Tag Archives: Mulgrew

Suspensions, the School to Prison Pipeline, de Blasio and the 2017 Mayoral Election: “All Politics is Local.”

A few weeks after de Blasio won the election in November, 2013 I wandered over to the transition tent on Canal Street; the de Blasio transition team was sponsoring a series of panels. Experts and the “community” was expressing opinions and asking for public input: infrastructure, policing, sanitation and education. The education panel was made up of a leader of the Harlem NAACP, pastors from a few churches and community activists. One of the speakers decried the large numbers of black children suspended in pre-kindergarten. I was sitting next to a high-ranking Department of Education official, I looked over at him, he shrugged and began tapping into his phone – he shook his head – the assertion was totally wrong; however, it didn’t matter.  The panelists “knew,” beyond a doubt, that school was the pipeline to prison and that there was a direct link between suspensions of Afro-American males, high school drop-outs, and prison,

Read an ACLU Report here.

Read Tavis Smiley article here.

As we inch toward the September, 2017 Democratic mayoral primary and the November general election the potential candidates are maneuvering, de Blasio’s approval ratings are in the tank and he is appealing to his base constituency, the Afro-American community.

The suspension rules are explicitly spelled in Department regulations.

New York City has a detailed discipline code; a code that was revised last year limited student behaviors that were subject to suspensions.

New York City School Discipline Code: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CD69C859-524C-43E1-AF25-C49543974BBF/0/DiscCodebookletApril2015FINAL.pdf

 As a result of the changes, and mostly because of pressures from the top, suspension rates have dropped sharply. The New York Daily News reports,

Starting in 2015, city Education Department officials made it more difficult for principals to suspend students as part of a larger effort to improve school climate.

As a result of the changes, city schools boss Carmen Fariña reported in March that suspensions fell 31.7 % from July to December 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.

The push came at least in part from de Blasio, who had criticized suspension policies as discriminatory toward black and Hispanic kids since his days as Public Advocate.

A few weeks ago the Department announced that suspensions in grades K – 2 would be bared completely.

Teacher union president Michael Mulgrew, in an op ed in the New York Daily News was critical,

In a perfect world, no child under the age of 8 would ever be suspended. Every student having a discipline crisis would have the proper interventions. Every classroom would be a positive learning environment.

Unfortunately, children in crisis who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by the latest plan by the city’s Department of Education to ban suspensions outright in grades K-2, and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.

Mulgrew was reflecting the views of his members as well as the principals across the system. I called a principal acquaintance,

“Yes, I plead guilty, I suspended kids in grades K – 2, and I doubt it resolved anything except it gave the teacher a respite from dealing with a few kids who are out of control. I wish I had a behavior specialist, a psychologist on staff, I don’t. A suspension gets the parent or the caregiver up to school and maybe we can work together and find some outside assistance for the kid. I suggested at a principal’s meeting that we chip in and hire an expert who we could share, my senior colleagues told me to back off, it was perceived by the superintendent as a criticism of her leadership.

Since the Great Recession of 2008 the numbers of psychologists, counselors, social workers and nurses in schools has been sharply curtailed. Yes, it is helpful to have reading and math specialists; specialists can only assist students who are ready to learn. How many of our students live in shelters, in foster care, have an incarcerated parent, a substance-abuse addicted parent or guardian, how many are food insecure, live in gang and crime infested neighborhoods?  The answer is simple: far too many. Principals and teachers must deal with the impact of the world outside of school in classrooms. Not an excuse, we take full responsibility for improving student outcomes; addressing the burdens placed on students and families by factors beyond the control of school must be the responsibility of our elected representatives.

A principal arranged for brand new winter jackets to be donated to all of his kids: attendance improved. Another held a barbeque once a month at the end of parent meetings, parents began coming to the meetings. Did the principal training program include teaching you how to check social media to see if there were any fights over the weekend that might spill over into your building?

Has anyone done a study of the impact of out of control kids on the rest of the class?

I asked an experienced principal if suspensions had a positive impact on the kid who was suspended.

There are some egregious acts, bringing a weapon to school, serious fights that must be dealt with sternly. Suspensions may impact the student who committed the act as well as the rest of the school. Restorative disciplinary practices are fine, principals and their staffs must have access to  a toolkit;  a wide range of approaches that fit the situation – removing a tool, suspensions simply makes the job harder and solutions more difficult.

I asked the same principal, a thoughtful guy, whether, in his view, suspension, was an essential part of the school to prison pipeline.

Don’t get me started, can I single out kids in early childhood grades that probably won’t graduate and will get in trouble with the law – sadly, yes. Try as we might, each year we lose a few more kids to the culture of the streets. The signs are clear: poor attendance, more fights, the wrong friends, we see it every year. We try to reel them back in, sometimes successful, too often not.

Believe it or not we are only thirteen months away from the Democratic mayoral primary. Shortly after the presidential election candidates will have to begin their campaigns: raising dollars and raising their profile. With low polling numbers will a Democrat decide that de Blasio is so damaged that he’s vulnerable?  Does Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, or Letitia James, the Public Advocate want to give up their positions to run for mayor, or, wait four years? How about Reuben Diaz, the Bronx Borough President? Or, maybe a Republican who can raise the mega-dollars – is there another Rudy Giuliani?  For twenty years the heavily Democratic city had Republican mayors. How about Eva Moskowitz?

In my mind there is no question that the UFT, the teacher union is firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Politico has doubts.

The political harmony between Mayor Bill de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew has faded in recent months, with Mulgrew issuing a series of denunciations of City Hall’s key education agenda items.

“We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of eight would be greatly diminished,” Mulgrew wrote. “Better management would also result in more schools developing a positive culture of discipline and respect. Given the DOE’s poor track record in this area, we cannot support the plan at this time.”

To criticize actions of the Department of Education is not a “series of denunciations;” in mature labor-management relationships the parties can “agree to disagree.”  The actions of the chancellor in whittling away at the discipline code, in sharply reducing the number of suspensions,  we understand, is a political act; an appeal to a constituency that firmly believes that the act of suspension leads to dire consequences for Afro-American males.

All politics is local.

The union president is acting responsibly – he is representing his members, and, the parents of children across the city – you cannot simply bar suspensions without addressing the underlying issues – unacceptable behavior.  The Department cannot simply wave a magic wand and claim restorative justice practices are an alternative to suspension. Principals and teacher must have a wide range of tools to address unacceptable behavior, and to address the social and emotional deficits that result in these behaviors. Schools needs mental health professionals to work with children and their families as well as to work with school staffs and a wider range of alternative settings.

To call out the chancellor is not a sign of political dissatisfaction with the mayor; it is a union leader representing his members.

In the cauldron od politics someone is polling to see whether supporting suspensions will have a positive political impact.

A political axiom: win the election first, making a better world comes next.

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Teachers, School Leaders (and a Neighbor) Views on the New Teacher Contract: Taking the Pulse

A completely unscientific poll of teachers, school leaders and a neighbor responding to:

What do you think about the new teacher contract?

I texted, messaged, called and spoke with a range of folks…

Senior Teacher: I have a few years to go before retirement, I would have like more dollars, I have to decide whether it pays to stick it out through the end of the contract – less paperwork, keeping my principal off my back is a good think, otherwise, I really don’t care.

Third Year Teacher: I’m enthusiastic, there seems to be many educational items, I don’t fully understand them but it looks like the contract is “professionalizing” teaching, a good thing.

Tenth Year Teacher: I’m overjoyed, I always get excellent observations, I get along with my school leadership, and these new titles with higher pay are really attractive. I have my supervisory credentials but I really don’t want to become a boss – I was seriously thinking about applying for a job outside the city – I guess this might have been aimed at teachers like me.

An ATR: I’m petrified! This is my fourth year in the pool – I have twenty years in the system but I’m a long way from retirement. My school closed and the new schools only wanted young teachers. In the first year I went on lots of interviews – never a nibble. The last few years my ATR Field Supervisor has observed me – written satisfactory observations – if principals still don’t like me does it mean I get fired?

Teacher in a Low Performing School: I have to look into the $5,000 bonus for teachers in difficult schools – sounds like what they did in the old Chancellor’s District. My school has flirted with a closing list for years – I’m curious what this all means.

A Network Staff Member: My e-mailbox is full! I changed my phone message to “I don’t know anything about the contract.” How do you apply to become an Innovation School? Will I have to change Networks? Who decides on which teachers can bump up to the new, higher paying titles? Will the bucks come out of my budget? Will there be bonuses for principals? I have no idea and tell them “stay tuned.”

An ATR Guidance Counselor: What happens to a guidance counselor? As far as I can see principals have cut counseling staffs and I don’t see them re-hiring counselors? I hope the union calls a meeting for ATR counselors and explains the ATR provisions to us.

A School Leader: I hope teacher observations will become saner, and, hopefully fewer observations per teacher. I actually like being in classrooms talking to kids and working with teachers – I would much rather be able to observe new and probationary teachers more frequently and senior teachers less frequently. I would like to set up some inter visitations – now – I spend endless hours writing up observations and inputting data.

A Recent Retiree: Do I get retroactive pay? I retired in 2012 and would have received raises if a contract was negotiated back then … doesn’t seem fair if I don’t.

A Long Time Retiree: I’m happy for my working colleagues – when I retired salaries were a lot less than they are now – thank goodness I plowed dollars into my TDA (Tax Deferred Annuity) – I’m worried about the health plans – compared to my non-teacher friends we have a spectacular plan – saving a billion dollars sounds like we’re going to have to pay more … guess I’ll just wait and see and hope for the best.

My Neighbor: Good for the teachers – they deserve it – as long as it doesn’t bankrupt the city. Sounds like they got a good deal and sounds like its reasonable – stretching out the payments for past years seems reasonable – hopefully it can bring some sense to this testing stuff – parents I meet think it’s onerous and harmful to kids.

Teachers have many questions, and are generally positive, not ecstatic, hopeful probably describes attitudes. The only really negative comments come from the opposition caucus within the union, who, like the Republicans in Congress who oppose everything the Obama administration does, will pan everything the Mulgrew administration does, that’s politics today. And, not surprisingly the City Journal, the publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, decries the contract as dragging the city to doom, of course, the author, Steve Malanga, also supports total vouchers and the privatization of all city services. Let’s hire the “best and the brightest,” fire the malingerers, and pay as little as possible, not exactly a formula for creating and sustaining high performing schools.

In 1995 I was at a union staff retreat a few days before the opening of school – the union had been negotiating with the Giuliani administration for months, the rumors leaked to the staff, the union agreed on a five year contract proposal with the first two years – no raises. One of my colleagues was on the negotiating team, I asked, “Marvin, this is crazy.” Marvin shrugged; this is what the union leadership decided. Additionally, there was a “retention incentive,” 5% of new teacher’s salary was withheld for five years, those who left before five years would forfeit the 5%. As I raced from school to school to “explain and sell” the contract I was pilloried by the membership. The field staff was delivering a message that the union leadership did not want to hear. The contract was voted down – six months later a similar contract, without the “retention incentive” passed easily.

The current union leadership uses a 300-member negotiating team as a “sounding board,” the members across the union spectrum by age and level and political caucus all give feedback to the union policymakers – these days the leadership takes the pulse of the membership.

The current contract, in my view, will be overwhelmingly approved by the membership, the $1,000 “signing bonus,” is a nice fillip.

The union is building a FAQ site (Frequently Asked Questions) – don’t be shy – click and ask: https://uft.wufoo.com/forms/ask-a-question-about-the-proposed-contract/

Tick Tock: The Race for Mayor in New York City Enters the Final Stretch, May the Best (or the Best Organized) Wo(man) Win.

Tick Tock …

Twenty days to the September 10th primary day and the citywide offices all have competitive races.

de Blasio, Thompson and Quinn lead the mayoral field with Weiner and Liu struggling and Albanese and Salgado along for the ride. Stringer and Spitzer spar over the Comptroller slot, a host of challengers vie for Public Advocate and if you live in Manhattan or Queens the Boro President races are torrid.

My mailbox is filling up every day with mailings from multiple candidates and the tv screen is beginning to burst with glitzy advertisements.

In the new world of social media and data collecting the science of running a campaign is both complex and sophisticated.

The “rules” for winning a campaign at straightforward:

* identify the pool of voters
* identify your voters
* get them to the polls

Candidates seek out of a number of companies who provide a wealth of data in order to target voters, for example, PrimeNY will provide.

Contributors to religious causes (over 200,000 New York State voters)
• Political contributors (over 500,000)
• Contributors to environmental groups (over 450,000)
• Home includes a child (over 1 million voters)
• Book buyers (over 1 million)
• Gardeners (over 300,000)
• Investors (over 500,000)
• Gun owners (over 200,000)
Plus income, education & housing information

Every time you use your credit card for a purchase, log on to a website, sign an online petition, your data is aggregated and becomes part of the big database in the sky.

Who are the voters?

Prime voters, the most sought after voters, are voters who have voted in three of the last four primary elections. They are older, over sixty, many are or were union members, and if retired active in a host of organizations, Michael Mulgrew, the UFT president calls retired teachers his “day time army.”

In New York State only voters registered in a party can vote in a party primary, and, you can only change party registration status a year earlier. Although 2008 and 2012 were record years at the polls – the Obama surge – the “off year” turnouts are significantly lower. The new and younger voters in 2008 and 2012 either failed to register in a party (“I’m an independent”) or lost interest in the interim years. The election seers expect a 600-700,000 turnout in the mayoral primary – in a city of eight million plus!

Who are my voters?

Can candidates identify their potential voters – perhaps Quinn singles out gay voters or Thompson Afro-American voters or de Blasio more liberal voters. Campaigns craft their message to appeal to their voters.

Either a tv commercial, a mailing, a phone campaign, candidates target voters they have identified as potentially their voters. And, you’re relentless, you may ask “how many times do I contact voters who have already committed to us – the answer: as often as possible.”

How do I get my voters to the polls?

By any and all means possible …

The most effective method of motivating “our guys” is face-to-face, that tried and true door to door canvassing. “Thanks for your support, we really need you, we know you can join us to man the phones, to spend a few hours knocking on doors, …” It’s called building a movement.

Why does the polling bounce around so much?

It is extremely complex and expensive to conduct polling with low margins of error. The telephone polls might only call land line users. not cell phone-only users, did the pollsters select a “stratified, random sample” or the best available subjects?

Harry Smoler was on the Board of his coop out in Sheepshead Bay – everyone knew Harry. At the urging of his wife, a school secretary – he ran for the local school board. His coop voted heavily for their neighbor and Harry was elected to the school board. Every two years he also ran for the Assembly, never coming close.

After many attempts one election cycle lo and behold Harry was elected. One of the sages quipped, “He had run so many times people thought he was the incumbent.”

The vast majority of voters select their candidate based on very narrow criteria. In Harry’s case they imply knew his name and liked him, there were no policy considerations, in fact, they thought he was running for re-election for an office he never had held.

Quinn was the prime architect of the plan to allow Bloomberg, and the city council, to run for a third term, a single issue that for many voters permanently tarnished her reputation.

Thompson, in a city with many minority voters, is the only person of color (de Blasio, in an attempt to counter has a tv ad featuring his bi-racial son) emphasizes his experience, president of the NYC Board of Education and eight years as the City Comptroller, and, de Blasio, has staked out the left, attacks on the wealthy, tax the rich to benefit poorer New Yorkers.

Can I actually find out the education policies of the candidates?

Yes, Gotham Schools maintains a data base here.

Every minute of every day from now to the 9 PM closing of the polls on September 10th is filled in on the candidate calendars, the dates for the mailers are set, the tv time is purchased, the army of canvassers and phone bankers is building, may the best man (or woman) win, or, the best organized?

To be continued: The runoff among the top two candidates on October 1 and the democrat versus the republican on November 5th, and, BTW, will Mike Bloomberg toss in last minute millions to support the republican? Isn’t politics wonderful?

“We’re Better Than Buffalo,” The State Test Debacle: Who Are the Losers and Winners?

Ultimately, no one will be pleased by a measure that is expected to show fewer than 30 percent of students are on track for success after high school. Shael Suransky, NYC Chief Academic Officer

The headlines blare, “State Test Scores Plummet,” and the policy makers scatter for cover; for some an opportunity to further their ambitions, for others a disaster and, for too many, sadness, despair and fear.

Are the scores proof that the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott years were a failure and a charade? or,

Are we finally on the right track – raising the bar for all students?

Cyberspace will be filled with punditry: gleefully using the scores to support some argument or other or solemnly using the scores to support another argument.

The Bloomberg/Walcott versus Mulgrew wars continue – a detailed analysis sent to the media by the union, Walcott calls it “despicable.”

We are a month away from city-wide primary elections.

As the scores are released who are the losers and winners?

The Losers:

* Student, Families, Teachers and Principals

On Monday “embargoed” scores were posted online for principals. A principal of a school filled with high poverty kids was succeeding, an “A” school, 40% of the kids were “proficient” and the percentage was edging up every year. This year, she recounted, everyone was working especially hard – the new Common Core – curriculum changes – tentative guidance from above- and only 25% of the kids “proficient” on the new test.

“I’m worried that we’ll end up on some ‘bad school’ list, mostly I worry about the students and teachers – they worked so hard and have so little to show for it.”

The psychological impact on kids is hard to quantify, how can you tell kids not to worry, that it wasn’t their fault when the kids say, “You never taught me how to do that problem,” how do you respond?

* Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott

I actually think in the early days the Mayor believed Klein’s public relations machine pumping out one “success” after another. The “successes” were, for the most part, a trompe d’oeille, a carefully etched counterfeit. Credit Recovery jacked up graduation rates by a few points, the constant school closings, an example of “addition by subtraction” with at risk kids concentrated in fewer and fewer schools, charter schools scooping up kids and families with high social capital, and pushing aside kids with disabilities and English language learners, a carefully plotted gambit.

The last few years have been a disaster for a legacy-engaged Mayor. In a Zogby Poll the public trusts the teacher union more than the Mayor on educational issues, Sol Stern in City Journal writes,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

* Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch:

Kentucky was the first state to use Common Core items and scores dropped 30%. Perhaps it was hubris, perhaps political pressures from “across the street (the Governor’s Office), the Commissioner and the Chancellor rebuffed every effort to postpone the impact of the scores – to use a golf term, they refused to give the State a “mulligan.” The moratorium idea began in a widely covered speech by AFT President Randi Weingarten, gained traction, Education Secretary Duncan quietly said he would not stand in the way – New York State stood firm, no dice, and no postponement. At the July Regents meeting Regent Harry Phillips, a longtime member of the Regents, made a motion to delay for one year the impact of the State tests – Regent Tallon vigorously opposed the motion – Regents Cashin and Rosa spoke in favor and the motion died as the remainder of the Board said nothing.

The Commissioner asked superintendents to be “judicious” in the use of the scores – whatever that means.

The State made every effort to prepare superintendents, principals, teachers and kids for the far more complex test items. High wealth districts pumped in the dollars, low wealth districts are simply struggling to survive, and, in New York City, the readiness swings widely from school to school, with State Ed abdicating any responsibility for the city.

The Commissioner and the Chancellor fumbled an opportunity to gain widespread support across the state.

The winners:

* The Mayoral Candidates.

The candidates will use the test scores as an opportunity to bash the current administration – “As Mayor I will work closely with parents and teachers, I will oppose high stakes testing, I will select an experienced educator as chancellor, I will identify funds to do this and that and the other thing.” The candidates are both running against Bloomberg and being careful not to alienate the current Mayor too much – a tightrope. While the citizenry does not support the Mayor’s education policies most praise him for reducing crime and as a good fiscal custodian.

* The Teacher Union:

The union has been consistently declaring that schools were not adequately prepared for the new Common Core tests. With a Cheshire cat smile they can say, “We told you so.”

I suspect the union will not gloat, well, maybe a little – I suspect that they will do a careful parsing of the test, especially since many of the test items will be released in the coming weeks.

On September 10th Democratic voters will chose from among the pretenders – it appears that Quinn, Thompson and De Blasio will be battling for the two runoff spots on October 1.

The bickering, the recriminations, the warfare has to abate, the school system needs a mayor who can select a chancellor who can get everyone on board – you cannot drag a school system or a state, kicking and screaming, to higher standards.

The beatings will continue until morale improves is not a good slogan.

It’s Thompson: The Teacher Union (UFT) Enthusiastically Endorses a Mayoral Candidate

Over 2,000 teachers have attended union-sponsored candidate forums – and many have attended neighborhood and organization sponsored forums, Thompson, Liu and de Blasio were the most popular among the teachers at the forums. (The union conducted straw votes at each forum).

In spite of the wide ranging views among the membership Thompson is a popular choice, as well as a pragmatic choice.

The six Democratic candidates will duel for the eighty days leading up to the September 10th primary, and the top two will joust for three more weeks to the October 1st runoff.

The Republican candidate will opt out of campaign finance, and raise big bucks to fund an aggressive negative campaign.

In June, 2001 who heard of Michael Bloomberg? He was polling in the single digits as the Democrats flailed away at each other.

The thousand delegates at Wednesday’s meeting overwhelmingly applauded the putting forth of Thompson’s name, and the delegates, with a handful of negative votes endorsed Thompson enthusiastically.

Thompson thanked the delegates and launched into his stump speech, his mother, a career New York City teacher, his teachers in elementary school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hudde Junior High School and Midwood High School; his “promises” were to collaborate with parents and teachers and to fix, not close schools. Elect Bill Thompson signs appeared and within an hour I received a robo call and a text message from the union.

Gotham Schools reports,

“When I’m mayor, I’m going to fight day and night for the teachers of New York, because you’re critical for the future of New York,” Thompson said, to cheers.

Several teachers said the energy in the room was electric, particularly after Mulgrew announced that the endorsement was official. “When he said it, it amped it up 100 percent,” said John Leftridge, who teaches at P.S. 93 in Brooklyn.

“It was kind of like Obama in there,” said Charlene Johnson, a teacher at P.S. 64 in Manhattan.

As the days of school fritter away teachers will scatter to the winds, or take a week off before they begin to toil in summer school. The union has to round up the core campaigners, the teachers who want to spend the summer knocking on doors, setting up neighborhood meetings, and that last minute Go Out The Vote push on the September 7th, 8th and 9th.

Aside from union members another potential pool of Thompson voters are voters of color. The union has developed strong ties with parents, advocacy organizations, pastors and community leaders, a substantial pool of voters.

The Thompson-UFT efforts will target neighborhoods and try and hook up with the City Council candidates, political clubs and political county organizations.

The dog days of summer are also the dog days of campaigning, sloughing from meeting to meeting on 90 degree plus humid days.

The political mavens are predicting that de Blasio, Liu and Weiner will falter as the summer lengthens and Quinn and Thompson will emerge as the contenders. Who knows? It is a campaign without passion – the passion of the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012, the Schumer – D’Amato head to head, occasionally candidates evoke the passions of voters who dedicate themselves for their their guy or gal. When I asked a neighbor who they were thinking of voting, after I assured him Bloomberg was not running, he thought, “Let me see, the redhead, Quinn, the tall guy, the Asian guy and the Black guy.” The populace has not focused in on the candidates, and may not until a week or two before the September 10th primary.

The candidates are personalities, it is difficult to define the candidates by issues – stop and frisk, schools, bike lanes, affordable housing, they all sort of agree, The NY Post and Daily News will continue to rip away at all the Democratic candidates and probably endorse the Republican candidate in November.

Thomas Edison wrote, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

The stakes are high for the union – an early commitment to a candidate, a maximum effort, UFT president Mulgrew pushed all his chips to the center of the table, “we’re all in.” If Thompson stumbles and does not make the runoff the reputation of Mulgrew and the union is tarnished.

If Thompson makes it into the runoff and loses the union can jump on board the October 1st winner – an embarrassment but not a disaster.

If the specter of 2001 is revisited, the union candidates lose in the primary,the runoff and the November election it would be a triumph Bloomberg, in essence the Republican candidate would continue the Bloomberg vista.

In 2009 Bloomberg shelled out over a hundred million dollars and choked the airways, pumping up his reputation and denigrating his opponent. With all the Democrats opting into the campaign finance program, and assuming they max out their contributions, they will have equal dollars in the eight million dollar range. Over the final two weeks the airways will be flooded with glossy presentations, and, jabs. “Third parties” can raise unlimited dollars to campaign, thank the five-members of the Supreme Court in the Citizen United decision.

With six Democrats, without major policy differences, personality and feet on the ground will prevail.

Remember a Derek Jeter and/or a David Wright endorsement is far more valuable than the candidate’s views on co-location. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West could probably “make” a mayor – sadly it’s the world we live in.

Celebrity and music resonates more than political policy.

I have high hopes for Thompson, he just seems like he understands the pulse of the city beyond the East River.

For those of a certain age the raps are the new folk music,

Check out Lupe Fiasco, “Around My Way Freedom Ain’t Free.”

And for those of us who resent the noblesse oblige attitude of the current administration perhaps Leonard Cohen speaks for us, check out “Democracy“

Gwen Verdon, Méphistophélès and the Democratic Mayoral Primary: Will UFT Troops, or a Contract With Beelzebub Decide the Election?

Every few hours on my TV screen I see New Yorkers rag on Christine Quinn, an example of negative campaigning – welcome to the world of big time politics.

All the Democratic candidates are participating in the NYC Campaign Finance which provides matching funds for the primary and the general election. Outside organizations, “third parties,” can spend unlimited funds supporting or opposing candidates. The current nasty ads erode Quinn’s lead – such is the world of politics in the 21st century.

On September 10th voters who are registered in the Democratic Party, at least some of them, will go to the polls to cast their ballots for a mayoral candidate, a comptroller and public advocate, all of which require 40% to avoid a runoff, two, or maybe three weeks later. In addition most voters will choose a borough president and a city council candidate; there is no 40% rule requirement in non-citywide races.

The experts, the political consulting firms charge big dollars to run campaigns – and they’re very good at it

Check out Red Horse Strategies, Brown, Miller Groupand Bill Lynch Associates, among many others.

The Brown, Miller Group promises,

IT’S ABOUT THE DATA. Every direct contact plan needs to be built on a foundation of detailed analysis. Turnout trends, polling, tested messages, the things unique to every client, every campaign, and every neighborhood – these nuances and individualities are the basis of a successful mail program.

Data is available in an endless array, by geography, by race and ethnicity, by gender, by age, by frequency of voting, by type of dwelling, Prime NY will sell you the data disaggregated any way you choose.

For candidates a core question: who are the voters and who are your voters?

In November 2012 I stood in line for over two hours to vote – the line was overwhelmingly Obama voters, and, as I chatted with voters on the line many had not voted since 2008. Most experts expect a relatively light turnout in spite of six Democratic contenders (Quinn, Thompson, Liu, De Blasio, Weiner and Albanese). None of the candidates are magnetic, yes, Asian voters, if they are registered Democrats are Liu voters, the furthest left are De Blasio voters, Afro-American voters are probably Thompson voters, LGT voters are Quinn voters, none of the candidate constituencies have the passion of Obama voters.

The experts are predicting between 600 and 700,000 voters – in a city of 8 million plus residents. New York City has among the lowest level of voter turnout in the nation, and, the percentages are declining. New York is at the bottom of the nation in citizen participation in elections,

New York ranks among the lowest states with voter turnouts. In 2010, only 35 percent voted according to a George Mason University study.

“New York City had lower voter turnout in the presidential elections in 2008 than any other major city in the country,” said Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board said. “While I don’t think any jurisdiction would say that they have great voter turnout, I think that New York has a particular problem.”

In 2001 785,000 Democrats voted in the mayoral primary and 790,000 in the runoff. In the 2005 and 2009 general elections the Democratic turnouts were meager, (Ferrer – 503,000 and Thompson – 534,000), and, yes, Democratic voters did “cross-over” and vote for Bloomberg.

The early media buys are examples of negative campaigning, effective in diminishing the votes of opponents, and generally turns off voters and decreases turnouts.

Candidates “mine” data: the key voters are “prime” (voted in three of the last four elections) and “double prime” voters (voted in four of the last four elections). Websites provide keys to collecting voter information.

See an excellent site here.

I am told by a knowledgeable consultant that the average age of a voter in the Democratic primary is sixty years of age, and more likely than a younger voter to have a land line. Polling organizations randomly call registered Democrats with land lines; the many potential voters with only cell phones are not polled.

Christine Quinn has been leading all the polls for months; however her early lead, which was approaching the 40% mark, has eroded significantly. Nate Silver in his NY Times Five Thirty Eight column does an analysis of Democratic primaries since 1989 and predicts Quinn will be the winner.

The latest poll, a Marist May 28th poll predicts a very close vote on September 10th,
• 24% Christine Quinn
• 19% Anthony Weiner
• 12% Bill de Blasio
• 11% Bill Thompson
• 8% John Liu
• 1% Sal Albanese
• 23% Undecided

The next polls, due in a few weeks will reflect whether Weiner has “staying power,” the impact of the negative ads aimed at Quinn and the impact of the recent union endorsements.

Paul Egan, the UFT Political Action Coordinator avers that 60,000 UFT members are registered Democrats residing in New York City and if you count UFT households about 100,000 voters – a significant chunk of the expected turnout.

No wonder the candidates are acolytes of Gwen Verdon in “Damn Yankees.” (Watch U-Tube of “Whatever Lola Wants”). The favorite play and opera among the candidates is Faust, and, a political consulting firm named Mephistopheles Strategies would probably be overwhelmed with clients.

Michael Mulgrew half-jokingly lamented, “I’m going to go from six really close ‘friends’ to one ‘friend.'” The UFT will be endorsing a candidate at the Delegate Meeting scheduled for the afternoon of June 19th.

The candidates will spend the summer attending every event they can find, from bar-b-ques to street fairs, from baseball games to cricket matches, trying to scrape together a vote here and a vote there – a percentage point may very well determine who makes the runoff.

This is a particularly difficult year – the Thursday and Friday before the September 10th primary is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and one of the holiest days of the year; a key time in which campaigning will be limited.

The acronym which will decide the winner(s) is GOTV.

GOTY = Get Out the Vote. You’ve spent months identifying your voters, getting out your message, now; you must take that last step and make sure they get to the polling place. TV and radio and social media allow you to frame your message – GOTV determines winners.

Both in 2008 and 2012 Obama had an army, millions of foot soldiers knocking on the right doors. Endorsements are helpful, phone banks important, the “decider” is the push in the last four days, the GOTV efforts. Can you knock on the tens of thousands of doors of voters who have indicated they are your voters – not random doors? Get Out The Vote means get out your vote.

Can the UFT get their 60,000 registered Democrat voters go door to door on the weekend of September 7-8 and ask, “Can I depend on you to go the poll on Tuesday and vote for _______?”

The vast percentage of potential voters are far more concerned with ups and downs of their favorite sports teams, the woes of the Yankees and the Mets and the upcoming football season – the Giants and the Jets. My neighbor is more interested in the latest episode of the Game of Thrones than the election, in fact, the citizenry is only vaguely aware that Bloomberg can’t run again. Voters will only focus on the election in mid-August, if at all.

Can a teacher who favors candidate “A” be convinced to switch his/her vote to the candidate that the UFT endorses? The election may hinge on this crucial question.

If Michael Mulgrew can get his troops into the field – he can make a mayor – if not, the specter of 2001 – the UFT endorsed three losers and an unknown who had never been involved in politics seized the office – once again, can a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city be elected, or, can a Democrat hostile to unions grab the scepter and the orb?

Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best,

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” and “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

See NY Times article re power of labor unions in NYC mayoral election.

NYU Panel (Part 2): Where are the Policymakers? (Certainly Not Currently Listening to Families and Teachers and Principals and Scholars)

A really effective moderator can turn bland speeches into scintillating dialogue. At the NYU Steinhardt breakfast the moderator, Joseph McDonald was superb. He pointedly keep the panelists on task, chided the audience members who stepped to the microphone, “No speeches, ask questions.”

Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at NYU asked a simple question,

“Where are the policymakers?”

The core decisions driving education policy are made by Bill Gates and Eli Broad, the playbook, developed in April, 2009, “Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds for Student Success,” lays out the policies that drive education policy from Washington to the mean streets of the South Bronx.

Take a look at the Report: http://www.broadeducation.org/asset/429-arrasmartoptions.pdf, especially the list of the report writers. No teacher union reps, no principals, no teachers, no academics, the “Klein Crowd,” Michelle Rhee and a long list of the think tankers from the right: the market-driven approach to schooling.

While the Report supports, “Create fairer, more accurate and more useful teacher evaluation systems, developed with teachers and their unions,” and “Train teachers, unions and school leaders in the new systems” it excludes the very same people from the table.

The “Broad/Gates” playbook is not based on peer-reviewed evidence, not based on the experience of classroom teachers or principals or deep thinkers in the universities, it ignores the representatives of communities of color, it represents a 21st century “noblesse oblige,” perhaps harsh, it reeks of rich and powerful white guys deciding what is best for the poor, powerless communities of color.

Back to the panelists:

Professor Okhee Lee, an expert on English Language Learners, an English Language Learner herself, a member of the just released Next Generation Science Standards(NGSS) team strongly advocated,

“…having students develop models, construct explanations, and argue from evidence enables these diverse learners to understand core ideas within science while acquiring technical aspects of language like vocabulary or sentence structure … this is extremely important since the Common Core State Standards are moving more heavily towards building content standards across academic disciplines for all students.”

The policymakers in Albany, the State Education Department have been fumbling with Part 154, the regulations governing instruction for English Language Learners in NYS, regulations that are basically unchanged for thirty years, regulations that may protect jobs but certainly do not drive instructional practices that are both effective and evidence-based. While English Language Learners are stumbling across the state there are exceptions – a handful of schools are in agreement with Professor Lee, and the results are impressive, yet the policymakers diddle, again, politics trumps what has been developed at schools by teachers and principals.

Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT chided the Obama administration, 350 million to develop tests and zero dollars to develop curriculum, as well as Kentucky and New York State for “pushing off the diving board” approach to the Common Core, creating both high stakes evaluation of ill-prepared students and hostile and suspicious principals and teachers, is fool hearty.

The April 2009 Gates/Broad Report, four years down the road has been disastrous. The Broader, Bolder Coalition’s in-depth analysis exposes deeply flawed policies,

Top-down pressure from federal education policies such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, bolstered by organized advocacy efforts, is making a popular set of market-oriented education “reforms” look more like the new status quo than real reform. Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools will boost at-risk students’ achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps. This new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education examines these assertions by comparing the impacts of these reforms in three large urban school districts – Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago – with student and school outcomes over the same period in other large, high-poverty urban districts. The report finds that the reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment.

The last audience member standing at a floor microphone was David Steiner, the former Commissioner of Education, current Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College and leader of the new Education Policy Institute at the Roosevelt House.

Steiner was an unusual choice for State Commissioner; after all he hadn’t been a superintendent who worked his way up through the ranks. Each May the UFT convenes its Spring Conference – a couple of thousand teachers pack the Hilton to attend a number of timely panels, listen to a policy address by the union president, give an award to a public figure, and, for me the best part, have the opportunity to meet and engage with someone in the limelight at Operation Soapbox at the breakfast session.

In his first year as commissioner David Steiner connected with the audience – he may have a bit of an upper class British accent, I think he favors the philharmonic over a Jets game – he understands teachers. Many Operation Soapbox participants defend and deflect, David Steiner listened and engaged; it was clear that the Commissioner and Union President Mulgrew actually liked and understood each other. I had the feeling he could be the guy teaching down the hallway. (“Dave, have any ideas on an Aristotle lesson?”)

When Steiner suddenly departed two years ago I was saddened and not too surprised. Commissioners are battered by the winds of politics: a governor running for president, a mayor desperately seeking a “legacy,” superintendents wanting policies to increase graduation rates and decrease costs, agendas that may have nothing to do with the lives of kids and their families.

Steiner began by explaining that he does not comment on his successor, and told us that his successor was deeply committed to supporting the neediest children, sort of “damning with faint praise.”

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.
— “Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot” by Alexander Pope (1688–1744)

Agreeing with Weingarten (and Sol Stern and others) how can we rush forward without a curriculum, without agreed upon “domains of knowledge”? Late in the process the state has purchased and placed online a number of curricula, has begun to train district teams, Steiner reminded us that “retooling” is enormously expensive, the efforts; however, are faltering at best and fail to assuage deep suspicion on the part of teachers and principals.

The Commissioner emeritus ended his remarks by referring to Cuban/Tyack in “Tinkering Toward Utopia,” who reviewed a hundred years of school reform efforts and concluded that unless teachers and parents are on board the reform efforts are doomed.

Didn’t George Santayana remind us,

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.

To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood.