Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More on the Naked Emperor

Greg David, blogging for Crain's, muses over whether the departure of Deputy Mayor Ed Skylar from the Bloomberg administration means that the mayor won't be "reinvigorating" his third term: "The stories about Mr. Skyler's departure to Citigroup will likely focus on how he is the second crucial City Hall aide to leave in recent weeks--the first being government affairs and political jack-of-all-trades Kevin Sheekey. The more important point is that this shows the mayor's stated goal for the third term--reinvigorating his administration--has hit a roadblock."

Well, we believe that the notion that this administration was going to be reinvigorated was purely spin-and rested to begin with on the false assumption that the first two terms had any real vigor at all. The speculation also elides the very real shortcomings of the Bloomberg regime-faults that are so endemic that we would argue that the only way reinvigorating would help is if it were initiated by a new chief executive.

Some of this we argued in our commentary on the Nicole Gelinas editorial on just how this administration has been complicit in creating the city's current fiscal mess. A second look at one of the points Gelinas made about education-Bloomberg's signature issue-is worthwhile: "And it wasn't just benign neglect: Bloomberg made problems worse. Thanks to 43 percent raises for teachers, the Department of Education payroll alone -- now $10.1 billion -- is nearly one-sixth the entire budget. For overseeing this spending, 553 administrators earn more than six figures each -- $70 million."

What the mayor did in this arena-and the actions are representative though writ larger in this one policy area-is to throw huge sums of money at improving education, and in doing so, larded up the public payroll with salaries and pensions to such an extent that we are obligated for years to come with a burden we can ill afford.

Which wouldn't be so disastrous if the money tossing had actually led to real achievement. But we now know that this hasn't been the case; and Diane Ravitch's latest commentary tells the sordid tale: "Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that when states lower their standards, "We are lying to our children." He must be talking about New York State, which has a well-established record of lying to our children about their progress in school. Every year, state officials announce another set of dramatic gains on state tests for the children of New York. And every year, state officials lie to our children."

But it isn't only the state officials-as the Bloombergistas have been using these false positives for years to promote the educational miracle that wasn't. And they have been aided and abetted-co-conspirators is too kind a term-by an editorial claque that has tried to make it appear that Mike Bloomberg has played Moses to NYC's school children Israelites.

The reality, as Ravitch so ably dramatizes, is a far cry from the view presented by editorialist toadies: "But last week, the federal government released scores for the nation and the states, and New York did not fare well. In fact, almost all of New York's reported gains for the past seven years disappeared into thin air. The federal test - the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP - is the gold standard of testing. Congress requires all states to take NAEP tests to audit state claims. The federal audit was an embarrassment for New York."

What did the national test show? That the hyping of mayoral control as the last best hope for the struggling NYC schools was an absolute fraud committed against the parents of school kids and a gullible public: "The reading scores released last week show that 36% of New York's fourth-graders - not 77% - are proficient. And unlike the state scores, which have gone up every year without fail, the state scores on NAEP for fourth-graders have been flat since 2002. The federal test continues to show huge achievement gaps: 45% of white students are proficient, as are 52% of Asians. This contrasts with 18% of black students and 22% of Hispanic students."

This defrauding of the citizenry on the mayor's signature issue underscores just how silly it is to speculate over whether the third Bloomberg term will be reinvigorated-when in fact we'd be far better served if it underwent a political lobotomy. As Ravitch points out: "If students in New York made no gains on the national tests, why did state tests report spectacular progress every year? The people of the state deserve an honest answer."

But New Yorkers deserve to know if all of the money that Bloomberg has thrown at the schools-as well as at their teachers and administrators-has been worth it. Maybe we can resurrect Learn New York, the AstroTurf group funded by the mayor's rich pals, to investigate?

Mike Bloomberg has spent eight years spending us into a fiscal mess because he simply didn't know how to act any differently-as we have said, he's John V. Lindsay with a lot more money. What he does in a third term is any one's guess, but given his track record, we're hoping that whatever he goes about doing, he does so with a distinct lack of vigor. The city will be less harmed in that way.