2009-10-02 / Columnists

School Scope

The NY Times Continues to Tilt Toward BloomKlein on Education
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott When Arthur Goldstein, an ESL teacher with almost a quarter century experience, took the giant step of running for chapter leader at Francis Lewis HS in Queens, one of the largest and most overcrowded schools in the city with 4600 students and 300 union members, he promised to focus his attention on the severe overcrowding at the school.

Goldstein has had first hand experience, having to teach in a dilapidated trailer for years. He has drawn attention to the shameful record of Tweed (for new readers, the headquarters, full of dungeons and dragons, of the NYC Department of Education) and the Bloomberg administration in shortchanging schools with good reputations, like Francis Lewis, through editorials at the Gotham Schools blog and the Daily News. Tuesday's front page article in the NY Times focused on the situation at Francis Lewis. But as usual, the Times only told half the story. Or less.

Goldstein, in a recent Daily News editorial (My school is bursting with students, and Tweed is to blame), clearly places the blame where it is due. His article closes with: ….the experts at Tweed are like doctors who diagnose a disease, then inject the patient with more toxins just to make certain they're right. No one can criticize their diagnostic skills. But if anyone's due a malpractice suit, it's the Department of Education

The usual NY Times tilt towards the BloomKlein administration on education made no mention of the trailers or any of the dilapidated conditions of the school. Nor did it tie in with the Bloomberg claims to educational excellence and the ridiculous attacks on Bill Thompson over the conditions in the schools when Thompson held the almost powerless position as head of the old Board of Education in the 90's. (If they want to play that game, speaking of conditions, I bet Francis Lewis was not nearly as overcrowded when Bill Thompson headed the Board of Education).

The Times' article had nary a mention of the conditions Goldstein describes, nor does it mention Goldstein who has used his bully pulpit as UFT chapter leader so effectively. My goodness, the union rep fighting as much for the safety of kids as for teachers? And to the usual charge that the union is only concerned with jobs, doesn't Goldstein's campaign to reduce the overcrowding mean less staff? Would reporting that the actions of the union teachers at Francis Lewis in standing up to BloomKlein on a situation that is dangerous for kids counter the antiteacher and anti-teacher union propaganda that is so rampant?

The Times doesn't want to go there as it executes the Times Tilt toward BloomKlein.

I once challenged the Times reporter who wrote the article at a symposium that the rank and file teacher point of view is rarely presented (union bureaucrats don't count). Her response was that teachers are afraid to talk, which I found pretty funny. There is not one quote from a teacher in her article, only from students, the principal and a school secretary. Yet there school, more than a few I have encountered who have no fear. Certainly Arthur Goldstein is one.

Before I go on, I want to mention my favorite whipping crew at the UFT, which only got involved when Goldstein, who ran with the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) in the last UFT election and will be running with them again in this year's election, started agitating. (Full disclosure: I am also a member of ICE.) Francis Lewis has been under the control of Unity Caucus, which has ruled the UFT for 45 years, and some of the Unity supporters did what they could to stop Goldstein from getting elected as chapter leader.

Getting back to the Times as whipping boy, the article made no mention of the insane conditions teachers must work under, focusing only on student travails.

TILT

Goldstein has written that Francis Lewis was built to hold 1800 students instead of the Times' figure of 2400, allowing Tweed to claim, "You see, the school is not even at 200% capacity." TILT

The Times' article bias toward the DOE line is further revealed here:

Not far from Francis Lewis, two schools with lesser reputations, Jamaica and John Bowne High Schools, are below capacity. But education officials, wary of alienating middle-class parents, have been reluctant to shift students to even out the load.

The Times did not ask the DOE why these schools have lesser reputations and are underutilized. In fact, John Bowne is at capacity, but the DOE plays games with the numbers. Jamaica HS is a different story altogether. Chapter leader James Eterno, who is running for UFT president on the ICE/TJC slate against Unity Caucus' Michael Mulgrew, has written repeatedly about the intentional policies of Tweed in trying to force Jamaica's closing so it could be prime meat for future charter schools, even steering away kids who want to attend. James Eterno wrote a powerful letter to the State Education Commissioner pointing to the educational apartheid BloomKlein was perpetuating at Jamaica HS. The Times didn't do any digging at all, just accepting the DOE line, as evidenced here:

Education officials say they are creating more schools that could eventually absorb some of the demand. Elizabeth Sciabarra, the director of the Department of Education's office of enrollment, said that Francis Lewis had done a "pretty terrific job" of dealing with the overcrowding but that she could not say how many more students it could handle. "You have people who deliberately choose that school and live in the neighborhood because of that," she said, adding that the city had never capped enrollment at a high school. "Once you start to put a cap on, then where do you send those kids? I don't see how we would be able to do that in a way that would be fair."

The Times neglected to ask Sciabarra why Tweed doesn't pour enough resources into Jamaica and Bowne to make them attractive enough so kids will want to go there. (For those who think that wouldn't work, look up the 1970's case of Mark Twain MS in Coney Island which went from worst to best in a blink, with pretty much the same teaching staff.)

The Times also neglected to read Arthur Goldstein's powerful piece at Gotham Schools, A Tale of Two Queens High Schools, where he compared the Jamaica and Francis Lewis situation and points to the Tweed complicity in turning people away from Jamaica. This is an important piece and example of real journalistic excellence.

For the Times to make no connection to the Eterno and Goldstein pieces amounts to journalistic malpractice that rivals Tweed's educational malpractice. But then again, the Times and BloomKlein are on the same side. TILT Rockaway Café opens at RTC this weekend

I'm doing my own TILT towards the upcoming Rockaway Theatre Company's Rockaway Café, starting this weekend with three performances. Miss it at your peril.

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