2007-11-30 / Columnists

School Scope

The Panel Says
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott The Panel for Educational Policy replaced the old Board of Education when the state legislature gave the Mayor control over the schools in 2002, which will sunset in 2009 - thankfully. Now we all know about the dysfunctionality of the old BoE, but the PEP is non-functional, being only an advisory body with Klein himself being a member and seven members appointed by the Mayor, serving at his pleasure.

We found out what "his pleasure" means at the famous Monday Night Massacre, chronicled in our March 26, 2004 column ("Beware The Ides Of March - You're Fired") when Bloomberg, that Julius Caesar pretender, fired three members of the PEP on March 15 for opposing BloomKlein's third-grade retention policy. Not that we are wishing the same fate Julie suffered for the Mayor, though the thought probably has passed through the minds of many a classroom teacher as they spent useless hours working solely for the purpose of "let's show outside visitors how we follow Tweed dictums" on their word walls, flow of the day, bulletin boards, et al, often into the late afternoon, long after the kids have gone.

I often go to monthly PEP meetings as penance for my sins. These events are required by law as a minimal attempt to keep the public informed, which Bloomberg and his hand-picked "I know about education because I once went to school" Chancellor, Joel Klein, do their utmost to keep - minimal. The members of the panel are basically somnambulant and the meetings are often deathly, other than the two minutes allotted to the public, where I avail myself of the opportunity to educate the Panel and Klein as to what constitutes a quality teacher. Doing this, two minutes at a time, I figure I'll be in the nursing home before I finish. But there's always Access a-Ride.

Let's not accuse our state legislators, members of one of the most corrupt political bodies in the nation, if not the world, from doing the wrong thing in handing over the largest school system in the nation, with no oversight, to the whims of one man. They did provide that each borough president could appoint one PEP member, five people that would still be a minority on the Panel. While the mayor could appoint anyone, his entire family or his dog, the borough people must have a child in the public schools. I think a dog must also have puppies.

Even if these five were appointed to represent the interests of parents, the relationship of the borough president to Bloomberg must be factored in. The Staten Island borough president fired his rep when she said she was going to vote against Bloomberg at the Monday Night Massacre. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz supported his appointee, Martine Guerrier, when she voted NO. As he cemented his relationship to Bloomberg, her criticisms of Klein began to wane. She was eventually appointed by Klein to the 150K a year job as Chief Parent Muck-a- Muck in February 2007, and she had to leave the PEP, which is considered so inconsequential, Markowitz didn't even bother to appoint a replacement until recently.

This summer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer appointed Patrick Sullivan to the PEP. Sullivan has been active with Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters in putting issues of true educational import on the table, so his appointment was a pleasant surprise and a tribute to Stringer's agenda of putting his constituents ahead of Bloomberg.

Sullivan, who comes from the corporate world and thus has great credibility, has galvanized the PEP meetings as he questions Klein and his minions in depth on their policies. I've videotaped some of these encounters and you can view them on my blog where there are also videos of teachers and parents doing their two minutes, including my own.

I remember meeting Queens Borough President Helen Marshall at Massacre. She expressed dismay at the firings. So one would have hoped the Queens PEP reps since then would have expressed even a modicum of independence and oversight. Not to be, so far.

But Michael Flowers, who had shown some promise, has resigned as Queens PEP rep. The last time I saw him he voted with Sullivan against one of Klein's policies. Did the long arm of BloomKlein reach out and snuff him? I hope not.

Marshall has the opportunity to make an appointment that will result in the same kind of kudos Scott Stringer has received and at the same time, provide an accomplice to Sullivan in challenging Klein. There are Queens parents who are very knowledgeable about the schools and hopefully Marshall will do the right thing by putting someone on the panel who will stand up for the parents, who have been so marginalized (or bought off) by Bloomberg. There are some top-notch candidates emerging, so…

Go Helen!

UFT Candlelight Vigil Snuffed

School Scope wrote about David Pakter back in June 2006 (All Psyched Up With No Place To Go). He has been in and out of the rubber room for things like buying a plant for his school or making a videotape of a music class in his school building. Recently, he proposed taking an idea that was brewing among rubber room people and ATR's (mostly senior teachers forced to become subs from schools that have closed or from positions that have been cut) to use the steps of Tweed as a rallying point on a regular basis on the evenings of PEP meetings before going in and speaking (which people have been doing sporadically over the past few years) and turning it into a larger "Thousand Points of Light" event. At one point, David said, "I will be there with my candle even if I am the only one."

If it had happened that way, the oneman rally would have had more impact than what took place at the UFT rally on Monday night, November 26.

David asked Randi Weingarten to jump on board, but she soon after sent out an email that the UFT would not support such a rally. This was in early November. So, what happened to make Weingarten change her mind a few weeks later (Nov. 16 to be exact) and jump on board? The utter outrage coming out of the schools after Joel Klein announced a witch-hunt to go after teachers as an excuse to shift the blame from his own failures. There was a need to put on some kind of show for the members.

The rally was filled with the usual suspects - Randi's Unity Caucus/ union employees, members of the opposition, and some rank and file teachers who came out. Plus some rubber room people. Very similar to the idiotic John Stoessel protest at ABC a few years ago. Maybe a thousand people in all. With no press coverage at all. Basically, a ZERO. The Weingarten act is wearing very thin.

All this was predictable, as the UFT did not want too big a protest, intending to use this as a photo op/PR move to make the members feel that something is being done. And to deflect what would have had an anti-UFT tinge from people who have felt the UFT has left them in this position in the first place.

Deflection and Dilution. Deflection of militancy and dilution of the UFT critics in a sea of Unity Caucus.

The idea of holding an event at Tweed on this particular day (which has been a consistent theme of some of us over the years) was the PEP meeting at 6 p.m. where they rubber stamp and endorse anything BloomKlein do, other than Patrick Sullivan. Thus, I was more interested in the PEP meeting than the rally.

Why bother? Because the Bloom- Klein machine has made it look like they are doing wonderful things and the national press have jumped on the bandwagon. When parents and teachers get up publicly to expose the sham, it is one way to fight back. Certainly with the UFT not fighting back, there is a need to make a stand.

On Monday, Patrick Sullivan raised questions on the school report cards and the NAEP test results, which were turned from straw into gold by Tweed spinners. Leonie Haimson was there and spoke about how the DOE has violated state law in refusing to post a viable class size reduction plan.

It is noteworthy that with a rally outside, the UFT totally ignored the fact that there was a meeting taking place and had no presence at all. If Weingarten was so upset at the witchhunt for teachers, why not inundate the PEP meeting with people speaking against it publicly? It was left to teachers from TAG, Teachers Advocacy Group - which sprang up this summer to counter the lack of UFT protection - to take that role. And don't think that hasn't had an impact on activating the UFT - to some extent.

At the meeting, after watching mind-numbing presentations from Klein's Chief Accountability Officer James Liebman and Marcia Lyles - who read us 12 pages of a PowerPoint presentation - this from the chief teaching and learning person at the DOE, who replaced Andres Alonso who was even more mind-numbing - these people were teachers? - I got my two minutes.

I suggested they use the workshop model for PEP meetings, where each presenter gets seven minutes, the audience breaks into groups and does "turn and talk", a test be given at the end of the meeting and if the audience didn't learn the material, the presenter gets fired or sent to an internal rubber room for Tweedles.

Even Klein smiled at that one. Email: normsco@gmail.com

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