Thursday, May 14, 2009

Money Not For Nothing

The latest polls on the way to the Bloomberg coronation reveal the obvious-money counts in politics; and when you're the richest man in New York, it counts a lot: "Mayor Bloomberg's approval rating, meanwhile, has rebounded to 59% in the latest Marist Poll - up from his 52% rating in February, which was his lowest since June 2005. Poll director Lee Miringoff attributed Bloomberg's rebound to a number of factors, ranging from those polled feeling more upbeat about the economy to Bloomberg spending several millions of dollars in recent weeks on a blizzard of television and other campaign advertising."

Interestingly, Bloomberg still barely scratches passed 50% even with all of his no response advertising; not to mention the fact that a good portion of the local press is actively rooting him on with what's known in the business as free media. The battle over the schools is a case in point.

If you believe what the editorialists at the Daily News and the NY Post have to say on the subject-which probably puts you in the market as a potential bridge buyer-than you would have to feel that the Bloomberg educational regime is nothing short of the "New York Miracle." An Elmer Gantry like moment when the blind woman rises from her knees yelling, "I can see!"

So we get the following-and on such a repetitive basis that you'd think the reporters were being paid by the word out of the coffers of the mayor's re-election campaign: "MIKE'S GRADE GETS A BOOST." In reality, however, the poll on mayoral control isn't all that supportive of the mayor: "The Marist College poll reported that 51 percent of 578 voters questioned approve of the mayor's performance, compared to 41 percent who don't. That's a dramatic swing from February, when 52 percent said he was doing a poor job in managing the schools, while 40 percent backed Bloomberg. But when voters were asked if Bloomberg should continue to run the system or whether that responsibility should be transferred to a citywide panel, 60 percent opted for the panel. "It's a mixed message," pollster Lee Miringoff said of the seemingly contradictory results."

But the Post has a bad habit of trumpeting the good news nugget in its headlines and ledes, while burying the more negative material down in the body of the stories it writes on this key issue; and then there's the editorials, that have been nothing short of both laudatory of the mayor, as well as derisive of his critics: "The Campaign for Better Schools, a teachers-union front that's leading the push to kill mayoral control of public education in New York City, has rolled out its own school-governance scheme. It's a sad joke...The lawmakers would water down the mayor's control -- giving the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader each an appointee on the 17-member panel. Terrific: Albany's infamous "three men in a room" would be making education policy for city kids -- and answering to no one."

Which is precisely what the Marist Poll reveals-the folks don't trust the One Man Rule, and want a system of checks and balances; something that the Post sees as simply a boost for the union laggards: "But the entire point of mayoral control, and the reason it has been so effective, is that voters finally have someone to hold accountable for school performance. Ending that system serves union purposes -- when the big cat's away, the teacher-mice tend to do anything but teach -- but it's not so hot for the kids."

But then the Post, and the Daily News as well, see the system gains through Bloomberg colored glasses: "Speaking of whom, as The Post's Carl Campanile reported yesterday, the districts of city-based senators on the key Education Committee have seen some of the more impressive classroom gains under mayoral control. That bunch includes the above-mentioned Huntley, who's seen her district's fourth-graders' pass rate on state reading and math tests shoot up 17 and 31 percent, respectively, since 2002 -- and its high-school graduation rate rise by fully 25 percent. Sens. Joseph Addabbo, Toby Ann Stavisky and Frank Padavan of Queens; Pedro Espada of The Bronx, and Velmanette Montgomery and Daniel Squadron of Brooklyn have all seen nearly as impressive academic gains in their districts."

All of which ignores-and the Post adds in the tenuous rise in graduation rates here-the fact that these figures mirror the kind of evaluation that the stockbrokers were giving to Enron, right before the company collapsed. They're based on the absolutely flawed-scandalous we would say- state tests. Andy Wolf's previous comments bear repeating here.

"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."

So something funny has happened on the way to the Bloomberg coronation. An third wave of unprecedented spending is underway, accompanied by an editorial and media echo chamber that results-in the absent of any countervailing information-an increase in the mayor's poll numbers. The subornation of the democratic process is well on its way.