2004-02-27 / Columnists

School Scope

Hey Klein, It
By Norman Scott

It’s got a nice beat and you can dance to it. I give it a 10.

When Mayor Bloomberg engineered a corporate takeover of the NYC school system, people expected a least a modicum of competence. When he chose Joel Klein to run the largest school system in the nation there were cheers. After all, here was someone who held major positions with the Justice Department, the slayer of the mighty Microsoft and a corporate leader in his own right (Bertelsmann). His lack of educational background (other than about 6 months of teaching in the late 60’s) was actually praised as a good thing. Haven’t educators failed? If you are going to implement a corporate model of education, then a corporate lawyer with business background fits the bill perfectly.

People who work in schools — as opposed to the many educrats who make policy but who try to spend as little time in a school as possible other than brief drive-bys — have gone be yond the head scratching stage of trying to figure out the meaning of the policies emanating from the Depart ment of Education at the Tweed courthouse. The range of reactions went from enthusiasm at the idea of positive change, to bewilderment, to uneasiness, to fear to low-level loathing, and finally, to out-and-out loathing. We have now reached the stage where people are ready to burst out in a fit of laughter at the sheer lunacy they are seeing.

Since everyone knows it is Bloom berg pulling the strings, their fear and loathing has often fallen on his shoulders. The mantra in the schools that BloomKlein must go is reaching the crescendo stage. One would be hard pressed to find many people connected to the schools who will actually vote for Bloomberg in the next election unless he is running against Ghengis Khan. And I would give old Ghengis a pretty fair shot. At least he knew how to run an empire.

While the schools seethed with re sent ment and anger, the mainstream press carried on a love-fest with BloomKlein over their "reforms." The only voices of opposition came over the so-called "progressive" curriculum that was instituted as Andy Wolf of The NY Sun and Sol Stern of The City Journal railed against the lack of phonics teaching. The Daily News and the NY Post couldn’t contain their glee at the attacks BloomKlein were perpetrating on teachers while the NY Times just gushed with support. The Wave, of course, was on the case from the very beginning, talking about the veil of silence and fear that had descended over the DOE and all the schools and personnel under its reign.

Joel Klein has established his own credentials apart from Bloomberg to meet the fear & loathing criteria. The mean-spiritedness, the arrogance, and the attitude that anyone connected to education in any way has nothing of value to offer, has lead to the destruction of any semblance of morale amongst teachers and supervisors. Again, the mainstream press took this as a good thing.

In recent weeks, we have seen a change in attitude from the press as an understanding has grown that the Klein gang was just plain incompetent, even being referred to as "the gang that couldn’t shoot straight". Their Taliban-like destruction of the educational institutions has been so thorough (they were competent in doing that much) has been one of the main contributors to the sense that schools were unsafe. Lost records of many special ed students led to their not getting services and being placed in inappropriate settings. That only added fuel to the fire. Their cult-like droning repetition of the mantra: when there’s change there will always be bumps in the road is beginning to sound ludicrous. Try mountains. Maybe even The Himalayas.

Recent reports have surfaced that the gang at Tweed has told supervisors to find at least three principals to give unsatisfactory ratings to and principals have likewise been told to find three teachers to rate "U". This tactic is one of the major underpinnings of the Jack Welch (he played a lead role in forming Klein’s Principals’ Training Institute) model of management. When word leaked out, the DOE public relations crowd said it wasn’t true. They also said they never issued a directive to principals to place carpets in many elementary classrooms and that the rug fiasco was implemented by individual principals. Sure! Hun dreds of principals woke up one morning and thought "Hmm. A carpet in classrooms will get those reading scores up." Add "bald-faced liars" to the list of things to condemn the Klein gang.

If a poll were taken in the schools, I would bet that 90% of the people would vote thumbs-down on Klein and his minions. If people weren’t so afraid of what is coming to be known as "the ministry of fear" they would rush to sign petitions of no-confidence in the Klein administration. When a corporate leader, even in the Jack Welch model of corporate management, so loses the support of the people working for him it is time for him to resign and I would urge the chancellor to do so before he is taken from Tweed with his coat over his head. I give Joel Klein a "U" rating.

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