Thursday, February 5, 2009

The meaning of accountability, according to Michael Bloomberg

Yesterday, at a City Hall press conference, our billionaire Mayor called a question from a reporter "one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard." What was the question? Whether he would agree to limit his campaign spending, given that he had just said that it should be clear where he stands on various issues after seven years in office. See the video below.

He also said it would be an "outrage" if he agreed to take public financing -- which would limit his expenditures considerably below the $100 million he's expected to spend.

According to the AP, "Bloomberg at first would not even acknowledge that he has a re-election operation in place, despite the fact that his team of pollsters, strategists and advisers moved into its headquarters last month

The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent mayor, who has been reluctant to even talk about his re-election effort, at first tried to direct the question "to the campaign." He then denied that there is one.

The Mayor has often claimed that accountability will only be fulfilled if the current governance system remains unchanged, giving him essentially dictatorial authority when it comes to our schools -- because the voters can always choose not to re-elect him. But what kind of meaning does this hold, when he seems intent, as in the past, to outspend his opponents ten to one?


NYC Educator said...

You know, the voters have always had the choice of voting against incumbency. But they affirmed term limits twice, indicating they were not satisfied with that option. It would be nice if a newspaper were to point that out sometime, but I'm not holding my breath.

inexile said...

I'm afraid we're never going to get rid of this guy. I think generally people think he's been doing a good job. What percentage of voters have a child in school? I don't know the answer, but if you don't have a child in school, the general sense is that things are going well in the city, there are budget surpluses, and he's just the guy to get us through these hard times.

verninino said...

As a parent (of two) who won't have children in public schools for another 2.5 years, a pertinent question for me is whether kids and schools are performing better now than they were a decade or three ago.

Given the descriptions of near feudal anarchy (in newspapers, of retrospecting parents) which characterized schools roughly from the 70s through the 90s I'm not sure that you're ever going to hear lots parents or education advocates singing the praises of {insert agency responsible for NYC schools here}.

For the past two years I was president of a Harlem based tenant association representing 250 families. Quite frankly, given news accounts and a lot of alarm on blogs, I'm astonished by the education our tenants' kids are receiving in local "regular" and charter schools. For the dozen years I've resided in the building I've observed that, with very few exceptions, our kids graduate from high school and go on to very respectable colleges without any need for remediation.

All this to say I wish this blog were a little less alarmist. Mayoral control does have its merits*, however, as Ms. Hamison vehemently illustrates again and again there is plenty of room for improvement. The City Council's working group remedies seems spot on. After months of negative deconstruction, I hope there will soon be some positive if critical acknowledgment of that.

* No, I'm not a shill for Bloomberg administration. With few exceptions I vote the Working Families Party line and have been agnostic on the mayoralty since Giuliani was term-limited out.

Patrick J. Sullivan said...


It's great that kids in your neighborhood are getting a good education. It's certainly true in many schools. It's a bit hard to tell if children are really doing better or if the schools are just far more focused on teaching to the test. As my kids hit third grade and I see the emphasis on test prep I become more skeptical. Certainly there's not much improvement on federal tests.

The Council's recommendations, and similar ones from other groups seem promising but keep in mind the State Legislature will decide what changes will be required.

When your kids are in school you might see things differently. I certainly changed my opinion of both the schools and the mayor as my kids progressed in school. There is really no excuse for some of the problems under the mayor's control. I'll point to the disaster in gifted and talented admissions, overcrowding and the narrowing of the curriculum to focus on the tested material to name a few.


verninino said...

Thanks for your considerate response Patrick.

I started grammar school in the 70s in rural West Virginia and attended middle and high school in urban central Pennsylvania in the 80s, as far back as I can remember there were standardized tests and teachers were always teaching to them. Good teachers (of which there were and still are plenty) were able to do test prep while teaching the humanities and sciences. I really don't understand folks who argue that you can't do both quantitative and qualitative teaching simultaneously.

The kids in my building didn't just go to one school; they've always been scattered between public, charter and parochial schools-- depending on parental preference. Despite those differences and differences in parenting strategies, with few exceptions they do very well.

To be frank, I'm not waiting for my kids to go to school to start figuring things out. I'm involved with my community schools now. I'm teaching myself to teach now. I'm working to foster self-sustaining afterschool programs within my community with parents, teachers, community groups and school administrators right now.

I'm willing to concede that overcrowding is a mayoral problem.
As for the narrowing of the curriculum, not to be dismissive, but I know lots of prosperous middle-aged scientists and engineers who can't write, good writers who can't compute, and artists and musicians who can do neither.

Nevertheless, when I pop-quiz teenagers in the elevators or mailroom of my building many are familiar with basics of evolution, x-y coordinates and Shakespeare. Obviously they are being taught math and language skills to pass those confounded tests.

Disparities in minority G&T admissions? Parents share a lot culpability. I see how obsessively affluent folks groom their children not just in terms of test taking but also with immersion in math, science, cultural, and athletic activities. That's a luxury most moderate income households can't afford in terms of money, time, and know-how.

Folks like me (black, sub-median income) have to come up with ingenious strategies to compensate. Criticizing the man has it's role, but effective role-modeling and community organizing is much more critical. In all honesty, many of my neighbors could care less with jumping through the hoops it takes to get into G&T programs; they don't have the time or luxury and regular schools are apparently good enough. Not everyone aspires to the hallowed stressful grounds of Harvard and Wall Street. Good values on Main Street are sufficient.

Obviously I'm a bit of a pollyanna, ordinarily I'm as skeptical as Hamison (thus my devotional, quiet reading of this blog). But this week my 20 month old daughter learned the letters of the alphabet, got the ten digits identified, her German utterances are slightly better than her English and she's just about potty trained. I'm psyched to try to replicate this success with her (as yet prenatal) sister.

Until our society changes its values schools can't do it all. I'm not even sure they should be expected to, otherwise where's the fun in being a parent?

For the record, the school I went to in Pennsylvania sucked, but thanks to my dad's scruples and good neighbors, my sister and I turned out pretty good.

To finish back on topic, the City Council seems to have done its job well, offering a generous assortment of pragmatic recommendations. Now it's interest groups (including parents and the Bloomberg adminstrations) turn to testify, lobby and cajole (just in time for an election year), and then it's up to the State Legislature (just in time for an election year). Bush is out, Obama's in. Seems like perfect weather for the perfect storm. For the time being I'd much rather be Pollyanna than Chicken Little.

Right now, my biggest concern is that Wall Street got a strings-free bail out but maybe Sesame Street won't. Where's Ralph Nader when you need him?

Leonie Haimson said...


I'm glad that the students you know are doing well; but any school system with a graduation rate of only 52% (which is actually far lower -- because of the thousands of kids "discharged" but not counted as dropouts) is not doing well.

verninino said...

Thanks for your comment Leonie.

As for your numbers on the drop out rate obviously they don't accord with those coming from Tweed. I'm skeptical of both. Statistics aren't the same as facts. Even though I'm skeptical, I think you're the awesome.

While I don't know many young drop outs-- I've worked at a CUNY college for 17 years so I do know lots of youths -- those I am familiar with (peers mostly) dropped out as a result of many mitigating life circumstances having very little to do with the quality of their schools.

No doubt schools can do better, I'm just not sure we can blame them for the lion's share of drop out rates. It takes a village...