Friday, May 08, 2009

Post Dunce Cap

The NY post is doing its level best to hurt whatever chances Mike Bloomberg has to maintain his version of mayoral control of the schools-particularly with their blitzkrieg of the UFT. In yesterday's paper their editorial went like this: "The best grassroots movement money can buy was up in Albany earlier this week, singing heartily for its supper. And plenty of city-based pols were more than happy to hum along."

The Post was referring to the UFT-backed "Campaign for Better Schools." And not liking what they are seeing: "The Campaign for Better Schools, a veritable alphabet soup of "community" and "children's" outfits, scooted up to the capital Tuesday to make a ruckus over mayoral control of city schools. The idea was to give the impression of broad disquiet over Mayor Bloomberg's education reforms, ahead of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's testimony to the Senate's Education Committee. Yet it was all a show, bought and paid for by -- who else? -- the state's powerful teachers lobby."

Which is all well and good-and we don't object when any one exposes grass roots efforts that may lack real impetus from the community. Except for the fact that the Post has been stone silent about the Learn NY group; an organization that owes its very existence to the mayor's money and influence.

Now the truth is that both groups consist of many well meaning folks who are truly concerned about what should be done to improve the schools; but it not the duty of the media to dramatize whose ox is being gored when advocates are out in front on any issue. The Post, however, is in full scuba gear alert when it comes to the mayor and the issue of control of the schools-so much so that it is falling down on its essential function of speaking truth to power. And in this case, the power dynamic really lies with the Bloombucks.

And it is one thing to set aside editorial space to skewer the union and those skeptics who believe that Mike Bloomberg isn't Socrates; it's quite another to traduce lawmakers-and the facts on the ground-directly within the body of the newspaper. But that's exactly what they did by attacking mayoral critic, State Senator Bill Perkins: "Harlem state Sen. Bill Perkins claimed this week that mayoral school control has been a "failure," but test data tell the real story: Students in his district have improved significantly under City Hall's watch since 2002. Fourth- and eighth-graders at schools in Perkins' district registered double-digit percentage-point gains on state reading and math exams during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure, according to an analysis obtained by The Post."

Question: Just where do you think this "analysis" came from? But what's missing here, is the fact that Perkins' critique is directly aimed at the statistical sleight-of-hand that comes out of the DOE-and the relative value of state test scores versus the more reliable NAEP exams. The Post, however, trumpets the watered down state results as a major benchmark: "But the percentage of fourth-graders passing the reading test jumped to 50.4 percent in 2008 from 36.7 percent in 2002. On the math exam, the percentage of kids passing shot up to 71.4 percent last year from 39.8 percent in 2002. In the eighth grade, the number of kids meeting the state reading standards increased to 33.6 percent from a measly 23.4 percent. And the number of eighth-graders passing the state math test more than doubled, to 52.8 percent from 21.5 percent."

And then they go to the super questionable graduation rates: "Meanwhile, the number of district pupils graduating high school rose to 65.7 percent in 2007 from 55.6 percent in 2002." Leaving aside, of course, the fact that these rates mask the reality that high numbers of these graduates are unable to perform at anywhere near a college level.

So what does the mayor need to get his way-aside from the cheer leading of the NY Post? Well, how about the support of the governor: "Gov. Paterson endorsed extending mayoral control of the schools -- particularly praising Mike Bloomberg for doing a "good job" on education. "My general feeling is that I like mayoral control," Paterson said this morning while greeting commuters at the Bryant Park subway station at 6th Ave. and 42nd St."

Is this the Kiss of Death, or what? But seriously, even the governor isn't willing to issue any blank check: "But Paterson said there must be revisions to the 2002 school governance law that better address parents' concerns. He said there are a "lot of complaints" from parents and advocates that they can't get grievances addressed. "If we get that cleared up," he said, "I think that will go a long way toward passing mayoral control."

Which is exactly what the critics are saying on this-not that you'd be aware from the misleading headline and lede of the story. This is serious stuff-not grist for tabloid satire. And we need our local media to be vigilant since the mayor has big bucks to spin all of these debates into a direction that hews to his own self interest. What we definitely don't need is a fawning media chorus replicating the mayor's talking point.