For his first two terms Michael Bloomberg deftly avoided potholes and burnished his reputation as an apartisan mayor. He led the fight on social issues from marriage equity to choice, and, drove the crime rate to historic lows. The city economy, at least Manhattan, thrived. While Los Angeles and Chicago and other large cities struggled with yawning budget crises New York stumbled a little but continued to be the world wide destination of choice.
It is extremely difficult to surrender the scepter and orb, and as La Guardia and Koch before him, and Vladimir Putin as we speak, Bloomberg couldn’t imagine leaving the helm. Perhaps he saw himself, somehow, entering the presidential mix.
Two years into his third term he staggers from debacle to debacle while he scrambles to fend off critics, the highly suspect spying on Muslims simply because they’re Muslims, is just another kerfuffle.
The anchor that is dragging down the ship of state is his education policies.
After forcing a confrontation the governor flies in, forces a settlement, and flies off to deal with reapportionment and the budget leaving an embarrassed mayor.
Rather than grinding the union president into the ground an agreement is reached that on the surface appears to be a victory for the union. Absent on the podium announcing the agreement was Mayor Bloomberg. The governor, the union president, the commissioner and the leader of the state union shared the stage, answered questions, and were universally praised by the media editorial pages and talking heads.
The mayor obstinately refused to back off from his plan to close and re-open 33 schools, a charade requiring the approval of the state commissioner.
The plan is a subterfuge to free up 58 millions in federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) dollars, and, will push an additional 1700 teachers into the ATR pool at a cost of over 100 million. Idiocy and spiteful.
The court-ordered release of the two year old Teacher Data Reports is another media disaster. The Reports clearly show that the data are seriously flawed and shaming teachers will not make them better teachers.
Both sides have dug in.
For the union, parents and supporters of public schools the fight goes on. The difference is that the public conversation is more and more critical of the policies the mayor espouses. The Reports are more of a scarlet letter than a true representation of teacher quality.
A stirring Michael Winerip column in NY Times is another nail in the coffin of the Bloomberg legacy.
Years ago, as the school district union leader I led a job action against a school board who refused to implement part of the teacher contract: the president of the school board ordered the superintendent to place a letter in the file of every teacher that participated. A year or so after the incident the superintendent offered to remove the letters. Most of us thanked him, but said no, we were proud of the letters.
Hawthorne in the novel, Scarlet Letter, wrote,
But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness. . . . The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
Teachers with “invalid value-added” grades have become the Hester Prynnes … shamed, despairing and initially alone. As the backlash grew, as the union supported them and the media supported them the frustration and anger turned to pride.
Sensing a public outcry even Chancellor Walcott cautioned against drawing any conclusions from the grades, until the mayor changed Walcott’s message.
Purim will be celebrated in a few days and I must admit I’m beginning to associate Hamen with the current occupant of Gracie Mansion. The whistle-blowing at recent Panel on Education Policy (PEP) meeting reminded me of the noise-making upon the mention of Hamen’s name.
When Haman’s name is read out during the public chanting of the Megillah in the synagogue, which occurs 54 times, the congregation engages in noisemaking to blot out his name….. Some wrote the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes, and at the mention of the name stamped with their feet as a sign of contempt. Another method was to use a noisy rattle, called a ra’ashan (from the Hebrew ra-ash, meaning “noise”) and in Yiddish a grager.
Children sing about Hamen, the wicked, wicked man.
The tide is turning; let’s hope the ebb tide is not too long.