Posts Tagged ‘State school’

Bloomberg’s Choice: This Is Not About Education

May 11, 2011

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is obsessed.   He is obsessed with his legacy. He is obsessed with abolishing the New York State seniority laws.  He is obsessed with the destruction of the United Federation of Teachers.  He is obsessed with the privatization of the New York City Public School system.

Like his fellow education reformers Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, Jeb Bush, and any number of hedge fund millionaires, Bloomberg is obsessed with imposing his will and his values on every square inch of the continental United States.  This is  to be done  via an utter transformation of the American public school system.

Like the rest of these people, Bloomberg is obsessed, not with education — a subject about which he knows nothing and cares even less — but with using education to transform the American ethos into something of a mirror reflection of himself;  obsessed with using education as a means to insure the absolute triumph and domination of the corporate state for decades if not centuries to come.

These obsessions are all intertwined. Recklessly, ruthlessly, dangerously intertwined.

Last Friday, at the conclusion of Teacher Appreciation Week, Mike Bloomberg showed New Yorkers just how recklessly intertwined his obsessions are when he announced that, due to the fiscal crisis, New York would need to lay off some 6000 teachers.  1,500 would go by attrition, 4, 500 by pink slip.  By virtually every estimation excepting that of Bloomberg himself and the Department of Education which he has ruled with an iron hand for almost a decade, a loss of such magnitude would be catastrophic for New York’s students as well as a personal disaster for each and every one of the unemployed former teachers.

Well, hard cheese old chap. Should  have thought of that before you were born.

Also, by virtually every estimation other than Bloomberg’s, the layoffs are simply not necessary.  Alas, says Bloomberg, the city simply does not have the 377 million dollars it needs to keep the 6000 teachers.  And for that, says he,  blame the state and the federal government.

Note:  even as he went to the trouble of secretly finding a stooge to introduce a bill abolishing seniority  — a certain Long Island Assemblyman named Flanagan who, though outside of the Mayor’s city is well within the Mayor’s control – Bloomberg has  steadfastly refused to help in the effort to retain the so called Millionaire’s tax. And  this despite the greatest movement of wealth upwards in American history.

Retaining the tax would have provided  the money needed to solve the problem of potential layoffs.

But Bloomberg does not want to solve the problem of potential layoffs.    He wants to use the problem to destroy the teacher’s union.

The UFT states unequivocally that there is a multi billion dollar surplus in the city’s education coffers.  The DOE’s Dennis Walcott, rather less unequivocally, denies it.   What is beyond dispute, however, is the fact that, in the midst of the greatest job loss since the disastrous teacher layoffs of the 1970’s which damaged the school system for decades, Mike Bloomberg has allocated $550 million for next year alone for technology upgrades and computers.

Such an allocation is, even by Bloomberg’s icy standards, a remarkably callous and insulting choice.  It is akin to his decision to hire Cathy Black and his failure to fire Iris Bilge to name two of a thousand such Bloombergian decisions in his reign as dictator of educational policy.    Such a choice says to teachers: This is what I think of you: a computer is more valuable.

At the same time, of course,  the allocation puts the lie to Bloomberg’s claims of having to lay people off.

No matter how you look at it, it  demonstrates that the layoffs, like the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, are a matter of choice.

It is also, like the decision to invade Iraq, nothing short of an act of war.

The object of the war is the total destruction of the UFT and the consequent privatization of the school system. Bloomberg knows that if New York City schools fall, all other cities will fall afterward.  Bloomberg’s method is circuitous.  The idea is to  abolish state seniority laws and  allow the slow and ugly weakening and unraveling of collective bargaining rights and the union protections that would inevitably come in its wake.

Indeed, even as Bloomberg has worked to weaken and undermine the UFT at every turn since he was granted dictatorial power over the school system almost a decade ago, the removal of seniority laws — under the guise of “putting kids first” by keeping “the best teachers” in the class room,   – would, in short order, plant the seeds and harvest all of the poisonous   fruits of corporate business culture in schools across New York.

As rights and protections became weakened, dwindled or vanished altogether and teachers became “at will” employees, fear would become the normative psychological state  of the school building.   Perpetual and divisive competition between colleagues, informing, and shameless ass kissing would all become commonplace.  Moral autonomy would shrink into nothingness. The strong and original would be fired or driven out or beaten down.  Students would receive an even more anemic and insulting verison of corporate education than they do now,  and that is really saying something.  Bubble tests would proliferate even more mindlessly than they currently do.

In short, the abolition of  seniority  would, in time, produce an education reformer’s  paradise.  Bloomberg knows this – which is why he has been fighting so ruthlessly and insidiously to abolish the seniority law.  It is why he is, in essence, perfectly willing to throw 6000 teachers to the dogs of a brutal economy just to get his way.

As always, the press is only too happy to parrot the Bloomberg/ reformer line, distort the truth and wholly omit why the seniority laws were created to begin with. Seniority laws, imperfect as all man made laws are, were created as a response to   cronyism, racism, sexism, and, until very, very recently — indeed, until the sad advent of education reform — were commonly considered the only way to insure some modicum of fairness and some measure of job security in times of economic crisis and layoffs.

Suddenly, in the words of Fox News, seniority laws are “controversial.”

In the coming weeks Bloomberg and his billionaire friend will do everything they can to persuade legislators in Albany to abolish seniority.  We can expect no end of teary-eyed stories of young dedicated teachers tragically separated from their charges by the savage union thugs and their lackeys in the state.  Indeed, they have already begun.  Observe today’s  front page of the NY Times.

It is essential to understand that none of this, indeed none of education reform is  or has ever been, in any meaningful sense of the words,  about “education” or “reform.”   It is about transformation of values. It is about the final stages of creating a country  in which all public institutions will cease to exist for all will be privatized.    It is about the elimination of not only unions but the  very impulses and principles on which they are created:  the yearning for economic justice, fair play, compassion, fraternity,   and solidarity, all of  which are in direct opposition to the ethos of the increasingly a-human corporate state.

It is about institutionalizing the Hobbesian “war of one man against all men” and positing this bestial nihilistic high tech savagery as virtuous and divinely ordered.   It is about a right-wing revolution by stealth.   It is about the absolute triumph of the corporate state and the absolute removal of all opposition to it.     It is about driving a stake through the heart of unionism in America.

It is about servitude.

You do not appoint  people like Joel Klein or Cathy Black or Dennis Walcott Chancellors of Education of the largest school system in the USA if you have any interest in improving education.  You do not demand dictatorial  control over a system   of which you have no knowledge, no experience, and no interest if  you are interested in education.  You do not shut out parents from  any meaningful discussion of their own children’s education if you have any interest in education.   You do not impose business plans and call them education plans if you are interested in education.  You do not shut out the voices of real educators if you are interested in education.  You do not create Leadership Academies designed  to  spit out instant principals trained to act like CEOS if you are interested in education. You do not give public school buildings to charter schools empires if you are interested in public education. You do not heed the cynical advice of cynical billionaires who believe it their right to make public policy and experiment on other people’s  children if you are interested in education. You do not reduce students to bubble test taking guinea pigs  if you are interested in education.  You do not hound, harass, humiliate  and micro-manage teachers if you are interested in education.  You do not purchase technology at the expense of teachers if you are interested in education.  Above all you do not lay off thousands of teachers if you are interested in education. You do not set new teachers against experienced teachers if you are interested in education.

You do these things if you are obsessed with power over others.  Education is merely the means.

Another Volley in the War on Teachers

September 1, 2010


By advocating that school systems across the nation implement a teacher evaluation system that research from the Department of Education itself has warned is  “ subject to a considerable degree of random error,”  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is  recklessly and knowingly condemning unknown numbers of dedicated teachers to needless public shame and the possible termination of their careers.

Allow me to rephrase this:  by advocating that teachers be evaluated (after which they can be   either financially rewarded   or terminated) by a system that is known to be   fundamentally flawed and thereby wholly unreliable Mr. Duncan is, in effect, advocating   institutional fraud on a national scale in which, among other things, the careers of any number of excellent teachers will surely be destroyed.

(Formula to Grade Teachers’ Skill Gains in Use, and Critics

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/education/01teacher.html?th&emc=th)

The destruction is a statistical certainty. It is  merely a question of  how many.

It gets better. In their perverse and perversely successful Race to the Top scam  (in which states in a nominally democratic society compete against each other for federal funding for a public school system by accepting increasingly degrading conditions for teachers) the Obama administration has made implementation of value added analysis a precondition for even being considered for the “grants.”

This is the same Department of  Education, mind you, that has warned of the unreliability of the method.

Nor are they alone in their criticism.

A report released this month by several education researchers warned that the value-added methodology can be unreliable.

As the Times reports,  “If these teachers were measured in a different year, or a different model were used, the rankings might bounce around quite a bit,” said Edward Haertel, a Stanford professor who was a co-author of the report. “People are going to treat these scores as if they were reflections on the effectiveness of the teachers without any appreciation of how unstable they are.” ’

At this point it  goes  without saying that   advocating such a  transparently flawed system is but a rather more transparent  continuation of  Mr. Duncan’s  and the Obama administration’s relentless war on teachers,  all in the name of  somehow or other “reforming” our school system. The reformation, almost a decade into the process and centered  almost entirely on standardized test  scores has led to no real  improvement.  This, despite hundreds of  millions of  dollars wasted.

As such the reform  is  a failure.  Those responsible for it should have the backbone to face up to this fact.  That is, they should be as accountable as they desire teachers to be.

Reform  has succeeded, however, in  completely  demoralizing and disgusting thousands and thousands of completely dedicated teachers across America.   “Value added” evaluations are sure to increase both the disgust and the demoralization.

What exactly is  “value added analysis?”   It as a method, its advocates claim, for increasing teacher accountability and thereby allows one teacher to be compared with another teacher and in this way sees which teacher is  “good” and which teacher is “bad.”

And how does this method increase teacher accountability?  By increasing a child’s vocabulary?  By helping a student struggle through the nuances of, say, Moby Dick or some other classic mind expanding work ?

By little by little helping a child  develop  critical  thinking skills so he or she   might have some chance of  comprehending the  world  they must soon survive in ?

Nah!  None of that Kumbaya stuff in our brave new world!   As any serious person knows, the only real way for  students to learn is to hold teachers accountable and the only real way of holding them accountable is by analyzing  data: i.e. by comparing students scores on standardized bubble tests and seeing how they do from year to year.

Here’s how the New York Time’s describes the value-added method:

“In value-added modeling, researchers use students’ scores on state tests administered at the end of third grade, for instance, to predict how they are likely to score on state tests at the end of fourth grade.

A student whose third-grade scores were higher than 60 percent of peers statewide is predicted to score higher than 60 percent of fourth graders a year later.

If, when actually taking the state tests at the end of fourth grade, the student scores higher than 70 percent of fourth graders, the leap in achievement represents the value the fourth-grade teacher added.”

Did you get that?  You would if you worked in the “corporate community” which is, of course where the phrase and the thinking behind it originated.

Here is a more succinct definition found, appropriately on a business website: Value Added: The enhancement added to a product or service by a company before the product is offered to customers. (http://www.investorwords.com/5210/value_added.html#ixzz0yI8Obp8N)

In the same way I can appreciate the brutal clarity of the language of   business, I cannot help but shudder to think of how dehumanized we have become when our own government is demanding the implementation of a system where words like “teachers”  and “students” are interchangeable with  words such as “products” and “customers.”

To be fair, valued added analysis does have advocates other than Arne Duncan – even if they do have very vested interests in the scheme.

“William L. Sanders,” reports the New York Times,”  a senior research manager for a North Carolina company, SAS, that does value-added estimates for districts in North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, said that “if you use rigorous, robust methods and surround them with safeguards, you can reliably distinguish highly effective teachers from average teachers and from ineffective teachers.”

Dr. Sanders helped develop value-added methods to evaluate teachers in Tennessee in the 1990s. Their use spread after the 2002 No Child Left Behind law required states to test in third to eighth grades every year, giving school districts mountains of test data that are the raw material for value-added analysis.”

Dr. Sanders makes no mention, however, of why his “mountains of test data” have done nothing at all to improve the Tennessee school system, perhaps because such “data” might interfere with SAS acquiring mountains of tax money from unsuspecting Tennesseans impressed by sophisticated sounding computer generated nonsense.  (http://www.sas.com/businessanalytics/)

But what really is going on here?  This  is yet another method to turn teacher against teacher, to make teaching somehow competitive the better to undermine any solidarity and implode teacher  unions.

While it  cannot be said  for certain what Mr Duncan wants , there is  little  question  of the goals of the people from whom Mr. Duncan and his  boss, President Obama, seem to be taking orders.    Unelected and unaccountable, the de facto educational policy making team of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Mike Bloomberg,  the Walton family, Whitney Tilson and his fellow hedge fund billionaires at Democrats for Education Reform would like nothing better than to create a  completely corportized public school system run by the likes of themselves in which  troublesome democratic elements such as unions and teacher input would be non existent.

Think Singapore.

They are well on their way  to getting what they want.  There is  no doubt in my  mind that the ultimate goal of men like Gates and Bloomberg and the rest is to eviscerate unions in America altogether  — hence their sudden obsession with education and re-educating educators.   Neither Mr. Duncan nor  Mr. Obama have given any  indication  they disagree with these men.  Quite the contrary.   The fact that the whole  lot of them have absolutely  no idea of what they’re doing doesn’t seem to trouble any of them in the  least.  Nor, much to our  national disgrace, does it seem to trouble many of our fellow citizens.

But back  to the “value added”  campaign.  In a sane and healthy society, such dangerously unfair advocacy from the head of a federal institution would lead to a public outcry, possibly an investigation into ulterior motives, even demands for the Secretary’s resignation; at the very least such advocacy would call into serious question the secretary’s competence, knowledge and ethics.

As we are as a society far from sane or healthy and increasingly indifferent and adjusted to the institutional debasement of both ourselves and our fellow citizens — just as long as it can be rationalized via an infantile application and servile acceptance of bogus data – you can expect but two reactions from such Duncan’s advocacy: either silent indifference or cheerleading from those who have located in “ineffective” teachers the perfect scapegoat for their own failed lives or the perfect business opportunity in privatizing education.

In any and all cases, the sheer recklessness and cruelty of implementing a transparently faulty system of evaluation upon vital, dedicated professionals will not be an issue of any discussion.

For those who care and for those who are affected by it, the entire reform juggernaut feels like an endless sick joke. But the joke is  on all of us —  especially the kids.

For the past two years, in subways ads, in the New York Times, on the airwaves and TV, New Yorkers been subjected to report after report concerning the miraculous leaps our students, particularly minority students, have made in their tests scores under the wise and brilliant leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein.   Here was proof  that  what was needed to fix the schools was   the corporate business model and a ceaseless demand for teacher accountability.

Bloomberg and Klein seemed to be everywhere.There they were beaming on the six o’clock news.  There they were on the cover of the NY Post.   There they were testifying before Congress about the great strides they made and the greater strides they will make!

Two thirds of our students were passing English while 82 percent were passing math – and this was only the beginning!

Except it wasn’t because it was largely  bullshit.

Evidence of the bullshit appeared sporadically over the  summer.

The first blow came with a report that almost half of the NYC public school graduates who enrolled in the City University of New York needed at least one remedial course and 40 percent dropped out within two years.

(Schools Given Grade on How Graduates Do

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/education/10remedial.html?th&emc=th)

According to Susan L. Forman, who  has taught remedial math at Bronx Community Collage for four decades, many of the issues have remained the same: students are easily confused by fractions and negative numbers and become paralyzed when they are told they cannot use calculators.

The change that Forman has noticed  is that students are often overly confident.

“Their naïveté is just extraordinary,” she said. “They have a tremendous underestimation of what they do not understand.”

This troubling over confidence is the logical by product of telling students over and over again that getting a high score on a multiple choice test and getting an education are the same thing.  They are not and they never will be – and this is one of the reasons all of the major reformers send their children to schools that hold such nonsense in proper distain.

Meanwhile, our schools are graduating untold scores of students who by no fault of their own are barely literate and numerate but bursting with confidence.

A troubling combination. One might say that it is even cruel.  Or a con job.

There was more bad news and all of it was predictable enough when you considered that teachers were forced to teach students how to pass a bubble test rather than how to write a simple narrative sentence.

Klein and Bloomberg responded in typical fashion.  In no way, shape or form did they question their obsession with test scores or their ridiculous  ( or cynical ) underlying premise that a high score on a  bubble  test was indicative of  a reasonably  educated person.  Instead, they began a program to give high schools yet another grade from A to F based on how their graduates did in City University.

Somehow, in the minds of Bloomberg and Klein, teachers were to be accountable  for their students progress even after they were no  longer their students.

Remarkable!

Then,  in the doldrums of July  ( do  not think that an accident ! ) New York State  released a damning and bracing report. Raising the standards from a place where it was almost impossible to fail to  a more or less acceptable level, state officials “readjusted” the levels to  something closer to  where they  should be. (Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/education/29scores.html?th&emc=th)

To almost no teacher’s surprise, the miraculous leaps all turned out to be a lie.  86 percent passing in math became 61 percent.  77 percent passing in English became 53 percent. Teachers know that learning is a slow arduous, wholly unpredictable struggle.   Miraculous leaps in test scores are as much a con as are miraculous   leaps  in real estate or tulips or the stock market or  whatever.    They are seldom if ever built on solid ground and  sooner or  later the con is exposed.  Then on August 15  came another report, this one even sadder as it  detailed and exposed the much heralded  lie that the racial  gap in the city was closing. (Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools

By SHARON OTTERMAN and ROBERT GEBELOFF

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/nyregion/16gap.html?th&emc=th)

It also exposed the fact that after eight years of dictatorial control over the school system, eight years of imposing a corporate business structure on a school  system, eight years of harassing and hounding  teachers with ceaseless talk of accountability, the leadership of Mike Bloomberg and his friend Klein had improved nothing.

This result, of course, should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about education or even anyone who has bothered to think about it for a few minutes. This would exclude, of course, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein.

Not that such sobering “data” would shake either know-it-all Klein or Bloomberg out of the narcissistic haze in which they dwell.  Far from it. Nor is either one likely to ever assume accountability for their failure to improve a system they themselves largely imposed and have completely controlled for years.

Perhaps, in time, the idiotic and perverse notion of imposing a corporate business structure onto a school system and expecting it to produce anything more than an absolute mediocrity (at best) will be seen as what it is:  as barbaric as the medieval notion of drilling a hole in the head of a person suffering from mental illness.  Only in an age of paralyzed imagination can either barbarity be allowed.

And paralyzed we seem to be.

The more the corporate business model fails — even after the corporate business model led the world over a cliff into  a deepening global  recession  —  the more certain institutions cling to it as the sole model of accountability. The more the leaders of  such institutions babble on endlessly and sternly about accountability,  the  less accountable  they  are.

And this leads us back to Mr. Duncan and his reckless advocacy of the “value added analysis,” a system of evaluation researchers in his own governmental department (and many  other credible sources )  have told him is, at  best,  flawed.

Where is the accountability with this man?  Who is accountable to the teachers whose careers and lives will be destroyed by the implementation of this system?  Why is our government doing this and why are we accepting this?

As I wrote above, with the wholesale implementation of such a system, the destruction of the careers of any number of excellent, dedicated teachers is a statistical certainty.

This is insane.

And so are we  for  accepting it.