2004-09-24 / Columnists

School Scope

Line Out Of Sight

It’s always fun to survey the major print media in NYC when they “cover” education. Or I should say, semi-cover education. When it comes to the BloomKlein management of the DOE, “barely cover accurately” would be a more apt expression. Writer Sol Stern, a frequent critic of BloomKlein, said in a recent email, “The papers have been co-opted by the Mayor in a brilliant political and PR operation…the reality is that we will have Bloomberg and Klein for five more years and they will be able to spin endlessly.”

At least we can’t say the BloomKlein team is totally incompetent in everything they do. If you spend enough money on public relations you get results. They should consider trying it in the classroom.

The recent high school registration fiasco, where thousands of parents and their children waited hours on line at registration centers to get into a high school (a process much ballyhooed by the BloomKlein spinners – who can spin enough yarn to fill a warehouse of ABC Carpets) is a perfect example — another case of appearance vs. reality.

It was fun reading the papers the next day, where Klein and his aide de camp Michelle Cahill were allowed to spin out the view that it wasn’t their fault – that parents were desperate to get their kids out of bad schools. Their spin — these “bad” schools existed due to years of bad policy before they came on board. Few people in the media made the connection that it was the BloomKlein policy of forcing the closing of large neighborhood schools, while favoring the creation of small boutique schools that could not handle the capacity, that forced large schools that were still working well to become massively overcrowded, while forcing kids to be nomads looking for a place to land. (See Murrow and Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, both considered fairly successful before the BloomKlein coup and a number of schools in the Bronx that, though they were not always doing great, were at least functioning.) Sure it was bad policy – BloomKlein bad policy. (See our School Scope Column, June 6, 2004 for more on this issue.)

Here are some examples of how the major media covered the event in their September 15th editions along with our comments.

From the NY Times:

City Centers for Placement in High Schools Are Swamped

The enrollment problems, which arose despite intense planning by administrators, marred what was otherwise a relatively smooth opening of the academic year on Monday and underscored the problems of managing the nation’s largest school system.

Note the “relatively smooth opening” line used to temper the disaster. That’s’ like saying other than the hurricane Florida had a pretty good day. The Times seems to be saying: WOW! BloomKlein have accomplished a miracle. I have been associated with the NYC school system since 1967 and other than the three strike years (’67. ’68, ’75) there have always been “relatively” smooth openings. Spinners gold.

From the Daily News:

Klein feels HS parents’ pain

Thousands of angry parents waited on long lines again yesterday trying to get their kids into high school - and Chancellor Joel Klein said the problem won’t get better anytime soon. “I’ll be the first to say I feel for those parents,” Klein said. “I wish I had greater options but we don’t have them available.”

Note the Klein “take” in the very first paragraph. Spinner’s platinum.

From Newsday:

Enrollment woes

Many parents, students left feeling frustrated as they try to take care of their school business. Enrollment centers around the city continued to be a major source of parents’ ire yesterday, as some students were locked out of the registration sites prematurely while others received mixed messages about high school transfers. Chancellor Joel Klein said many of the problems stem from parents seeking transfers at the enrollment centers. The centers, he said, are for registering students.

Newsday’s account, as usual, had less spin, but still bought Klein’s “parents were there to transfer out of horrible schools” line while neglecting to make the connection that overcrowded schools were his creation.

Note this September 8 article

in the Daily News:

Students in cram course

It’s the city’s version of Sardine High - a school so crammed with students that it’s at 206% of capacity. Brooklyn’s William Maxwell Voc-Tech High School, a five-story red brick building in East New York, is designed to hold 722 students. But a whopping 1,490 students were squeezed into the school in the 2002-03 school year, making it the most crowded high school in the city, a study revealed yesterday.

Naturally the parents of students at Maxwell want to transfer their kids. The story above had been repeated all over the city last year but the media didn’t cover it. Another story of note has been the BloomKlein 3rd grade retention fiasco, soon to be followed by its sequel: 5th grade retention. (We have to start giving numbers to the BloomKlein fiascos. What are we up to now?) Naturally, the press has been favorable to BloomKlein on this issue, acting like the retention policy was going to save the world. The fact that the same number of kids ended up being held over this year as in previous years didn’t get the analysis it deserved. No one is stressing what it all cost to get the same results.

Here is a delicious item in a Daily News editorial on September 15:

The eyes have it

Well, the results of the Education Department’s summer school vision tests are in. Of the 10,479 third-graders screened, 28% required the attention of an eye doctor, which is roughly what the experts predicted when we started this campaign.

Those kids wound up in summer school because they scored at the bottom on reading and math tests. It only made sense to explore whether vision impairment was adding to their difficulties, and Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein get the credit for taking seriously the mantra that a child can’t read if a child can’t see.

Naturally they praise BloomKlein for testing kids’ eyes but never make the point that they should have done so before threatening to hold them back and making them go to summer school. Teachers used to test kids’ eyes regularly (it was my 6th grade teacher who discovered I needed glasses) but we always complained that this job should have been done in a more professional manner. I hear that teachers no longer do the testing since BloomKlein took over. That would not have been a bad thing if they had put a system in place to replace it. But they did it ass backwards like everything else they have done. But again the press gives them credit for doing what had been done for generations.

They got a nice gig going. Take away services. Wait a short time before bringing them back and then start crowing to the press about how wonderful your reforms are. Public relations people are worth their weight in gold.

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