Monday, April 26, 2010

An Education in Classlessness

Of all the people in the city of New York who should be reluctant to charge someone else with elitism, the city's richest man has to be on the top of the list. But irony has never been one of the mayor's strong suits, so there he was the other day with a verbal assault on Bill Perkins for, of all things, having the temerity of being a vocal critic of charters, despite having gone to the "tony" Collegiate School for his own high school education.

Here's the NY Post's (natch) account: "The Post's Dave Seifman forward some pretty choice quotes from Mayor Bloomberg going off on state Sen. Bill Perkins, a major opponent of charter schools, on his weekly WOR radio show this morning. Bloomberg jabs at the pol for attending "elite private schools" and says he's been "violently" against choice for parents."

Now's not the right time to interject a tired pot and kettle analogy, but it does take a certain amount of chutzpah to attack Perkins when the mayor probably hadn't set foot inside a public school-his kids went elsewhere obviously-until he was elected mayor. And the same goes for Chancellor Klein who, along with Bloomberg, brought absolutely zero knowledge of public education to the job when he was elevated to his supreme commander post. And this from a man who spends all of his weekends in Bermuda!

But what's even more egregious in our view is the mayor's failure to see with any clarity what the charter phenomenon says about his own educational effort-a point that we have already made before. Here's the Post again: "Bill Perkins is a guy who went to elite private schools, and he represents a district where most people can’t afford elite private schools, and charter schools are their opportunity to get their kids a great education," said Bloomberg. "I think the numbers are something - there’s 10,000 places this year - more places for charter schools, and there’s something like 50 or 60,000 applicants for the 10,000 places."

Now, after eight years of so-called reform-along with reams of flack touting miraculous advance-we have stampedes in poor neighborhoods to flee the public school system as fast as possible. The Post's Seifman continues to spotlight the mayor's views in a follow up story: "Bloomberg argued that charter schools promote competition, which is one reason public schools in the city are improving. "Competition is great for everybody, and it's one of those things we want to encourage, and Perkins has been violently against it, while the educators and the public and the parents want more of [it]," the mayor said."

If the Harlem clamor for choice is any indication, this kind of a competition can best be described in sports language as a blowout-and as an indictment of the failure of the overall Bloomberg effort. Diane Ravitch's hearing testimony sheds light on the true nature of this far from healthy competition: "Some charters are as idealistic as the original vision, but many others now see themselves as competition for public schools. They want to take over public school space and replace public schools. They revel in stories about beating public schools, not helping them."

But as far as Bloomberg's observation that the charter competition is in some way aiding public school improvement, where's the evidence of that? Which brings us back to the point that we made last week: "So there is obviously a perception of failure at the grass roots level. Whether this is a reality or not-and studies indicate that the charter exploits are exaggerated in the aggregate-doesn't matter. And the clamoring for, "choice," is an indictment of the current system that the media did so much to tout when it was all about mayoral control."

So what's missing from all of this trumped up outrage, is a concomitant genuine outrage at the three card monte game that the Bloombergistas have played-with Rupert and Morticia acting as the audience shills-with a gullible public. It is time to bring in the forensic accountants, and Perkins and his state senate crew should hold follow up hearings on testing fraud, unmerited teacher and administrator bonuses, and a profligate expansion of an educational bureaucracy that has failed to deliver real success even with an 80% increase in its allocation.

But that might not even be necessary if what they think is going to happen next spring actually does-new school tests that expose the naked emperor's false positives. As the NY Post reports: "Criticized for having steadily dumbed down standardized tests -- and trumpeted phantom gains -- the state Education Department says students in grades 3 to 8 taking required math and English exams starting tomorrow won't pass as easily this year. "Students are going to have to know more and do more to demonstrate proficiency on the exams," said John King, senior deputy state education commissioner."

And it will be more difficult to teach to the test: "A rising number of pupils have passed in recent years as cut scores dipped so low that some kids could randomly guess enough right answers to squeak by, experts found. State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner David Steiner "are committed to ending the annual debate about whether our state tests have become harder or easier," King told The Post. "Doing that will require us to ensure that our tests become both less predictable and more comprehensive in terms of the number of items they test."

But, once the test fraud is exposed will it finally become clear that, as far as NYC's master of the house is concerned, "there's not much there?" Here's the Post's observation: "The sliding standards weren't revealed when Mayor Bloomberg touted dramatic spikes in state scores as a triumph of his stewardship. But the lid was blown off when federal officials found reading and math scores for New York students had remained flat on a national benchmark exam since 2007, while their scores on the state tests skyrocketed over the same period."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, cited in Sol Stern's upcoming City Journal article, makes this telling point: “We have to stop lying to children,” education secretary Arne Duncan said recently at a meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA).“We have to look them in the eye and tell them the truth at every stage of their educational trajectory.”

If Mike Bloomberg really wants to advance the interests of NYC school kids, he can begin by laying off the glass house ad hominen attacks on Bill Perkins; and he can follow Duncan's advice by starting to tell the truth-to those with an actual stake in public education-about how all of his extra funding and top down control of the educational bureaucracy has yielded a truly lackluster result. Don't expect this anytime soon, because mea culpas are conspicuously absent in the Bloomberg personality profile.