2006-10-06 / Columnists

School Scope

Putting Lipstick on the Pig
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman ScottNorman Scott In the movie "Boiler Room" shady brokers used the expression "Put lipstick on the pig" when they dressed up lousy stocks to sell to a gullible public. Attending events put on by the NYC Department of Education are all about putting lipstick on the pig (PLOTP).

For the DOE, it is all about spinning the many disasters that have resulted from mayoral control. They have managed to do in 30 years what decentralization could not - unite parents and teachers in an increasing understanding that there must be some major changes when the law giving dictatorial powers to politicians and the corporate non-educators they hire to run the school systems for them sunsets in 2009.

A good illustration of people's frustration was a letter to the NY Times by John C. Fager, former education columnist for The Daily News and currently a teacher. "The mayor... has lost the support of teachers. He and Chancellor Joel I. Klein do not understand the importance of meaningful parent involvement and have alienated parents as well. Having such a person exercise overwhelming control of the school system without any checks and balances is not desirable or effective. Mayoral control, which I ardently supported, needs to be reformed."

Fager's letter was in response to a Times article ("Bloomberg Re-emphasizes School Control," September 20, 2006) on the Mayor's visit to LA where the mayor there is trying to emulate Bloomberg by fighting for control of the school system. But he has been partially stymied by a less cooperative teachers union than the UFT, which served up the school system to Bloomberg on a platinum platter.

The article stated, "Mr. Bloomberg has embarked on a high-profile offensive to make mayoral control permanent. At stake, the administration fears, is the long-term fate of his changes to the school system."

Bloomberg and Klein are afraid that there could be a reversal of their so-called "Children First" reforms when a new mayor comes into power. Actually, they are worried that when they are gone people will unbury the lies and distortions and discover it was really Children Last, Management First as all the shennigans (can anyone spell S-N-A-P-P-L-E) of no-bid contracts, political favors no different than took place under decentralization (but with a new cast of characters) are uncovered. At least in the old days people on the gravy train were community based rather than the high end corporate pilfering going on as wheelbarrows of money are handed over to private firms with influence - the BloomKlein version of "friends with benefits." I never thought I'd say this, but the pre-BloomKlein system was less harmful to children, parents and teachers.

At his press conference Klein started lobbying to remain as chancellor under a new mayor by talking about the wonderful stability in Boston after having had the same Superintendent for 12 years.

Boston topped New York for the Broad (pronounced Brood) prize, supposedly for "an award created to honor urban school districts making the greatest overall improvement in student achievement while at the same time reducing achievement gaps across income and ethnic groups." In reality, it is a prize for the greatest achievement privatizing as much of public education as possible while undermining the teachers union. It is hard to see how Boston could have topped New York in the latter.

Apparently, BloomKlein were so sure of winning the prize, they trucked all regional superintendents down to the award ceremony, only to end up with just a bit if egg on their faces.

The Times article quoted Bloomberg as saying at a meeting of city commissioners a year ago (my brackets), "We've got to find some ways [to put lipstick on the pig] between now and the end of our administration to make it so compelling [more PLOTP] that the public will demand that we continue to put the interest of our students first, and the interest of the people who work in the system or benefit from getting contracts in the system last."

BloomKlein are putting their interests (let me repeat - Management FIRST instead of Children First) ahead of those of the children. What a joke to talk about those who got contracts in the last system when the BloomKlein regime has made the previous outlay of money to contractors look like small change - but the KGB-like hiding of information by the DOE requires a steam shovel to dig it all up. But when they are gone - it will be "Katie bar the door" time.

The damage to children from the rest of their incompetent schemes; from the one-size-fits-all curriculum (millions of dollars spent on new books by the districts were wasted as these books sit in closets); to the massive amounts spent on PD that so many teachers consider a waste (especially those two days before Labor Day); to the spending of $17 million to fix their own incompetent reorganization when just about anyone in the system would tell them what to do for free; to the report that the number of overcrowded classes violating the UFT contract have doubled to over 6000 - now there's Children First for you.

If there were no UFT contract (under such attack by BloomKlein) protecting children from obscene class sizes, they would cram a hundred in a class. Or maybe build more stadiums and have class sizes of 50,000.

The BloomKlein administration will need shipping containers of lipstick.

Randi Weingarten's quote in the same Times article, considering the onslaught against the members of her union, was tepid, at best: "You talk to a student or a parent who's in one of the new small schools, they'll tell you that it's fantastic. You talk to a parent of a special ed student who hasn't gotten the placement they want, and they'll tell you it's terrible. You just have a whole bunch of anecdotes right now."

With an obvious need to gear up a campaign to stop the Mayor from lobbying a continuance of the disaster known as mayoral control, Weingarten missed another opportunity to call attention to this by taking a neutral position.

Why one might ask, considering the fact that for teachers this has been such a catastrophe? Is it that she put so many eggs in the basket by being a major supporter of the mayor's takeover? Or is it her expectation that in the next election the UFT's favorite candidate Bill Thompson will be the new mayor and the UFT can be back in the driver's seat.

The UFT uses a different shade of lipstick

The UFT version of PLOTP is to convince the members of the advantages of the 2005 contract, where the Open Market System and the inability of senior teachers to be given job preference has led to numerous experienced teachers being tossed from their schools and classrooms and turned in substitutes, one of the most horrifying jobs in the school system.

While having full-time subs assigned to a school is not a bad idea (that was my job for my first year and a half as a teacher and I learned a lot while doing it) there has never been such a demand from the UFT. Yet, notice the tub of lipstick applied by a six-figure salaried UFT PR person disguised as a teacher on the UFT blog:

"There is a real educational benefit in having an ATR pool - and a real benefit to teachers too. If you've ever worked in a school...where subs were hard to come by, you know how valuable on-site subs can be... the teachers are spared from having to take extra kids...some principals are just fine with breaking up a class, disrupting everybody else's classes on that grade for the day...nobody ever really liked bumping. Even the senior teacher who did the bumping was often resented in the new school and made to feel unwanted. And of course, some poor new teacher down the line was out of a job.

But what choice was there?

Now there is a choice. On balance, I think it's a better deal."

This leads to a comment from blogger called "Schoolgal": "After reading the above comments, I can only conclude that this is a sad day for our union.

This has to be the worst spin ever, and tasteless at that."

The UFT can go halfies on a couple of those lipstick containers with the DOE.

Norman Scott can be reached at norscot@aol.com

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