Friday, December 2, 2011

The latest Bloomberg idiocy about class size; why wasn't I surprised?

So Mayor Bloomberg stepped in it again, when at a speech at MIT this week,  he said that if he could redesign our  public school system, he would fire half the teachers, double the class size, and pay teachers more.  See the video below. 

(During this same speech, he also bragged about having "my own army... the seventh biggest largest in the world" in the form of the NY police department, but he obviously doesn't want  to fire any of them.)

Here in NYC, while expanding the bureaucracy, increasing spending on education by 50 percent and raising teacher salaries by 40 percent, Bloomberg has also managed to eliminate thousands of teaching positions.  Class sizes this year in the early grades are the largest they have been in eleven years. The result?  Student achievement has stagnated. 

I have become so used to the idiocy that passes as educational policy these days that when David Seifman of the NY Post told me about Bloomberg's remarks, before they were widely reported, I said I wasn't surprised. 

After all, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and countless others on their payroll had made similar, if less extreme pronouncements over the last year -- that class size doesn't matter, that teacher "quality" is everything, and that public schools should increase class size and spend their budget other ways, including expanding online learning,  more charter schools,  more testing, merit pay, etc. -- none of which has any backing in the research, and all of which are already undermining the quality of our public schools.

Just yesterday, Marguerite Roza of the Gates Foundation gave a paper at an event co-sponsored by the Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress, which proposed that districts should

"....raise class sizes in the older grades in exchange for substantial ($10,000) bonuses for the top 15 percent of teachers. Such an exchange, if made, would enable a district to shift funds in a way that emphasizes teacher quality over numbers of staff."

This proposal was originally put forward by Karen Hawley, head of a consulting group called Educational Research Strategies (ERS), whose funders include the Broad and Gates Foundations. Hawley's previous job was at Bain & Company , Mitt Romney's old consulting and private equity firm, known for increasing "efficiency" by taking over companies and firing thousands of their employees.

Of course, neither Roza nor Hawly mentioned the fact that study after study has shown that merit pay for teachers doesn't work to improve student achievement, including an analysis done by the corporate reformers favorite "genius" Roland Fryer.  The evidence on this is so overwhelming that even DOE has dropped its merit pay scheme after wasting $56 million on it.  This contrasts with numerous controlled studies showing that reducing class size has significant positive effects on student outcomes, even in the middle and upper grades

Despite this, Roza from Gates and Stephen Frank of ERS were invited to give a presentation before the NY State Regents and others this fall, at the behest of Education Commissioner King, about "rethinking education resource use for greater student achievement."  Bruce Baker of Rutgers has ridiculed Roza's presentation which hyped online learning; here is one of the bullet points in the ERS power point presentation:   

Redefine individual attention as an outgrowth of effective assessment & differentiation and not as the result of smaller group and class sizes.”  

In other words, if you simply "redefine" testing as "individual attention", it will produce the same benefits as a smaller class size, without any of the support, connection, and/or actual learning that a real-life teacher can provide.  ERS  has even produced a card game called  “School Budget hold em’” which  instructs school district leaders they can “win” by increasing class size, and instead "invest" in merit pay and hiring more bureaucrats.  

All of this reflects the corporate mentality that has taken over our schools, and that ignores both the knowledge and preferences of stakeholders and the lessons of experience.  

For an administration that touts the importance of parent "choice", Bloomberg too seems eager to ignore the priorities of parents.  Each year, in the DOE's own surveys, NYC parents say that their top "choice" for their children's schools would be reducing class size, yet each year for the last four, class sizes have increased.  

In his MIT speech, the mayor also managed to insult the NYC teaching force by saying that they come "from the bottom 20 percent and not of the best schools."  (See Noah Gotbaum's response to this outrageous claim, which also has no backing in reality.)

A recent NY Times/CBS poll provides yet more evidence that Bloomberg is on the wrong track as far as most New Yorkers are concerned.  Parents said the best thing about their children's schools was their teachers; and the worst thing was their class sizes. Not surprisingly, the majority of New Yorkers as well as public parents also said they disapprove of the way Bloomberg is handling education, and are dissatisfied with the quality of the public schools.   

Bloomberg sent his own daughters to Spence, a private school where the average class size is 16-18; half the size of classes in many NYC schools.  Perhaps he should instruct the trustees of Spence and other NYC private schools that they should fire half their teachers to raise the quality of the education to the level that our public school students now receive.

In any event, Bloomberg's MIT speech has caused a firestorm of publicity not seen since Cathie Black's faux pas about the need for downtown public school parents to use birth control.  You can check out the WCBS video of his speech below.


NYC Educator said...

Thank you, Leonie, for speaking truth to idiocy! A lot of us appreciate it, on the rare occasions we find it.

zulma said...

Mulgrew made a great quotable comment, "The mayor is having a Cathie Black Moment!"

The mayor is definitely having "blackouts" and he does not want to see the positive outcome, educational benefit for children when the class size is reduced. The best teacher in the world cannot teach to a class of 60-70 kids. Why does the mayor feel that small class size was great for his girls, but it's not good for the children of NYC? He's idiocy is definitely showing.

E. Rat said...

I enjoy donning my rose-colored glasses as much as the next person, but Mayor Bloomberg's charming recollections of the golden days of 50:1 class size ratios and fabulous results strike me as totally falsifiable. The standards for grade level success alone have changed so significantly that how he can claim excellent performance is beyond me. And since I don't personally have an enormous cash pile to fund everything from my luxurious home to my mayoral elections, I am not so comforted by the golden days of no teachers' unions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again, Leonie, for your tireless efforts on behalf of NYC kids, schools and teachers. You are truly an inspiration and a blessing.


Carlos said...

The Mayor is out of mind if he thinks cutting half our teachers and increasing class size is going to improve our school system.

Carlos Ruiz

Anonymous said...

This from someone who sent his own to private schools?!, gimme a break!!