are depriving children of their most “effective”  teachers.

In short, on the part of the DOE nothing has changed, and as long as Bloomberg is mayor nothing will change — least of all Bloomberg. He simply doesn’t  have the moral strength to change or admit he’s  wrong about anything.   Bloomberg  is a free market utopian as impervious to reality as was Milton Friedman if somewhat nastier in his manner.

When he first arrived at City Hall and for some time afterward, Bloomberg repeatedly stated that he wished to be judged on how dealt with education, which was, in fairness to Bloomberg, in many ways, a mess.    For a while, Bloomberg successfully fooled many into thinking that his almost yearly reorganizations, “data based instruction”, high stakes testing, school closings and championing of charter schools were actually making things better rather than just different for New York City students.   This began to change with news of the fraudulent or grossly inflated testing scores and evidence of  doctored graduation rates. Confidence in Bloomberg’s handling of schools went further south with his ridiculous  selection of Black and further still with Black’s darkly comical impersonation of a chancellor of education.

Even as blind  a narcissist as Michael Bloomberg must by this point know that if he is judged by his handling of the schools he would be judged – at the very best — a mediocrity and by many, in fact most, a failure.  (Most NYC teachers, I am convinced, would rank Bloomberg as a catastrophe, a point, I am equally convinced, that would not bother Bloomberg in the least.)

I believe Bloomberg’s  response to his failure  is to spend the remainder of his term accelerating  what he and his fellow “reformers” across the USA have been doing for a decade now:  altering the public school system beyond recognition, setting it up for failure, hastening its demise and setting in motion its rescue by corporate America. This requires the destruction of the UFT, whose power Bloomberg has been undermining since his arrival at City Hall.  All pretense of a working partnership between Bloomberg’s DOE and the UFT is now laughable. Bloomberg would love to leave office as the man who destroyed the teacher’s union.  He’d love that even if that meant, as it would, that teachers could be fired at the whim of any psychotic principal, that the profession would be degraded beyond recognition, that generation of students would be subjected to nothing but test prep.  No matter.  Power has made Bloomberg stranger, crueler, and dumber.   Bloomberg has moved past being reckless and is now so ruthless he is seemingly willing to unnecessarily lay off thousands and thousands of teachers to try and alter public opinion on seniority laws and get his way.

This is sick.

And, if it is not, it should be criminal.

What to do?

Appealing to a figurehead like Dennis Walcott is a waste of time and energy.    The combination of the power of Bloomberg’s obscene wealth   and Bloomberg’s ruthless policies are something not seen for a long, long time if ever before in American politics.   As such they call for a different kind of response, a different method of fighting, some way of not allowing this man to totally degrade our political system and totally destroy our school system before handing it over to his pals in the “free market.”

Bloomberg cannot change.  We must. What we have been doing has not worked.  It may mean massive acts of civil disobedience and massive amounts of consequent arrests.  It may mean sick-outs on a scale unseen in New York history.  It may mean something not yet imagined to match the almost unimaginable reality we are living, in which the richest man in New York is running New York with dictatorial control over almost every aspect of its school system.  This is disgraceful.  This is insane.  We need to figure out how we got here and how we allowed this.   We need to figure out how to get out of here and how to transcend this.  We need to figure out how to keep people as venal and vicious as Michael Bloomberg as far away from political power as legally possible.

Iris Blige and Bloomberg’s DOE: Beyond Good and Evil

February 15, 2011

Can there be any morally acceptable or professional reason why Mike Bloomberg’s Department of Education has not fired Iris Blige, the Bronx principal who ordered her assistant principals to write damningly false evaluations of almost a dozen teachers in order to fire them ?  Can there be any situation in which such unconscionable and vile attempts to destroy the careers of fellow professionals would be considered worthy of nothing more than a fine?

Can there be any other way of perceiving an act that debased and degraded the assistant principals Blige reduced to her stooges other than as a monstrous abuse of power and public trust?  Can anyone think of any profession —  other than  teaching in the present age of  their demonization —   in which such disgusting behavior would not lead to immediate dismissal?

Consider these facts.

The aforementioned charges against Blige were substantiated after a two-year investigation by the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) , hardly  an organization hostile to principals or friendly to teachers. For a teacher, an annual unsatisfactory rating (or U rating) is not merely an extremely negative  judgment of  their teaching ability, it  is increasingly used   to begin  the  process of a teacher’s termination.  In short, it is an extremely serious matter – that much the more so when Bloomberg and Bloomberg’s minions are spending enormous amounts of energy trying to find new ways to fire teachers. (read more here).

Indeed, in the relationships between a teacher and a principal, I can scarcely think of any act more venal than those that Blige ordered.   And Iris Blige ordered this act to be done again and again and again against people whose sole fault, apparently, lay in the fact that Iris Blige, public servant, did not like them.   Therefore she set out  to destroy them.

And how does Mike Bloomberg’s DOE react to this horrific betrayal of public trust ? How does Mike Bloomberg’s DOE respond to this grotesque and terrifying abuse of authority?

It responds thusly: Iris Blige — who earns at the very least $132, 000 per annum – was fined $7, 500 – or less than $1000 for every teacher’s life she  attempted to destroy.

More. Somehow, despite these appalling revelations, the DOE found Blige fit to continue on as principal of Fordham High School of the Arts where her reign of terror  took place.

Nor are the orders Blige gave the only professional marks against this  educator. Blige is apparently so unbearable as a supervisor that few can stand working under her for long.  More than 100 teachers and 11 assistant principals have walked in five years.   Nor has such an atrocious reputation escaped the attention of either the upper echelon of the DOE or the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the latter of which held an anti-Blige rally outside the school that drew no less than 400 educators, parents and students and more than 30 UFT chapter leaders.

Thus it is safe to say that the gloriously destructive career of  Iris Blige has hardly been under the radar.

Given all this, it is extremely difficult for a person of good faith to make sense of the DOE’s decision to merely fine Blige and allow her to continue on in her position.

You might think the DOE would consider Blige a tremendous embarrassment, that much the more so as she is a product (a more appropriate word than “graduate) of the New York City Leadership Academy, the insidious institution created by Bloomberg to  fashion an army of  instant principals who are meant to impose the “business model” on the schools they are given.  You might think that the DOE and Bloomberg himself would use the horrific example of Blige to highlight exactly the kind of unprofessional behavior that brings disgrace upon the school  system, exactly the kind of vicious role model that is ruining the morals of the youth of America.

And all that.

But if you were thinking such thoughts, such thoughts would serve to reveal to you only how great is the distance between your thinking and that of the DOE under the dictatorship of Mayor Mike Bloomberg.   Make no  mistake about it:  a decision of this import,  of this  level of  controversy, of this degree of outright, naked  contempt for  teachers across the city would never have been made without the approval if  not the instigation of  Michael R. Bloomberg.

Consider it part of a pattern.  Just as Bloomberg had a golden opportunity to show teachers and parents a modicum of  respect and good will by hiring a educator to replace the much loathed former prosecutor  Joel Klein as Chancellor  of Education but choose instead  the clueless and haughty magazine publisher Cathie Black, so too with Iris Blige was Bloomberg  presented with an opportunity to, at the very least,  indicate that he and his DOE believed in fair play and some modicum of  professional behavior and decency.

But in neither case was it to be.

Instead, Bloomberg and his DOE used both opportunities to deliver the same not so    subtle, appallingly anti-democratic message: I,  Bloomberg, will do  as I will, when I will, to whom I will. If people disagree, it is only because they are inferior; if   innocent people are hurt in implementation of my ideas, such is the price of progress and in the end I will be proven right.  I, Bloomberg,  reign over this city and dwell in the region beyond good and evil and I, Bloomberg,  will purchase or destroy anyone and anything that dares to get in the way of what I, Bloomberg, know is right.

Both Cathie Black and Iris Blige are less messengers of Michael Bloomberg than they are messages in human form.  Their purpose is to serve in the greater glorification of Mike Bloomberg by doing their respective bits in the undermining and  dismantling of the public school system and its replacement by private corporations. Matters of  truth, fair play, and the common good  are of absolutely no relevance in the world in which they have chosen to dwell, in the game in which they have been chosen to play their parts.  There is only power and powerlessness. And in  Bloomberg’s world there is only one person who should have power.

There was no reason for the selection of Cathie Black as Chancellor of education other than to allow Mike Bloomberg to declare his God-like powers over the city of New York and his sea-like indifference to the concerns and beliefs of those affected by his decisions, especially educators and parents.    There is no reason for Iris Blige to continue working as a principal after attempting to ruin the lives  of  innocent teachers other than to allow Mike Bloomberg to let every   teacher in this city know how little he and the DOE  —  his DOE –  really think  of their work, no matter who they are, no matter what quality of their  teaching.

Such are sick and sad conclusions, but sad and sick are the fools we have permitted  to take power. No matter what walk of life we are in, no matter where we work or what we do, Iris Blige is a message that we ignore at our own peril. My fear is great and grows greater by the week that if we do not as a nation awaken and find some way to stand up to the forces bent on rendering us powerless, we will wake sooner than we think in a world so intellectually and spiritually barren as to be beyond recognition.

Aftermath of the Great Walk Out: The Mighty Bloomberg Reduced to a Scold

February 7, 2011

In his never ending quest to remake New York City Public Schools in his own image, Mayor Mike Bloomberg began last week in one pose and ended it in a strikingly different and far weaker one.

On Sunday last Bloomberg was on the offensive, lashing out and acting essentially as a  political terrorist: on Friday, Bloomberg was babbling on the radio, an incoherent scold.  What happened in between – a mass walkout of UFT members and parents from one of Bloomberg’s signal educational institutions, the mockingly undemocratic Panel for Educational Policy   — was the nearest thing to an uprising that Bloomberg has yet encountered.

And hopefully the first of  many, many more.

One week ago today Mayor Mike Bloomberg entered the Christian Cultural Center in Flatlands Brooklyn, and delivered a divide and conquer, union bashing doomsday sermon that warned of laying off  15,000 newer teachers due to massive cuts in the state budget.


The New York Times billed the “bluntly worded speech” as Bloomberg’s  “first major confrontation” with Governor Cuomo. I disagree.  I would categorize the speech  as nothing short of a political terrorist attack designed to do nothing  other than to strike fear into the hearts of newer teachers across the city, the better to turn them against their union.

Bloomberg  was demanding Cuomo use the financial meltdown orchestrated by the mayor’s   Wall Street pals and the governor’s Wall Street allies   to somehow justify eradicating the state rule protecting the seniority rights of teachers and other civil servants.  Taking a page directly from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Bloomberg self –righteously insisted Cuomo use the completely unrelated financial crisis to radically re arrange or remove a state rule  that provides some modicum of   security and dignity to   the 80,000 professionals who have dedicated themselves to educating our  children.


It is for the children, of course, that the seniority rule  is  to be abolished,  for Mike Bloomberg ( like Michele Rhee, Bill Gates, Eli Broad  and the Wal-Mart family and other prominent education reformers  ) is always putting children first.

A big part,  indeed, the biggest part, of putting children first for Bloomberg and his fellow reformers is stripping teachers of all rights, all due process,  all say in how they should do their jobs.   Oh, yes, and destroying their unions.   For Bloomberg, a perfect world would be one in which  teachers would work in perpetual  competition with   an ever enlarging army of fellow teachers, the younger and less experienced the better, forever attempting to prove their “merit” by raising their  students  scores on standardized bubble tests. The winners of the perpetual competition would get to keep their jobs another year or so.

Of course, Bloomberg cannot say that.  What Bloomberg says instead is that he  wants the seniority rule abolished so that his Department of Education “can take merit into account when making these difficult decisions”  about  teacher layoffs.

What Bloomberg knows is that abolishing seniority will be a major step in giving   principals what Bloomberg wants them to have: the right to  fire anyone they feel like firing for any reason they feel like  firing them for.

Bloomberg also knows that there is no credible method of evaluation in place to measure what he calls “merit.”

Most importantly, Bloomberg knows that the public has no idea that there is no credible method of evaluation in place and would naturally assume that the mayor of New York would not insinuate there was one if there wasn’t one.

But there isn’t.

He knows too that, due to “principal  empowerment”, a Bloomberg scheme that gave principals full control over their budgets,   the negation of   seniority would give principals every financial incentive to fire teachers with experience, and replace them with cheaper, more malleable novices.

Again, Bloomberg  knows that, by and large,  the public has absolutely no idea of such insidious incentives and that most parents would be as appalled as the ones who walked out of  Bloomberg’s PEP hearing at such treatment of their kid’s teachers if they found out.

Rest assured Mike Bloomberg is not about to tell them.

What he will do and in fact did was insinuate that there was a great injustice afoot, both to teachers and to students, and possibly a little racism as well.

The injustice was as follows: due to seniority rules, some of these 15,000  newly hired teachers would lose their jobs despite their great work.  Bloomberg offered not a single shred of evidence, nor a single digit of his beloved data to back up this assertion, which is quite astonishing when you think about the fact that it is with data that this man accumulated his 20 billion dollars.

But then again, maybe not.

Like a skilled terrorist,  Bloomberg was appealing not  to reason but to the  base impulses of selfishness, fear and survival.

There is, in all probability, a small truth in Bloomberg’s statement.  If layoffs,  indeed, were to occur, especially in the massive numbers that Bloomberg threatened, some good or at least potentially good newly hired teachers would lose their jobs.  That’s sad.  And in a perfect world that  would not happen. But that’s the trade off with all seniority rules everywhere.  Seniority is an imperfect solution in an imperfect world created to do several very good things.  It is meant to make arbitrary, capricious dismissal due to one’s race, creed, political views or the fact that  some 24 year old Leadership Academy principal doesn’t like your face, more difficult.  Seniority is also meant to reward dedication to an extremely difficult and taxing profession.   Lastly,  it is meant to provide some modicum of job security in a world in which, pathetically, job security is rapidly going the way of the pterodactyl.

Before the advent and apotheosis of  what Diane Ravitch calls the “Billionaire Boys Club”   ( Bill Gates, Eli Broad,  Wal-Mart family and etc) , those wacky  unelected, unaccountable fellows who,  despite never spending  a single moment teaching are force feeding their moronic ideas on an entire generation of  students and teachers,

it was commonly assumed among people that actually knew what they were talking about that teaching was an art that, no matter what your natural abilities, took years to master.

There are those, and Mike Bloomberg is  surely among them, who would like to see that wisdom too go the way of the pterodactyl. After all, this is the guy who after burdening New York with the catastrophic  chancellorship of prosecutor  Joel Klein,  thought it was a good  idea to follow up that act with publishing executive Cathie Black.

There is a similar message in both of these contemptuous selections and in Bloomberg’s self-righteous indignation over the hypothetical tragic young victims of   seniority: educating is so simple one can do it right out of the egg.    Indeed, one can instruct 80,000 licensed and certified teachers on how to  teach straight out of the egg.

Bloomberg then implied that  not only would these poor young teachers unfairly suffer but  so would their charges in the poorer, high need schools  and neighborhoods where they worked.  As poor neighborhoods tend to be neighborhoods of  people of  color, Bloomberg also seemed to be implying that seniority was not  only unfair, it was somehow racist.

“ The mayor, “ said The New York Times”, told the congregation that state cuts to New York City’s education budget, cuts he has said could reach $1 billion, would disproportionately hurt poor neighborhoods, where schools tend to have the newest teachers because of high turnover.”

Note:  As Bloomberg well knows, poor neighborhoods do not have the newest teachers because of high turnover but because of programs such as the New York City Teaching Fellows which has a policy, dubious indeed if not outright reckless, of deliberately placing the least trained, least experienced, least qualified teachers into the schools with the highest needs.   I know this because I am a New York City Teaching Fellow and I was placed in exactly that situation. Imagine the outcry if a similar policy were implemented by the FDNY or the NYPD.

So much for putting children first.

“So we have to really do something about this,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Across this city, layoffs would send exactly the wrong message to our kids. You know, we tell them, ‘Work hard, play by the rules, you can rise as far as your talents can take you.’ And yet Albany rules say that when it comes to teaching, talent doesn’t matter, results don’t matter.”

This is truly rich.

The Times makes no mention of the congregation’s reaction to Bloomberg’s speech but one would like to think there was at least one extra high volume echoing horse laugh when the Mayor who contemptuously ignored the will of millions of New Yorkers who voted for term limits, spoke of playing by the rules at the very moment that he was, in fact, arguing to change yet other rules that were in his way.

Ultra rich.

As stated above, contrary to the Times, I do not believe Bloomberg’s weasel-worded address was aimed anywhere near Albany. Bloomberg knows you don’t affect change in Albany by talking to families in a church in Brooklyn.      I believe the overriding purpose of Bloomberg’s speech was an attempt to turn every newly hired teacher in the city  against their union which, like every union worth its salt, unequivocally supports seniority.  I believe that  Bloomberg was attempting nothing less than to help cause a generational rift in the NYC teaching corps, the better to divide and conquer.   (For more of this, see my earlier post on Educators 4 Excellence, an execrable organization funded by Bill Gates and others for the sole purpose of union busting. The DOE has helped them along by allowing the two founders to work as teachers but one day a week.  Sweet! )

Bloomberg’s insinuations were base, divisive and dishonest no matter how you looked at them but information released to the public two days later made them that much the  more so.     Two days after Bloomberg’s speech, Governor Cuomo released a budget proposal that called for cuts of 2.9 % and made it clear that there was nothing in the proposed state budget that would require local layoffs.   Is there anyone in this city not employed by or otherwise beholden to Michael Bloomberg who believes that a man as obsessed with data and power as is Bloomberg did not have this information before he stepped into the pulpit to deliver his speech?

If so, how else to categorize Bloomberg’s actions than as an act of low life political terrorism?  And mark this:  judging at least from the newer teachers in my own school, Bloomberg succeeded in scaring some of them out of their wits.

And lest we forget, Mayor Bloomberg gave this divisive, dishonest   address on a Sunday  in a house of God.

Did no one walk out? The Times does not say.

Tuesday night brought Bloomberg the first of two  rubber stamp Panel for Educational Policy Hearings (PEP) which, despite overwhelming opposition from parents, teachers, community activists and elected officials, ended  predictably with all of Bloomberg’s appointees voting for every school closing and every charter school co-location requested by the DOE, including one in my own school.

If anyone were seeking concrete evidence of how thoroughly contemptuous Mike Bloomberg is of the democratic process and the people of New York, they could do no better than to attend a PEP hearing or cast an eye on how it’s comprised. Of the thirteen members of the panel, eight  are selected by Bloomberg with the understanding that they are to be his puppets, a role in which they happily oblige.  Refusal to obey Bloomberg leads to an immediate firing.  In 2004, Bloomberg  summarily  sacked panel appointees critical of his plan requiring students to earn a minimum score on state exams before being promoted. Not surprisingly, panel members have  never voted down a school closing, a co-location   or any significant policy requested  by Bloomberg. When state lawmakers required the mayor to appoint two parents to the panel, Bloomberg selected two who head  organizations with financial ties to his philanthropy.

Yes, this really is New York, not Bucharest.

Borough presidents select five members.  It is only within these that there is any integrity.

An absolute travesty, as has been every other PEP of the past nine years, the Tuesday night “hearing” dragged on for five and one half hours. This gave me plenty of time to observe the distinguished panel and consider how foolish were those who believed, in Bloomberg’s  first campaign all those years ago, that the same obscene wealth that would keep Bloomberg from being bought would somehow keep Bloomberg from buying others —  and buying them by the dozen.

Twenty billion dollars in the hands of a complete narcissist with limitless political ambitions is as toxic to a body politic as you can get.   And New Yorkers  have been getting it for nine years now.

The Tuesday night PEP was notable for three things.  The first was  the level that charter school mogul Eva Moskowitz would stoop to when she bussed in, fed, and robed in orange tee shirts  hundreds of parents and a small army of five and six year olds. Child after child after child was sent  up to the mic to praise   her ever expanding empire.

It was creepy.

The second was the now infamous incident where an extraordinarily haughty Cathie Black, four hours into the phony hearing, mocked the audience in an open mic before delivering a boilerplate rational for closing schools.

The third and far  most important thing was that for the first time, and none too soon, one saw real rumblings of rebellion against the entire insulting process.  The scorn for Black, and indeed, it for all of the panel members except those not chosen by Bloomberg was  palpable and ceaseless. Elected official after elected official decried the process.   Angry shouts of  “Fraud!”  echoed through the auditorium as the  panel members read their verdicts.

Thursday night brought the second PEP hearing of the week and the great walk out.

References to the events in Egypt were heard again and again. Some invisible line had clearly been crossed.  Outright rebellion was in the very air.

And how does Mike Bloomberg respond to thousands of people at last rejecting his contempt and his phony hearings? At last demanding a real democratic process?

Mike Bloomberg responds as if speaking of and to disobedient children.

Mike Bloomberg scolds them.

Then, for good measure, he calls them an embarrassment to the  country.

“This is not democracy, letting people yell and scream,” Mayor Bloomberg said on WOR’s  John Gambling radio show. “It’s embarrassing for New York City, New York State, for America.”


Note above the same bizarre disconnect  that Bloomberg displayed in his weasly attack on  seniority   where  he  spoke of  changing the rules for  those who played by the rules.  In the same manner, Bloomberg seems to believe that    stacking a public body with stooges and staging pretend  hearings with pre-ordained results is   somehow a perfectly acceptable  part of a democratic process.

Bloomberg then veers not only into slang  ( “ dissing ?”)  but  into absolute incoherence.

“When you’re yelling at a meeting like they had last night, you’re yelling at the teachers, you’re dissing them, you’re dissing the principals, you’re dissing the school safety officers, you’re dissing the custodians, you’re dissing the taxpayers paying for it,” Bloomberg continued.

Whatever Bloomberg is talking about in the above passages has nothing at all to do with the events of   the February 3rd PEP hearing.  The people yelling that were disrespecting no one. The people yelling that night were yelling because they spoke and were not listened to for years.  The people yelling that night were yelling at one thing and one thing only:  the disgraceful and pathetic collection of souls bought by Michael Bloomberg and paid to do his bidding which was to pretend to listen to them.    Ultimately, the people yelling that night were yelling at the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg who has   treated them, their children, their schools, their teachers, their communities, their government with absolute contempt for nine long years.  All had played by his rigged rules until all good faith was at last depleted and their fury erupted.

Bloomberg is a man who has long been accustomed to being obeyed, long been accustomed to  and getting what he wants when and how he wants it.   The events of Thursday night may well have shocked him to his core.  May it be so.  If ever a man needed and deserved shocking it is Michael R. Bloomberg. And may it be the beginning of the end for this devious, corrupting and tyrannical figure who believes it is his right to overturn any law that stands in the way of his monumental ego.

Let Bloomberg be “embarrassed” by people standing up for their rights.  Let Bloomberg be “embarrassed” by people refusing to be mocked.

Every such statement exposes him  for what he is and what he and his supporters believe.

And in no way do they or Bloomberg believe in democracy.  Indeed, they hold it in hardly hidden distain.


As for myself, even as I fully understand that what took place on Feb 3rd is at best the beginning of a beginning and perhaps not even that, I have never felt prouder to be a member of a union, never felt prouder to be a member of the UFT, never felt prouder to be a New Yorker, as I did that wild, electric, passion filled night.  Oppression begins to end with the word  “no “ and oppression is the truest word to describe the Department of Education under the reign of Michael Bloomberg to which   2000 decent, educated and committed  people said “no”  to last Thursday.   Many, many more are needed.  But, if built upon with courage and intelligence the refusal of February 3rdh could be the beginning of a new beginning.

As too many children are being lied to and cheated out of anything even resembling a real education, as too many teachers are being debased and degraded, as too many  families are being turned  against each  other as part of  deliberate, conscious  strategies aimed at privatizing education from Tweed straight across the country, it is  my fervent hope we make it so.

The alternative is simply too bleak to even contemplate, never mind accept.