Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Walcott’

Expect No Change: King Will Be Replaced by a Facsimile Thereof

December 11, 2014
John King:  Builder of airplanes in mid air

John King: Builder of airplanes in mid air

So I woke up this morning to the news that New York State Education Commissioner John King, who never met a reformer he didn’t grovel to or a reform idea, tested or not, that he didn’t want to impose on an entire system, has been booted out or moved up or both, depending on how you look at it or who you read.

At any rate, King is soon to be gone.

Here and there bloggers have written of feelings of joy and the like at King’s departure. For myself, as much as I find the man a complete fraud and utterly reprehensible, King’s departure makes me feel, well… nothing much at all.
Yes, I’ll be glad not to see his can’t -you –see- how –sincere- I am face so much or to hear his whiny arrogant voice but it is near impossible for me to believe that King will be replaced by another better, or even different, than himself.
The news brings to my mind the changing chancellorships in New York City under the wretched reign of Mike Bloomberg: the prosecutional era of former prosecutor Joel Klein, followed by the ephemeral and clueless moment of the preposterous Cathy Black, followed, in turn, by the return of the steady, deadening hand of professional Yes Man Dennis Walcott. Through them all, the only thing that changed was the name of the chancellors and, as the reformers are constantly coming up with new terrible ideas, the methods of undermining the schools, busting the union and stripping the teachers of autonomy and morale.

Nothing changed because, despite their titles, not one of these chancellors was actually in charge. (Under orders to destroy the teachers union by any means possible, Klein may have come up with a few of his own ideas, but Black and Walcott? No way. ) Principally they came from Bloomberg but also indirectly from people like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, to say nothing of the ever expanding Wall St and hedge contingent of education experts. All of these nominal chancellors were taking their orders from others in ways that mocked they very idea that these were civil servants, mocked even more the idea that they were beholden to the people they served.
Not one of those chancellors was in charge and neither was King.

King, who spent two or three years in a classroom before becoming a charter school entrepreneur, was catapulted to the status of state commissioner because those who catapulted him understood that herein was a man who could be trusted to obey orders.
And obey orders King did.
As far as I can see, no campaign ( it is NOT a movement ) has so cynically exploited the nightmare of America’s racism as has the billionaire based education reform campaign, so the fact that King was completely malleable and African American made him the perfect choice of the ed reformers who declared ( and declare and declare ) that “education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Accordingly, King was the perfect Manchurian Commissioner. Perfect, that is, for a year or two while King enjoyed the luxury of seldom having to actually face the public he ostensibly served and consistently betrayed.

All this changed in the wake of the Common Core debacle in which, as King predicted, some 70% of New York students failed the new whiz bang tests and parents were increasingly horrified and disgusted at what was happening to their kids and their kids’ teachers under the miraculous new Common Core regime.

Rebellion was in the air, and somebody somewhere thought it would be a good idea if the seemingly mild mannered King went to a few choice locations throughout the state to enlighten and lecture the huddled masses yearning to be free as to the miraculous powers of the Common Core, a power that King, like virtually all education reformers, mysteriously withholds from his own children.

But, to King’s surprise, the masses – which is to say, the parents of the children in King’ s charge and the teachers who were teaching them — were in no mood for a lecture. King’s towering arrogance and thinly disguised contempt toward both parents and teachers, his rote arguments based on nothing but stale crème puffs and his anger at being obliged to actually answer questions was not, as they say, well received.
The Traveling King show was abruptly cancelled to allow its star a prolonged pouting fit, only to be revived for two performances in New York City along with guest star Meryl Tisch. The Brooklyn show, disgracefully stage-managed by operatives of Michelle Rhee’s front StudentsFirst who were allowed into the venue an hour early, swined up all but a few speaking spots and, generally speaking, treated King’s appearance as if he was making a monumental sacrifice simply deigning to be there among them.

King’s act was wearing thin and King became a liability for the people who orchestrated his meteoric rise to power. Like Cathy Black, King’s problems were
not because of his policies which he steadfastly and robotically defended, but because of public relations, far and away the dominant force behind a decade of so called “education reform. ”

King never rebounded.

That may be one reason that King, whether through his own volition or not, is gone. Who knows?
To me, only three things are certain. The first is that, in return for his service to them, John King will continue to reside on Easy Street for the rest of his mortal life. His billionaire friends will see to that.
The second is that whoever is named to replace King will, in terms of policy, in no meaningful way differ from King. Like the chancellors under Bloomberg, only the face will change.

Such is the oligarchic way.

The third is that, barring a miracle or a catastrophe, the destruction of public education in the state of New York will continue unabated and, in light of Andrew Cuomo’s remarkable promise to “break the last monopoly,” likely even accelerate.

That too is the way of oligarchy.

Without a Bang or a Whimper: Dennis Walcott and the Banality of Shilldom

December 26, 2013

walcot 3 images-2

Unless I missed something, contrary to the hagiographic sendoffs to Joel Klein, New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott has passed into history with barely a peep from an often all too adoring media. Of course, given Walcott’s actual accomplishments, this is exactly how it should be but, as so few things in education reform are reported as they are, the absence strikes me as odd if morally apt. In any case, Dennis Walcott seems to have ended his days as the accidental chancellor of the largest school system in America with neither a bang nor a whimper.
It could not have come sooner.
I don’t know how many of Mayor Bloomberg’s Nicolae Ceaușescu-like Panel of Education Policy (PEPs) I attended while Walcott presided, but I could never see the man (or what was left of him after years of working under Bloomberg) without thinking of Robert Musil’s terrifying existential masterwork, The Man Without Qualities. This was true even if Musil’s work took place in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and Walcott’s reign occurred in what may well prove to be the beginning of an outright American plutocracy (and as a result of that plutocracy.) There he would sit in silence in the center of the stage, squint-eyed as if in contemplation, long slender fingers against each other as if in prayer, displaying one of his two true talents: appearing to be thoughtful and concerned without actually being so. There he would sit in silence as speaker after speaker, teacher after teacher, parent after parent, student after student would argue, beg, scream and sometimes weep that their school not be “co-located” or shut down altogether which they always were. There he would sit in silence, surrounded by other handpicked shills, *surrounded in turn by the NYPD, haughty to the public, obsequious to Bloomberg, the perfect corporate Yes Man, the Ultimate Shill, the Man Without Qualities.

When Walcott did speak, at events or for the TV cameras, it was always with the same calm, subtly condescending tone, always employing the same exhausted-at birth-slogans (“college and career ready,” “ competing in the global economy, ” “data driven,” “accountability “) disguised as policies over and over and over again as if he were an automaton. Which in a sense he was.

walcot 2

Incredibly, as with all of three of Bloomberg’s chancellors, Walcott was not an educator but a career political appointee — a mandarin — who knew when to speak, when to be silent, and how to take orders. Above all, he knew how to please the king. At this he excelled. From a teacher’s perspective there was something grotesque about taking orders from a person whose pedagogical qualifications would not allow them to enter a classroom without the presence of a certified teacher but, of course, part of the whole corporate reform project is to destroy the self worth of teachers at the same time you praise them. As with his two predecessors, Walcott’s lack of qualifications did not in the least stop him from pontificating about education as if he knew exactly what he was talking about. In this way did Walcott play his part in the wholesale de-professionalization of education in America, “ from the Grand Coulee Dam to the capital” as a poet once sang.

Walcott, of course, was an accidental chancellor, thrust into the role following Bloomberg’s insane decision to replace former prosecutor Joel Klein with magazine publisher Cathy Black. It took poor Cathy but ninety days — ninety days of slow motion self destruction and public spectacle — until Bloomberg unceremoniously threw her under the bus and about ten seconds after that for Cathy Black to become” Cathy Who? ” in the vicinity of Mike Bloomberg and City Hall.
It’s safe to say that Bloomberg was the only man on earth, perhaps the only man in human history, who thought people like Black and Walcott were somehow qualified to run(or pretend to run) the largest and most diverse school system in America.
Black was an absurd figure in a way that Walcott was simultaneously too empty and too calculating to ever be. But, for all her failings, Black was not a shill in the way that Walcott was. Black was her own person and one who seemed to (fatally) believe that she was going actually to be chancellor somehow, rather than to play dummy in Mike Bloomberg’s ventriloquist act. That belief, as much or more than her spectacular incompetence and foolish comments about birth control and the like — is precisely what got her into trouble and brought on Walcott.

In his twelve year reign, no act was more emblematic of the delusional world of Mike Bloomberg than his appointment of Cathy Black and no act more desperate than his replacement of Black with Walcott.

In a way, Walcott’s ascension, though reckless and irresponsible, was easy. At least for Walcott. What happened ? Walcott went from the concerned looking guy in the back of the photo opportunity with Bloomberg to the concerned looking guy in the front of the photo opportunity with Bloomberg. And yet his position, he knew, remained exactly the same.
Walcott’s years standing behind Bloomberg looking concerned taught him something that a Cathy Black never learned: Walcott knew that his job was to discern Bloomberg’s will and make sure it was done. His job, that is, was to be a human appendage.

And so he was. And one that was particularly skilled at Walcott’s other true talent: concealing his subtle viciousness. This viciousness was ever present in Walcott’s very attitude towards teachers — U rating appeals reached a level of almost 100 % rejection under Walcott, a scandal worthy of Federal investigation — but perhaps found its purest expression in the DOE’s relentless persecution of Francesco Portelos, a teacher who had the temerity to stand up to a corrupt administration and has been paying for ever since.

Meanwhile the city has grown so politically and morally degenerate under Bloomberg that Walcott’s open, undisguised and clearly illegal politicking for Bloomberg on the public dime in a public school to public employees was not only not scandalous, but happily reported by the NY Times, which, too, seems to have degenerated in somewhat similar lines during the Bloomberg era.

Extremely skilled at appearing to be thoughtful.

Extremely skilled at appearing to be thoughtful.

Years of tip-toeing around Bloomberg left Walcott no doubt as to the proper decorum to use in pleasing the tycoon knowing that the pleased tycoon would ensure his personal comfort till the ends of his days.
For a handful of Americans, and Dennis Walcott is one of them, one of the wonderful benefits of living in a nation that allows individuals like Bloomberg to accumulate the wealth of nations is that those who serve such kings are well compensated for their service. Rest assured Walcott will be.
I will not miss him for there is nothing there to miss. And I am not alone.

Meanwhile, four days before he is sworn in, Mayor Elect Bill DeBalsio has yet to announce a new chancellor. This has unsettled many a NYC teacher and for excellent reason. Unquestionably, the pressure on DeBlasio from the hydra headed billionaire backed corporate reform groups and personages (like Bloomberg) are relentless. Equally unquestionable is the wholesale demoralization and worse of the NYC teachers profession and the school system as a whole if DeBlasio dose not stand up to them and do the right thing.

I do not even wish to imagine what is bound to happen is he does not.

*With the exception of the noble and brass-balled Patrick Sullivan.

The Lie and Disgrace that is NBC’s Education Nation

September 22, 2013


The yearly corporate sponsored corporate education reform propaganda extravaganza Education Nation sinks lower and lower and as it does so it showers the American people with greater and greater corporate contempt. Here is an event that is billed as a “summit” of educational leaders that, as far as I can see, includes not a single teacher in a position of prominence or authority. (Sorry Weingarten and Walcott, you don’t count.)
Here is an event beamed out across America that includes not a single dissenting voice from the “reformers “ increasingly reckless experiments on American children such as the deceitfully named Common Core State Standards.
Here is an event in which the promoters are not satisfied with merely elevating non-educator hucksters like Joel Klein, (billed as the CEO of education techno firm Amplify) or David Coleman (no longer known as “the architect “ of the Common Core but rather as President and Chief Educative Officer of the College Board ) to the level of expertise but also adds the educational wisdom of non-educator Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and non-educator politicians like Mike Bloomberg, Jeb Bush, Arne Duncan, and Bobby Jindal.

For a final spit in the face of American parents there is the inexplicable inclusion of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, singer Tony Bennett, and actress/comedienne Goldie Hawn.

Well, why not? If Joel Klein can use the “summit” on education to shill for Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush use it as an avenue to the presidency, why shouldn’t poor Goldie Hawn use it to get herself back into the public eye?
In short, here is a lineup for an event that is so ridiculous that it is impossible to parody.
And it would be funny if the stakes were not so high.
But they are.
A “summit” on education that is not merely not based on the experience and knowledge of teachers like Susan Ohanian but actively exclude teachers such as Ohanian is beyond a farce.

A “summit” on education that pretends to discuss “active parenting” and does not include the likes of Leonie Haimson and Class Size Matters is a sin.

A “summit” on education that does not include the political insights of Lois Weiner is a disgrace. A “ summit” on education that does not include the voice and vision of CORE’s Karen Lewis is a sham.

A “summit” on any aspect of education today that systemically excludes the moral and intellectual authority of Diane Ravitch is simply a lie and it should be identified as such.

And this should be done again and again and again and in any way, shape, or form that people who are meant to be brainwashed by this egregious show of money and influence will understand. NBC and the forces that created this thing are counting on our silence. We must not be so.

Metaphors have Meaning: Andrew Cuomo (And Others) and the Not So Hidden Cruelty of Corporate Education Reform

August 31, 2013
Cuomo contemplating the electric chair

Cuomo contemplating the electric chair

Governor Mario Cuomo was no saint but he was and remains a decent, eloquent and principled man. In fact, it was Cuomo’s steadfast adherence to one of those principles –his belief that the death penalty is not only racist but outright barbaric – that was largely responsible for his defeat in 1994 by George Pataki, who wore his pro-death penalty politics like a solid gold crucifix.
For this reason and more it is, therefore, jarring and even repulsive to hear his son, Governor Andrew
Cuomo, make declarations such as, “There is going to have to be a death penalty for failing schools.”
It would be a mistake to dismiss this savage statement as simply indicating a generational shift in politics between a father and a son who both happen to have been elected governor of what historically has been one of the most progressive states in the union. (By the way, could you imagine Governor Al Smith or Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt or, in fact, anyone other than Andrew Cuomo employing such a sadistic metaphor for anything, never mind a vital public trust like a school?)

It would also be a mistake to dismiss it as a mere slip of the tongue or a mere metaphor, not to be taken literally or given more weight than it deserves. What Cuomo is doing is displaying the language of power, specifically that of the state to exercise power of the most brutal kind: the power to kill something that lives. Knowingly. Consciously. Legally.

That such language, coming out of the mouth of the highest official in NY State while speaking on the subject of education, is considered acceptable is an indication of how savage we have become as a people. Or, maybe truer still, how savage our leaders have become and how passive many of us have become under their leadership — even when it comes to education. Indeed, perhaps especially when it comes to education.

Bear Cuomo’s remarkable statement in mind along side equally brutal statements by other majors figures in New York educational politics.
Consider NYC Chancellor of Education Dennis Walcott’s cavalier statement that, in terms of education it is “time to rip off the band-aide. ”

Extremely skilled at appearing to be thoughtful.

Extremely skilled at appearing to be thoughtful.

Note: If I as a teacher ripped off the band aide of a student, I could easily be cited for corporal punishment.

Or NYS Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch’s reckless statement that, whether they can swim or not, it is time for students to “ jump into the deep end of the pool.”

Note: If I as a teacher advised a student to jump into the deep end of the pool without first insuring that said student could, in fact, swim, I would likely and deservingly be fired.

"Everybody in the pool!"

“Everybody in the pool!”

Ponder New York State Commissioner John King’s insane metaphor of “building an airplane in the air “ to describe how New York state was improving education.

Note: If a as I teacher were instructing my students to build an airplane in the air I would likely be removed for psychological counseling and deservingly so.

We are now flying at an altitude of 5000 feet

We are now flying at an altitude of 5000 feet

And now here’s Cuomo, the highest official of the state, calling for nothing less than a “death penalty” for “failing schools.”

Hard to square all this sadistic verbiage with all the same speakers’ constant emoting about “putting kids first” and all of that stuff.
Indeed, it is hard to square such sadistic verbiage with anything that is healthy and sane regarding children.
What to make of people who make such statements?
While it is a mistake to take metaphors literally — think of fundamentalists of any religion – it is also a mistake to dismiss them as nothing more than meaningless images meant to make a point.

Metaphors have meaning.

Metaphors, wrote Giambattista Vico, are myths is miniature. And myths are very, very powerful.

We are our language. It is what separates us from the animal. To use phrases like ripping off Band-Aids, or jumping into deep ends of pools, or building airplanes in the air, or needing a death penalty for schools is revealing of many things, none of them healthy.

At best, such language shows a fundamental disconnection between the speakers of such language and the parents and children of the schools such speakers are busy transforming. But I would say that it shows something more: I say such language reveals the savage mentality of people who are psychologically unfit to be anywhere near kids, never mind running vast school systems.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want my kid anywhere near people who speak and thus think this way.

Addendum: For those who can stand it, here’s a video of Governor Cuomo performing an aria on falling schools, teacher evaluations, taxes and death penalties. Enjoy!

Walcott Urges Principals to Continue Degrading Teachers and Destroying Education

May 19, 2013
The Increasingly Desperate Dennis Walcott

The Increasingly Desperate Dennis Walcott

In a scene reminiscent of George W. Bush’s desperate addresses to captive military audiences attempting to rationalize his criminal invasion of Iraq, NYC School Chancellor Dennis Walcott gave a transparently political speech to 1,100 principals and administrators in Brooklyn Tech High School urging them to continue implementing Mike Bloomberg’s disastrous education policies.

Walcott was responding to the rejection of Bloomberg’s failed and much loathed educational policies by Democratic candidates running for mayor.

Amidst his defense of Bloomberg’s indefensible policies at what was ostensibly a conference on education paid for by the public dime, Walcott, a longtime political appointee, added absurdly, “ I don’t like to involve myself in politics.”

Appropriately, this statement was greeted with laughter.

See article below from the NY Times

New York Schools Chief Warns Against Changes
Published: May 18, 2013

Warning that the fate of New York City education was “hanging in the balance,” Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, suggested on Saturday that the school system was at risk of falling into disarray in the hands of a new mayor.

Mr. Walcott, in his latest salvo against the Democrats running for mayor, said city schools had reached a “new day” and that efforts to chip away at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s 11-year reform effort were misguided.

“Halting the momentum of this extraordinary transformation would be a tragedy,” Mr. Walcott told an audience of more than 1,100 school administrators gathered for a conference at Brooklyn Technical High School.

The Democratic candidates for mayor have promised to reverse some of Mr. Bloomberg’s signature policies, including closing low-performing schools and providing space to charter schools. Those promises have caused distress in City Hall, though the Republican candidates have generally embraced the approach of Mr. Bloomberg, who leaves office at the end of the year.

Mr. Walcott’s speech seemed intended to be a rallying cry before a friendly crowd, but the response was muted. While his calls for preserving the authority of principals and eradicating nepotism were met with applause, some principals seemed uninterested in his message.

Laughter broke out in some corners after Mr. Walcott explained that he was not looking to be a kingmaker. “I don’t like to involve myself in politics,” he said.

Renel Piton, the principal of Brooklyn Lab School, said he shared Mr. Walcott’s concern about the candidates for mayor and did not want them to “gut reform for the sake of gutting.” Still, he said he was surprised the chancellor chose to use a speech at an academic conference to weigh in on a political battle.

“We need to focus on what’s going on in schools,” Mr. Piton said. “I don’t come on a Saturday to listen to their views on the candidates.”

Brian DeVale, principal of Public School 257 in Brooklyn, applauded when Mr. Walcott began discussing the old way of running schools, before the State Legislature handed the mayor authority over the school system in 2002. Mr. DeVale, an opponent of mayoral control, said he thought Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Walcott were too authoritarian in their approach.

“I sat and listened to a political lecture from an administration I have no interest in,” Mr. DeVale, who is a union representative, said after the speech.

John C. Liu, the city comptroller and a Democratic contender for mayor, said he was puzzled by Mr. Walcott’s suggestion that the candidates were pandering to the teachers’ union.

“Candidates respond to complaints and concerns about the status quo,” Mr. Liu said in a telephone interview. “Candidates don’t manufacture concern.”

Even the Department of Education’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, waded into the political fray, urging principals to support efforts to overhaul the school system.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky said he was so distraught by the attacks on the campaign trail that he called the chancellor of the Washington school system, Kaya Henderson, for advice.

In response, according to Mr. Polakow-Suransky, Ms. Henderson offered a variation on an African proverb: “The elephants are going to be fighting, but don’t forget to tend the grass.”