Thursday, July 02, 2009

Making Puppets Look Bad

The old Board of Education was reconstituted yesterday-with little of the chaos that the mayor had predicted One of the major reasons why things went so smoothly was because the borough presidents, charged with appointing five of the seven board members, slavishly bowed down to the will of Mike Bloomberg (with Ruben Diaz the major exception). As City Room reported: "Back from the dead after seven years, reconstituted almost by accident, the New York City Board of Education is set to meet at noon on Wednesday. Its seven members: three deputy mayors, three sympathetic allies of the mayor, and one wild card from the Bronx.'

After the meeting, we imagine that one of the BPs-Helen Marshal of Queens-stayed around just to see if the mayor wanted her to run any errands. After all, to choose Dennis Walcott as "her" appointment to the Board, strips away even the appearance of independence: "The Queens borough president, Helen M. Marshall, appointed a third deputy mayor — Dennis M. Walcott, the deputy mayor for education and community development — as her representative on the board. With three of the new board members reporting directly to the mayor, the Bloomberg administration is close to assured in its goal of maintaining control over the nation’s largest school district and keeping the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, in place."

This act of slavishness, was so embarrassing that we can envision Pinocchio, upon witnessing such a display of subservience, deciding against becoming a real boy; seeing no real difference between being human or remaining a puppet. But, we guess that Marshall's actions simply reflect the fact that, absent the Mike Bloomberg intervention, this sweet old lady would have had to retire after her term was up, and give her job to some other Queens worthy.

So what was done yesterday-and the vote to keep Herr Klein was consistent with the best Politburo tradition (to mix a metaphor)-was to dramatize just how little true democratic substance still exists in this once vibrant democracy; and yesterday's mockery almost makes us wish that the legislature had simply rubber stamped the school governance bill.

We said almost; because the current system still needs to be bolstered with a greater degree of monitoring-and the faux graduation rate hikes are one example of the way in which puffery has replaced real achievement. Clara Hemphill underscores this point: "Because a huge proportion of students arrive in ninth grade with the skills that are two, three or even four years below grade level, the new schools must focus intensely on helping them catch up. A large proportion of the graduates of the new schools so far have received only a "local diploma" that represents the bare minimum of requirements set by the state-- standards that officials and academic experts generally agree are well below those needed to succeed in college."

And, of course, once they do graduate, these kids are simply unprepared to do any college work-and, therefore, continue on the same path of remediation at the community colleges that they were on in high school. Is this kind of statistical improvement worth the $9 billion in additional funds that the mayor has expended to jack up test scores? Or is this, courtesy of the NY Post's mayoral press office, simply a triumph of flimsy form over substance?

But the limbo that the system finds itself in is a direct result of the mayor's efforts to achieve Albany relevance-and isn't it instructive that none of the vigilant editorialists have commented on the mayor's own role in the current impasse? Fred Dicker hits this squarely: "After years of watching Mayor Bloomberg bankroll Republican control of the Senate, hearing his high-handed lectures on congestion pricing and seeing him back a primary against one of their own, Senate Democrats unexpectedly got their chance to take revenge. And they did so with a vengeance, killing -- at least for now -- mayoral control of the schools, the centerpiece accomplishment of the mayor's two terms in office."

Not one word on Bloomberg's culpability from either the Post's or the NY Daily News' editorial board. For instance, did the June 8th coup occur without the input or knowledge of one Mike Bloomberg? If so, the guy should demand a refund. In our view, this is all Bloomberg's mess-and under Pottery Barn rules, since he's the one behind the breakage, he owns it-but his press lackeys won't breathe a word of this kind of sacrilege.

It is, however, refreshing to see some folks resisting the supineness exhibited by Helen of Queens; the senate Dems have shown, at least in regards to the regal pretensions of this mayor, a good degree of backbone: "The irony is that it was the June 8 coup attempt by Bloomberg's longtime GOP allies that cleared the way for a block of largely black and Hispanic city Democratic senators to derail what the mayor wanted most from this year's legislative session. "They see Bloomberg as a white Manhattan billionaire who thinks he can boss everyone around and they don't like it," said a top Senate Democrat."

In politics, the rule of thumb is, "Cui bono," or who benefits. And here Dicker teaches us: "Had the GOP coup succeeded, Bloomberg, who had the backing of a sizable number of Democrats, today would have unquestioned control of city schools." It hasn't yet, though, so the ever nimble and tap dancing CEO of New Yor City, quickly shifted focus and railed against the senate impasse; the one that he should be taking full credit for-and none of the city Izvestias breathe a word of this!

So, we proceed with our own version of Venezuelan democracy, hopeful that we don't face another "crisis" in four years that demands the changing of the democratic rules of the game in favor of plutocracy. In the meantime, we await the national test results scheduled to come out sometime in the fall. We are anxious to see what kind of educational progress our $9 billlion has bought us.