Friday, October 31, 2008

Mayoral Wolf Tickets on Schools

With the mayoral backdraft on term limits in its infancy, it's useful to look forward to the battle over school governance. In all likelihood, the mayor will be facing an increasingly skeptical public; folks who will be more receptive to dissonant voices, such as those represented by the Riverdale Riview's Andrew Wolf.

Wolf, writing in the Public Advocate Corner opines: "By the statistics, mayoral control has failed, as Diane Ravitch has previously pointed out in this space. Test results on the most reliable measures are flat, despite an unprecedented influx of funds – a 79% increase in the education budget in just six years." But this failure extends beyond the numbers themselves.

As Wolf demonstrates: "But mayoral control has failed in a more profound way. Desperate to show “progress,” a laundry list of structural reforms has been implemented by the gang at the Tweed Courthouse. Most of these have to do with providing incentives to principals, teachers and students. If you want to believe that teachers will only do a good job if we give them the chance to earn an extra $3,000 bonus for higher test scores, than I have a bridge to sell you."

The educrats fail to get the essence of what it means to dedicate yourself to teaching kids. Having built their models on false assumptions, is it any wonder that their achievements are so meager? As Wolf indicates: "Most teachers I know desperately want to do a good job. Meeting with success makes the life of the teacher more rewarding. No small bonus, or even large bonus could ever replace that satisfaction."

Nor will bribing pupils have any real lasting impact-and the analogue of paying folks to lift them out of poverty is equally ridiculous: "The idea that students will be motivated by giving them cash prizes or, more perversely, cellular telephones that they aren’t allowed to bring to school with them, sends the wrong message. We have to imbue in our young people an appreciation for the value of learning – as a way to help them succeed financially, sure, but even more for the enrichment it gives to their lives." It is sad, but not all kids will be motivated; nor will all students be equally successful in spite of our best efforts.

But we need to develop the right methodologies-something that the Tweedlers haven't understood: "The changes we need are the ones that have been ignored. We are following an empty curriculum that leaves even the brightest students woefully deficient in the sciences, history, geography, music and art. We are training teachers to use methodologies, such as “balanced literacy,” that have been proven ineffective with the most at-risk students, while jettisoning strategies with much better track records and far more promise."

Worst of all, the Bloombergistas have recruited an army of MBAs who have a trained incapacity to make any positive educational impact:"In trying to impose a “business model” on our schools, we have failed our children in a profound way. We then use the “creative accounting” of inflated test scores and never-ending test prep to “prove” that the schools are bringing “profits” for the huge investment in public capital that is being poured into them. It is all an illusion, reinforced by a public relations army spending ten times more to sell their product us than the old Board of Education did. If we have learned nothing else during the last few weeks, it is that the Bloombergian “business model” doesn’t even work in the business world. Why should we think that it works in the far more complicated world of education?"

We can't wait till this fight becomes acrimoniously public. Once it does, the mayor's crumbling PR fortress will collapse, and the term limits battle may well be decided in November, 2009-with Mike Bloomberg suffering a humiliating defeat.