Monday, November 24, 2008

The Mayor's campaign to keep control over our schools has begun

The organization funded by Bloomberg to keep his absolute power over our schools intact, awkwardly called MASS (for Mayoral Accountability for School Success), just launched its website called LearnNY.

It features the embarrassing picture
to the right, as well as a glossy and detailed brochure full of misleading but reassuring statements, like there are “Multiple checks and balances” in the current system, and that increases in spending have helped “to pay for smaller class sizes.”

More false information is featured on its website, like the following: “The percentage of elementary schools that exceed capacity went from 38 percent in 2002 to 13 percent in 2007.”

Actually, according to the capital plan, 27% of elementary school buildings are over capacity, and according to DOE’s official capacity report, the “Blue Book”, 47% of elementary grade students are in overcrowded schools.

(Along with the inaccuracies, the LearnNY website is also full of misspellings. Check out little widget entitled “For parents” that misspells “Mayoral Control”.)[addendum: after I posted this message, they corrected the spelling and deleted the particular misstatement about elementary schools.]

It’s not only MASS’s website that has started in earnest.

In today’s Daily News, Geoffrey Canada who runs charter schools and is the chair of MASS, has an oped entitled Accountability = achievement.

The piece is full of the same PR spin we’ve heard so many times before, and will surely become even more familiar over the next few months, but features one rather interesting new tweak:

Is the law perfect? Of course not. As we go about renewing the legislation, we should improve it. That starts by increasing transparency. There is more data available now than ever before, but parents and citizens deserve to have full confidence in its accuracy. An independent organization should be formed to analyze school performance and policy effectiveness. There should also be increased fiscal transparency, with audits to ensure that money is going toward children and learning.

The Department of Education has not done nearly enough to engage parents. Parents should have more notice before major decisions, like school closings or the cell phone ban, are made. And they should be given forums to voice their opinions - not merely free-for-all complaint sessions, but substantive discussions that are taken seriously. The DOE should establish community engagement benchmarks to monitor progress toward greater involvement of parents.

I would guess that this new “independent organization” to analyze school performance will be identified in coming days as … the Research Alliance – finally getting off the ground after three years, with Joel Klein and Kathy Wylde, the head of the NYC Partnership and Bloomberg’s biggest booster, both conveniently on its governing board.

And what about these forums mentioned above, to give those pesky parents an ability to “voice their opinions”? I predict what they mean is just more public hearings. This is the last thing parents need; hearings in which DOE hears nothing we say and wastes our precious time. With four more years of pointless hearings, soon no one will bother to show up, except those paid to agree with the administration.

Indeed, Canada (or whatever hired PR gun who actually wrote this piece) ends with the following:

What I believe we must not accept, for the sake of our children, is the undermining of accountability. For instance, some have suggested, in the name of parent involvement, that the citywide Panel for Education Policy be made independent from the mayor - or that the 32 local school district offices should be reinstated.

Both moves would be misguided. The key to the success of the new system has been holding officials truly accountable. It is not about any one mayor, but about having an elected official whose job description includes a clear mandate to improve schools… We can't have it both ways: either one person is in charge, or no one is.

In other words, the Mayor must continue to have complete and dictatorial power over our schools, with no one else, including parents, having any say.

(What’s funny is that whoever wrote this oped didn’t seem to realize that there still are 32 local school district offices – which were officially reinstated after State legislators and the CSA sued the administration and won a consent decree, as state law inconveniently requires community school districts to remain. The district offices were reinstated, but in name only –now nearly empty of staff or function, with the superintendents now ordered to spend 90% of their time, traveling from one borough to the next, coaching schools outside their districts on how to pump up test scores.)

Another sign that the MASS operation has started spreading its disinformation campaign wide and far is the fact that on Friday afternoon, someone was very busy in cyberspace between 4 and 5 PM, offering a series of happy little talking points:

At 4:16 pm , after an article in Gotham schools showing that test scores of the schools receiving merit pay increased little more than schools throughout the city, “BK” posted this comment:

“With 89% of teachers voting to keep their schools in the bonus program, it’s clear that teachers at participating schools were happy with the program’s first year. Good things happen when someone sets a clear direction, as the mayor has done, and gives motivation to succeed. Good news is always welcome.”

Good news indeed! Four minutes later, at 4:20 PM, now on our blog at "Joel Klein as a tone-deaf Oedipus?", the same little elf, now renamed “Anonymous,” left this dropping:

I hope we don't lose Joel Klein, since schools have made real progress under his watch. I like that we've had stable leadership and accountability at DOE, for the first time in a long time.”

Nine minutes later, Anonymous skipped over to the Huffington Post, where we had linked to Benjamin Barber’s accurate description of Joel Klein as
“completely tone-deaf to the communities he supposedly serves.” Now renamed LHK, s/he added plaintively: “I hope we don't lose Joel Klein in NYC. He has infused accountability in the Public Schools.”

Then this busy little cyber-elf flitted back to our blog, and at 4:31 PM, resuming the moniker “Anonymous” at Performance bonuses: DOE throws away money to benefit adults rather than our kids, pointed out:

“I can't imagine how happier, more fulfilled teachers wouldn't have an effect on their students. A set direction, a set of standards, builds a culture of accountability and responsibility, something our schools used to lack. We're facing tough times and tough decisions in NY, but I'd think that we want invest and support those we trust with our children's education.”

Six minutes later, at 4:37 PM, at "Why does the NY Times feature the voices of LA public school parents but not ours, Anonymous offered up this little gem:

Mayoral control has delivered results. We cannot go back to the bad old days, where we had 32 local boards and a board and a chancellor and a mayor, but one who could be held responsible.”

Finally, Anonymous finished up a busy afternoon at 4:52 PM at Patrick’s post about the PEP meeting last week, "
Klein Stiffs Parents of Children Receiving Special Education Services" concluding:

“Mayoral Control has delivered realresults,[sic] and going back isn't an option. Our job should be to figure out how we improve the process, make things more transparent and give parents more opportunities for input. The two things can work together.”

So who does this prove? That all of you real NYC parents should be sure to add your thoughts in the comments section of our blog; regularly and often; so that readers will know that the views of this paid employee of the Mayor’s operation are neither accurate nor typical.

And who is running MASS, the organization the Mayor founded to keep his iron grip over our schools? Clearly, Canada is too busy running his charter schools; the DOE press office is occupied putting out fires as well as publicizing Klein’s frequent trips to other cities and abroad, and the Mayor’s staff has lots of other things to worry about– like trying to solve the budget crisis with an increasingly unruly City Council, who apparently didn’t understand that giving Bloomberg unlimited term extensions meant they should shut up and let him do whatever he wants.

On its website, the organization is listed as located at 895 Broadway, 5th floor. Two politically-wired groups share this address and floor. One is the Global Strategy Group, NY’s most influential political consulting firm, according to Wikipedia, on retainer to Paterson and the State Democratic Party as well as “the premier Democratic political polling firm."

The address and floor is also home to the “MirRam Group” run by lobbyists Roberto Ramirez, former chief political boss of the Bronx, and Luis Miranda, who also happens to be the chair of the board of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. When you’re Mayor Bloomberg, after all, you can afford to hire the very best.


Announcing a contest: the next person to spot comments in cyberspace from the MASS staffer, please send us the links; you will be awarded the distinguished decoration for discerning disinformation.

Also, please post nominations in our comments section for what we should call this unknown staffer – whoever he or she may be – the MASS elf or Anonymous or BK or LHK or whatever name s/he happens to have adopted on a particular day is not good enough.


Unknown said...

Bloomberg, Klein, and their apologists like Canada keep talking about "accountability." When Bloomberg first ran on that issue, I thought it meant that HE was going to be accountable for the success of the schools. Silly me! He just meant that he would hold everyone else accountable for the DOE'S mistakes.

It's time to tell these people that accountability is a two-way street.
would be it works both ways. We need to hold them to their pledge. They need to be accountable to parents and students, and to teachers and principals, for what they have done to our school system.

Brian Keeler, Learn NY said...

There’s no need to have a naming contest. BK is Brian Keeler. However, to be clear, I didn’t leave all of those posts. But rather than debate the specifics of “who posts what where,” I think it’s more important to discuss the actual issue of Mayoral Control.

I respectfully disagree with the assessment that NYC schools are not better off today than they were six years ago, and there are many parents, teachers and students who would agree. In fact, three of New York's most respected educational and community activists have come together to create Learn NY because they have seen the positive changes that have taken place in their communities, and we are advocating for the renewal of the law regardless of who the mayor will be.

We created the Learn NY website to be a resource for parents to get helpful information and to share their stories - good, bad or otherwise - about the school system today. We want all NYC public school parents to participate in that discussion.

Lastly, the issue of Mayoral Control is not about this Mayor or this Chancellor, it's about establishing a clear line of accountability and making sure the next mayor --whoever they may be-- has the authority to pursue the educational reforms that they think would best benefit NYC's students.

I invite everyone to read more on, including the report on the first six years of Mayoral Control in the viewpoints section, before forming your opinion about the law.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Bk , who funds you and your organization? I wouldn't be surprised if it was Bloomberg, or, those close to him. Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

Hey BK,
Why not have just used your name and your organization to begin with? I mean I have a good reason not to use my name - I'm a teacher, and not just any teacher. I went the traditional route - Columbia TC, not TFA or TF. To make matters worse, I have ten years experience. I cost money. Can there be any bigger target than a teacher like me in the KleinBloomberg DOE? I've learned over the last 6 years that the Klein/Bloomberg idea of accountability is "don't nobody bring me no bad news" about graduation rates, test scores, attendance, or school safety to name a few issues.

NYC Educator said...

Actually these folks have been around for a while. They were putting out the same old blatant lies about having reduced class size months ago on TV before Mayor Mike made his naked grab to defy the will of the voters. In fact, at my school, they're talking about not replacing outgoing teachers and making sure all classes are packed to capacity as a result of City Hall's budget cuts.

The CFE lawsuit, to me, looked like a chance for NY kids to get what their suburban counterparts had. Mayor Bloomberg's intransigence saw the award reduced drastically, then made sure he wouldn't be accountable for taking the money and failing to use it for what is intended.

And indeed, he's completely failed to reduce class size in this city. I see his handiwork every day, as I sit with my kids in the dilapidated trailer he broke his promise to get rid of.

Honestly, I don't know how these people sleep at night.

Anonymous said...

It sounds so great, doesn't it: the mayor is accountable.

As the parent of a New York City school child, I can tell you that I don't understand what it means.

How can I hold the mayor accountable? No one can explain it. No one! Should I call City Hall for a meeting? Can I get the mayor recalled or fired for having screwed up the bus routes, or taken away my son's cell phone, or installed an inept principal in his school?

Accountable? To whom? For what? How?

Maybe Mr. Keeler can explain that to me.

Anonymous said...

We should start calling 311 about the mayor...

Anonymous said...

Hey BK!

Just want to know how your kids fair in our public schools? If they attend high school in any number of our poverty stricken (read ghetto) neighborhoods, do they tell you how it feels to be searched and wanded before entering their school buildings? Do they speak on the daily humiliation of being verbally assaulted by security staff and teachers for minor infractions like talking to their friends? Have they spoken to you about being yelled at constantly while contained in overcrowded classes that offer no meaningful instruction relevant to their cultures, interests or futures, or feel patronized by over-wrought, inexperienced newbie teachers who liken their classroom experiences in any of NYC’s over 900 Title 1 schools to being Peace Corps workers in Third world countries?

Oh, that's right-- you aren't a NYC public school parent! Nor did you grow up here or attend our highly segregated school system. As an out-of-towner, can we safely assume your children (if you indeed have any), aren’t participating in the Mayor's great social experiment?

Let’s be very clear about the PR spin at Learning NY. You don’t represent students and their concerned parents’ needs or interests-- just the Mayor's and Chancellor's. In fact, you really have NO CLUE about what really goes on inside the majority of NYC’s very out dated, overcrowded, shabby buildings located all over the five boroughs---you'd be scared to park your car down the street from most of them. None of you have the faintest intention of responding to the Y.R.N.E.S. (Youth Researchers for a New Education System) report sponsored by the Independent Commission on Public Education (iCOPE) and presented to the Department of Education by our high school students who overwhelmingly claim race, class, income and gender bias against them. Nor is there a plan to address the Girls Gender Equity Inc. survey of over 1,400 middle and high school boys and girls who report that 80% of them have been sexually harassed inside their schools.

Still, in all your wisdom and experience with bureaucratic BS, maybe you can give me a quick solution to this nagging school environment concern. My son’s high school has 525 students, is located on one and ½ floors in a shared building with three other schools and it has no lockers. Last year, my son had to divert his learning attention to act quickly in order to remove his jacket from his seat back and zip up his book bag so the mouse scurrying around in his English class wouldn’t climb in. When he saw this, the novice teacher laughed and said the school's mice and other assorted roaches and rodents are just trying to get taken back to where they came from: my home.


As soon as you and all the other upper income, Caucasian honchos at the DoE integrate the schools by enrolling your own children in them, we parents will believe you really care and will do meaningful, innovative work that provides a high quality, equitable education to all children of this city. Only then will we know that our concerns are yours.

Until then-- as the kids say, "stop frontin'" which loosely translated means, just shut up.