2008-02-22 / Columnists

School Scope

A Web of Intrigue
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Is there a vast neoliberal conspiracy to impose a market-based system on urban public schools in partnership with the business community leading to a move toward privatization, the weakening of teacher unions, and placing the focus of blame on the teachers (schools are looked at as failures because of poor teacher quality) and their contracts (seniority rules are worse than a tornado ripping through a school)?

Are we moving toward placing the control of public education into the hands of privateers and policy wonks whose basic knowledge of education comes from having once attended school (like letting someone who was once in the hospital with a sore throat perform operations)?

Are we seeing a further exacerbation of an already existing dual school system - one urban running under market forces that shut out parents and teachers; one suburban where elected school boards make decisions?

Has much of this agenda been driven by the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party?

Research-based blogger Eduwonkette posted a web of connections between the various policy wonks and their foundations backing the corporate takeover of urban school systems. She asks:

"Who are they funding? How broad is their influence? Should the funding priorities of a small number of foundations drive local education policy? Is Bill Gates our national superintendent, as Diane Ravitch has suggested? My intent is not to villainize these foundations, but to wonder out loud whether it is a good thing for American education when local reform strategies are shaped so strongly by a small number of private, uber-wealthy foundations."

Eduwonkette's exposure of the ties that bind created quite a sensation in the Ed blogosphere with the attacks coming hot and heavy as they tried to smoke her out of her anonymity. When you're caught with your pants down, attack. Some of the attacks were less than sophomoric. ("She takes money like those girls we used to talk about in high school.") One has to wonder if the ole boy policy wonks are just plain embarrassed that a girl can be so much smarter than they. Glover Park, $2,617,982 - a UFT Slush Fund for Clinton? The most recent LM2 annual expense report posted on the US Department of Labor website by the UFT covers 2006. It includes a payment of - gulp - $2,617,982 to Grover Park consultants, led by Howard Wolfson, a major Hillary Clinton advisor. (How's that working out, Howard?) It's probably due to his advice that improvement in teachers' working conditions is going so well.

What's intriguing about this astronomical number just for giving advice - hey, I'll give advice for half the amount: buy high, sell low - is that there is no accounting for the work Grover Park did for the UFT. The Grover Park Group website says this about Wolfson:

At Glover Park, Howard focuses on crisis management, complex integrated campaigns, and political advertising and communications. The firm's New York clients have included Cablevision, Verizon, the New School, Newscorp, and the United Federation of Teachers.

Howard has helped direct the campaigns of Senator Hillary Clinton, New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson ... Ahhh! It's all about how to manage the membership. The UFT payed Wolfson to advise them on how to use massive UFT resources in Hillary's campaign without having to go through an endorsement by the members or even hold a discussion where Obama supporters might get to raise a stink.

Follow the bouncing ball in the next year or two as Wolfson gets paid enormous sums to guide the UFT on how to sell mayoral candidate Bill Thompson to the membership while using dirty tricks to degrade serious challengers like Anthony Weiner.

Or, is this a simple matter of the UFT leadership finding a sneaky way to funnel money to the Clinton campaign by "hiring" Wolfson?

Succession Obsession

No, I'm not talking about who will replace Fidel, but the speculation surrounding Randi Weingarten's move to the presidency of the American Federation of Teachers this July. When you hear people talk about the hope that a new leadership will bring democracy to the dictatorship, they are referring to the UFT, not Cuba. I have some lengthy pieces on Randi's successor (with a twist) on my ednotes.com blog. Broken Hearts Valentine's Day Rally at Tweed

At the UFT Delegate Assembly on February 6, an amendment calling for a February 14 rally as an addition to the official UFT resolution fighting the budget cuts (you know, the usual tepid things like calling on the mayor to open the books) was turned down - too hard to organize on such short notice, was one of the reasons, amongst others. Weingarten danced on a pin to pin down the maker who insisted the date was flexible. ("Sorry, she said, "you didn't make that motion officially." - a version of Randi's Rules of Order by which meetings are run.) One Unity Caucus speaker said holding a rally on Valentine's Day might lead to massive divorces.

At the same time, a group of students, teachers, community activists and politicians were meeting at John Jay Educational Complex in Park Slope to plan a "Broken Hearts Valentine's Day" rally at Tweed.

Well, they managed to pull off a spirited rally - not massive, but with hundreds of people - maybe a thousand - they made a point. There were lots of familiar adult faces: Time out for Testing provided support and assistance. Many of the crew from NYCORE (New York Collective of Radical Educators) were there, some with kids from their classes.

Teachers and parents and lots of kids - all ages at their first demonstration. A great hour of fun for all. I got a particular kick out of the excited elementary school kids jumping in for a photo op. And their equally excited teachers, many of them young activists.

Knowing how some politicians fear the UFT, I was surprised at how many showed up. NYC Council member Bill de Blasio played a big role (other politicians were also involved in organizing the event) and Robert Jackson made the usual rousing speech. I saw Gail Brewer there. Others were there too, but I was part of a film crew assigned to outer limits of the crowd and missed most of the speeches.

The UFT is planning its own rally on March 19 and the fact that the "Broken Hearts" Valentine's Day rally came off must have been somewhat embarrassing - they had no presence. They should have been there to whatever extent they could, but the vote at the DAlocked them in. The March 19 rally will be a one shot deal. No attempt to build a movement for change. But the UFT doesn't want change.

"The Broken Hearts" demo, though small, was a step in the building phase. Activists for Progressive Ed Reform (APERs?) worked together and hopefully will continue to work together to build a counter movement to challenge the move to corporatize/privatize the urban educational landscape.

A Moron Speaks

A letter to The Wave called me a moron for my piece on PS 106 (Queen Bee Meets Queen Bee) where we talked about a visit Randi Weingarten made to the school. Let's see, condoning the leader of a school signing a teacher's name to an observation that never took place must be the latest innovation in the sound business practices by which our schools are being run.

But I must admit the letter writer is correct. When all is said and done, what was written about the school was more on than off.

By the way, it is clear that the teachers at the school are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution.

A number of them called The Wave recently to refute last week's frontpage story, but were afraid to go on the record. Their story should be told, but that can't be done unless they are willing to go on the record.

And a Few Oxymorons, Too

Exact estimate, Act naturally, Found missing, Resident alien, Genuine imitation, Pretty ugly, Clearly misunderstood, Political science, Airline food, Good grief, Sanitary landfill, Alone together, Small crowd, Business ethics, Soft rock, Military intelligence, Sweet sorrow, Giant shrimp, Passive aggression, Clearly misunderstood, Peace force, Extinct life, Plastic glasses, Terribly pleased, Computer security, Political science, Tight slacks, Definite maybe, Working vacation, Religious tolerance.

The wrong email was printed in my last column, so if you tried to contact me, some guy in Kosovo probably got it. Try normsco@gmail,com. And be sure to check my blog at http://ednotes online.com/ where I get to be a moron every day.

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