Education is the Civil Right of the 21st Century: Whose Vision? Duncan? Bloomberg/Klein? Weingarten? Increasingly the Department’s Children First Initiative Is Being Perceived As a Powerful, White, Elite Plutocracy Imposing Their Will on Communities of Color.

Over two thousand parents, kids, teachers, and just plain angry folk in the cavernous Brooklyn Tech auditorium and another thousand or so outside. The crowd, with signs and flyers and pins, black and brown and white, young and old, confronting the members of the Panel on Educational Priorities (PEP) and Department higher ups, almost all white.
 
For nine hours speaker after speaker confronted PEP Chair David Chang and Joel Klein. Impassioned pleas from current and former students, from parents, from teachers, from outside agencies who work with the school, electeds and Community Education Council (CEC) members.
 
Many of the speakers were community members, Afro-Americans, who accused the officials on the stage of racism  to exuberant cheers from the immense crowd. More than nine hours later, after hundreds of speakers the mayoral appointees plus the Staten Island rep voted to close the nineteen schools.
 
Can a Mayor and a Chancellor survive growing accusations of racism?
 
Joel Klein’s favorite speech always refers to education as the civil right issue of the 21st century. His problem is that his marginalization of communities and parents increasingly looks like the powerful white man imposing his will on communities of color.
 
The Tuesday night, Wednesday morning PEP meeting was not an isolated meeting. The vote rubber stamping the decision to close schools only served to empower, to encourage an audience to organize for the next meeting, and the next meeting.
 
Arne Duncan is now ensconced in Washington and his “reforms” in Chicago have been carefully scrutinized(story here and analysis here).
 
A Chicago Tribune analysis of 2009 Illinois test data finds that six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched Renaissance 2010, “a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools,” little in the educational performance of the city’s school system has improved. Scores from elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at remade high schools are below the “already abysmal” city average.
 
Will Joel Klein’s “reforms” survive scrutiny?
 
Are his reforms thinly veiled efforts to diminish the power of teacher unions and his goal is the “charter-ization” of the school system? 
 
His seemingly endless sequence of reorganizations is disorienting to schools and parents.
 
The current School Support Organization system offers a wide range of services to schools, at a price. For example one SSO has four levels of services: essential ($24,900), basic ($29,900, premium ($34,900) and elite ($59,000), with a very specific listing, sort of a Chinese menu, from which schools can choose. 
 
Superintendents, the chief rating officer, until this year had no involvement in the schools they supervise.
 
If a school lands on the “persistently low achieving” list, who bears the blame?  The teachers? the principal? the Support Organization? the Chancellor? the PEP?
 
On Tuesday night the audience certainly felt that they were being blamed for a school’s failure.
 
The Mayor and Chancellor fail to understand the power of race and the power of communities. If you live in East New York there’s a good chance that your parent or grandparents were born in South Carolina. You may very well travel to your ancestral home town for a reunion, and, the discussion will focus what’s happening in East New York.
 
The “word on the street” is that Joel Klein, that rich white guy, wants to close our schools and turn them over to “elite” charter schools.
 
 Accuracy is unimportant. Perception is reality.
 
What started as discussions to improve low performing schools has become a civil rights movement, a struggle against powerful outsiders, white outsiders, who once again want to rob them of their schools and their children’s future.
 
Unless the Mayor begins to mend fences, and there is no indication that he sees any problem, this will end badly for the Mayor and the Chancellor, and, unfortunately it is the children in communities of color that will bear the scars.
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17 responses to “Education is the Civil Right of the 21st Century: Whose Vision? Duncan? Bloomberg/Klein? Weingarten? Increasingly the Department’s Children First Initiative Is Being Perceived As a Powerful, White, Elite Plutocracy Imposing Their Will on Communities of Color.

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    The most cynical event in my 38 years with the NYC Public Schools occured a few years back when the UFT and ACORN prevented Harold Levy, the previous Chancellor, from engaging Edison to manage 5 of the worst performing elementary schools in the City. Then, as now, charges of privatization and racism drowned out a more rationale debate about the future of low performing schools that persistently fail all children, but mostly children of color. In that struggle, the union and advocates prevailed and Edison was denied the contract; and, when the dust settled, those who opposed the Edison take-over walked away from those schools, which remained among the worst performing elementary schools in the City failing cohort after cohort of our children.

    Never again!

    Like

    • Thanks for reminding Mr. Nadelstern:

      *

      Richard Barr // January 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Reply

      The column is quite on target, and Mr. Nadelstern makes a rather bizarre choice in attempting a rejoinder, by citing the Edison Schools, which were long ago unmasked as a stock fraud pretending to be an educational organization.
      ut the closings, the DOE learned the wrong lesson from the Edison affair. Parents, left out of the decision, voted their opposition. The lesson of Edison is to engage the community, not to ignore it or treat legitimate stakeholders as an obstacle. That is tyranny and justifies the anger expressed throughout the public hearings, culminating in the protest at Tech.
      -David

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      • So Mr. Nadelstern’s “never again” argument is that the parents and the teachers and the entire school community–those whose very lives are intricately linked every single day together are standing in the way of their own goals–their student’s and children’s success.

        LOL

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  2. Peter,
    This is your best blog yet. People in poor communities are not stupid. They don’t want to turn their schools over to hedge-fund managers and trust to their good will. You have exposed one of the great frauds of our time, this crazy notion that the most powerful, wealthiest people in our society are leading a civil rights crusade. They should look over their shoulder and see if anyone is following.
    Diane Ravitch

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  3. Peter: thanks for this and your comments at the PEP meeting on Tuesday.

    However, it is not just “perception” that Joel Klein, that rich white guy, wants to close our schools and turn them over to “elite” charter schools. It is reality. The evidence is clear that these mass closings of schools, along with their population of our most needy students, including large numbers of poor, ELL, special ed and homeless, will lead to skyrocketing discharge rates and even less opportunity for these kids. As in during the war in Vietnam, the administration is destroying these communities while claiming to save them.

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  4. The column is quite on target, and Mr. Nadelstern makes a rather bizarre choice in attempting a rejoinder, by citing the Edison Schools, which were long ago unmasked as a stock fraud pretending to be an educational organization.

    Like

  5. I strongly disagree with Eric, who, 25 years ago, was the best principal I ever had. In those days he understood how important it was to enable bottom-up rather than top-down administration. In fact, he taught us all so many principles that he now eschews.

    The most cynical event in my 46-year association with New York City public schools is the imposition of the “business model” on education, and the appointment of a businessman to lead it. Human beings don’t learn according to an artificial timetable, professionals and students can’t function to their capacity in a climate of anxiety, and education will not thrive in a competitive environment.

    I mentor teachers and new principals. Their attention is constantly being diverted from the advancement of the students’ welfare to DOE impositions in this era of so-called empowerment. I always questioned the concept of empowerment. If YOU can “empower” someone, then you can take the power away. You are the one with the power. If individuals have true power, they exercise it on their own.

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  6. Even if you are right, Eric — for argument’s sake — that is no reason for the DOE to ride roughshod over parents’ and other community members’ opinions. As I wrote in my GothamSchools column about the closings, the DOE learned the wrong lesson from the Edison affair. Parents, left out of the decision, voted their opposition. The lesson of Edison is to engage the community, not to ignore it or treat legitimate stakeholders as an obstacle. That is tyranny and justifies the anger expressed throughout the public hearings, culminating in the protest at Tech.
    -David

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  7. Having sat next to him for the testimony at the January PEP, I find Nadelstern’s comments here disturbing. If he cannot grasp, after nine hours of testimony, that communities do not want any educational agenda forced upon them without their consent, he never will. The fact that neither the DOE staff nor the mayor’s appointees felt in any way obligated to respond to the complaints or engage in a discussion reveals their disdain for both democracy and the public school community.

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  8. Pingback: Remainders: With a cap in place, charters could go elsewhere | GothamSchools

  9. You can’t run the school system like a business. Educators should run it, not laywers and businessmen. Teachers should not be treated as “parts” in a warehouse.

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  10. Michael Goldstein

    It is becoming clearer to me that the bottom line for the Mayor is to close as many schools as possible (the ones that were not created during his administration) and to reopen them up with educational management companies reorganizing them.

    What few people are aware of is that along with the charter cap legislation that the city was not able to push through, there was also legislation to allow districts to contract with these companies to take over failing schools. This was tied into the Charter Cap being increased.

    The Mayor’s position is clear-either have the unions accept what he is willing to offer or he will close schools and open them up with charter schools that are not unionized.

    One last thing-I have not seen anyone including Mr. Nadelstern rebut the argument that the schools being closed have a much higher percentage of special needs and ELL students. Nor have I seen anyone in the Bloomberg administration address the issue that new schools are overwhelmingly not serving these populations in anything but in small percentages. They are sending them to schools that are in danger of failing (Boys and Girls, Clara Barton in Brooklyn) to set them up for the next schools to be closed. It is a well planned strategy which no one seems to think is shameful.

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  11. As usual, Peter, you leave the entire culpability of the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership, of which you have been an integral part of for decades, totally out of the picture.

    In May 2001 the day Randi Weingarten came out in favor of mayoral control, I put out out a special edition of Education Notes that pointed to the disaster of the Chicago mayoral control experiment and put a copy in front of every UFT executive board member, you included.

    You and the UFT continued to support mayoral control and when ICE urged the UFT task force on mayoral control to adopt our minority report last year calling for an end to mayoral control I seem to remember you speaking against it at the Delegate Assembly. If the UFT had put its muscle behind that proposal we might have seen a different result at the PEP – in fact the PEP wouldn’t have existed at all.

    You guys pushed the 2005 contract that allowed them freedom to close schools without worrying about seniority rights without which they would be so able to close so many schools.

    When 350 students, teachers and parents went to Bloomberg’s house on Jan. 21 the UFT was again absent.

    When Klein would make his claims about civil rights at every PEP meeting, the UFT was absent and indeed not once challenged him.

    I was the only speaker Tues. night to raise the contradiction between Klein’s claims and the reality of what was happening at the meeting and ICE/GEM speaker Lisa North talked about Chicago. Glad you were listening.

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  12. Nadelstern:
    It’s fun to watch as you Tweedies tout charter schools and privately managed schools over the ones you all manage.

    So this one is a knee-slapper:
    “from engaging Edison to manage 5 of the worst performing elementary schools in the City. ”

    Why don’t you give us a report on how well Edison management of schools has worked out around the nation? Love to hear all about Philly.

    Never again should Edison be allowed to manage even one school – anywhere.

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  13. “Accuracy is unimportant. Perception is reality.” This is a slap in the face to every student, parent, teacher and activist. It infuriates me that what the speakers on Tuesday said should be seen this way. They were accurate in giving the facts and data about their schools which the DOE has distorted. And, they were perceptive in how they presented the real state of affairs in educatrion in NYC today. I especially respected the students who spoke. They were passionate and accurate, perceptive and hopeful that those in control of their education would hear them.. Only four did and I applaud them. I have read for years about the horrors of mayoral control and the decline of the Chicago school system (and others in major cities in this country) and it was NOT on this blog. Dictatorship of 9 reigned on Tuesday night. But the fight to regain democracy is not over yet. Truth and accuracy will win out and it will be very real.

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  14. The Fish Stinks

    The UFT has done just about nothing for the parents teachers and staff at these schools, including the unlawful situation at PS 15 The Patrick F Daly School, in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
    Mayoral control of a school system should be brought to the supreme court. It is the most anti-democratic situation of our once great nation.
    To take the voice of the parents, students, staff, and community out of education and to sell school communities to the rich who will then rule the people as lords of a neighborhood community. My God, we are all in a very bad situation.
    The UFT sits on their own charter schools as well? What the h*** is that? They are working both sides of the street, waiting for charter teachers to join while its current paid members suffer! They are doing nothing for its members except giving away hard earned benefits with every contract. We have not had a real raise in so many years.
    Who will hear the cry and desperation that Bloomberg/Klein & the DOE are doing?
    I will believe nothing from anyone of these ever again. The “Old” Bd. of Ed. the mayor says, looks a billion times better than what he has created. Oh wait, how much has Bloomberg’s billions increased since he has corrupted NYC? The old Bd. of Ed looks 10 billion times better. Education is doomed with Bloomberg/Klein running the show. Bloomberg = Corruption to the Rotten Core of the Big Apple! Remember, the fish stinks from the head down.

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  15. Students are not widgets and schools are not factories. Teaching is an art not a science. That being said, why wouldn’t a corporate manager like Bloomberg use his un-checked power to weaken the UFT and to drown out dissenting parental voices? It is strategy right out of the Glided Age. What I would propose, what I demand is transparency because sunshine is the best disinfectant. Currently, Klein and his spokespeople’s statements are treated by the NYT in a manner reminiscent to the way Dick Chaney’s pre and post Iraqi invasion missives about (WMB) were treated by Judith Miller, as gospel. Obviously, if you inundate a school with special needs, and recently arriving ELL students and offer little to no support, the stats will suffer. One unambiguous example is how the Mayor brags about ending social promotion. However, once a student reaches high school, if the student doesn’t’ graduate in 4 years, your school and your staff are deemed failures. The 4-year graduation rate is just one obvious example of the practice of cherry picking stats to achieve a pre-conceived goal. The 4 year graduation rates are a statistic that indisputably should and must be scrutinized if one is to derive any accurate implication from it. One last thing, who grades the High School Regents Exam in small high schools? The same people who teach the students that are taking the test, wink, wink.

    Jack Israel – Teacher

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