Friday, October 02, 2009

A Stern Warning

Sol Stern has another of his incisive education pieces in City Journal-and points out the glaring contradictions in Mike Bloomberg's attack on Bill Thompson's tenure as president of the old Board of Ed: "In 2002, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg convinced the state legislature to give him control of the city’s schools. He argued that the old Board of Education had become “dysfunctional” and thus incapable of producing significant academic improvement...That meant, Bloomberg maintained, that “no one was in charge” and no one could be held accountable for the school system’s dismal performance."

But that was then, and this is now-with Bloomberg piling on the hapless Thompson with millions of dollars of misdirection: "But Bloomberg has now performed a dizzying about-face in his assessment of the old governance arrangement (and thus implicitly of his rationale for mayoral control of the schools.) According to a Bloomberg campaign ad now saturating the media, someone actually was in charge at the old Board of Ed and should be held accountable for the schools’ failure: Bloomberg’s opponent in the upcoming mayoral election, City Comptroller Bill Thompson."

As Stern reminds us: "The truth is, as Bloomberg once affirmed, that Thompson had only one vote out of seven, and the position of board president was largely ceremonial." But leveling this false accusation is only adding insult to injury as far as being honest with the electorate is concerned; but Thompson seems incapable of belling the cat here: "In his much anticipated education speech of September 22, Thompson couldn’t even coherently lay out the accumulating evidence that the Bloomberg administration’s claims of success are based on inflated state test scores."

And, as Stern points out, the one serious institutional critic that could be providing New Yorkers with some real truthful information-the UFT-has been stifled from doing so with an expensive muzzle: "But the advent of mayoral control, coupled with Bloomberg’s success in buying off potential opposition, has made the Democrats’ traditional union-based political strategy inoperable. In the early days of mayoral control, the UFT was one of the mayor’s only institutional critics on education. Union president Randi Weingarten regularly blasted Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for trying to dictate what teachers should be doing in the classroom. Of late, however, the billionaire mayor has domesticated and co-opted the union, partly through taxpayer funds, which have so far produced 43 percent teacher salary increases and the promise of more to come. The salary hikes have swelled the union’s coffers, since member dues go up in proportion to any pay increases."

And-voilà!-attack dog meet lap dog: "Confrontation has changed to cooperation, and Weingarten has been at the mayor’s side offering support during his periodic press conferences announcing spectacular test score improvements, which the union knows are questionable. Right now the UFT takes in about $140 million per year; that will go up by $10 million more if, as is rumored, teachers get another 8 percent pay increase in the new contract starting October 31st. Top union operatives will thus have seen a 50 percent increase in their own salaries since the advent of mayoral control."

And the public is paying the price, since the UFT's cooptation rendered the legislative oversight process on mayoral control a nullity; and the only thing that's lacking now is a single powerful voice capable of actually speaking truth to power. With the mayor's money and political power acting as a deterrent, New York is caught in the middle of a truth telling vacuum-and the emperor's nakedness on the issue of real educational achievement is left unremarked.