2010-02-19 / Columnists

School Scope

Looking Back into the Crystal Ball
Commentary By Norman Scott

Being in the midst of the UFT election campaign where the group I work with, ICE, has united with another group, TJC, to run a slate against the UFT’s Unity Caucus machine, I have been looking back at how we got to a place where the union at the school level has come under such assault as to be barely breathing. (Not to worry for the top-level people at the UFT, since no matter how bad things get, they are assured the dues-paying gravy will still be rolling in.)

When former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was demanding control over the NYC schools, saying the system should “be blown up,” there was an “Oh, no, this guy is a Dr. Strangelove” reaction among educators — that handing the keys over to Rudy would be akin to a proposal today to hand Iran an open door to the H-bomb.

And then there was the reaction of the UFT, which in June 2001, 6 months before Bloomberg became mayor, urged handing the NYC school system over to the dictatorial Rudy. When objections were raised, UFT officials said Giuliani was at the end and the next mayor would be “workable.” Then came 9/11, three UFT mayoral Democratic endorsee losers, and a mayor whose billions made Rudy look like a pipsqueak when it came to being a dictator. When Bloomberg demanded control of the system after taking office in 2002, the UFT supported the change in governance. And they did it again, although with tweaks, when last summer’s renewal battles came up. How’s that working out?

When doing research on the last 15 years of UFT history, the first place I go is to the newsletter/blog Education Notes. Hey, I almost forgot, that’s me. Well, when you have a horn toot it. I found an interesting article I printed in October 2003. It was all about what was coming with a school system under the thumb of one person. I called it, “We know it is going to be a disaster.” It read:

“Some are comparing it to a hostile corporate takeover. But then George Schmidt has been warning us for years from Chicago about the impact of the corporate model and its companion, Mayoral control, on a school system: That the top down corporate business model of running a school system with people who don’t have a clue about what goes on in a real school will never work. That control of education in the hands of politicians instead of educators leads to manipulation of the educational process for the purpose of winning elections. That attempts will be made to privatize. That blame would be placed on teachers for the problems. (It certainly can never be the fault of their faulty policies or the fact that some kids are really difficult to teach). That enormous funds would be put into staff development as a result of this philosophy instead of focusing on class size reduction (the ‘bad teachers will still be bad whether they have 35 or 10 in a class’ argument.) That enormous numbers of high salaried ‘Executives,’ many of whom are educational theorists or corporate bottom-line types, would be hired to ‘manage’ the system. That there would be a shut down of information, a gag order on all employees and a system of lies and manipulation of data to put a good face on all that is happening. That employees will show their bosses the so-called ‘Potempkin Villages’ where the face of things are made to look good (see: stress on bulletin boards) while the decay underneath is covered up. That kids would be pushed out of schools to make results look better. That dropout rates will be hidden. That test scores would be emphasized to the exclusion of all other learning like science and social studies ... ” Ed Notes, October 2003

When this was printed in Ed Notes over six years ago, most of the information we had came from George Schmidt in Chicago. Recent actions on the part of the UFT make it seem they just discovered this. But they knew all along and purposely did not educate the members as to what was coming. Even their recent “It’s Klein mismanagement” campaign is part of their obfuscation of the national issues. The AFT, which is controlled by the UFT, is ready, willing and able to make deals with the Ed deformers. Some people think things have changed under the new leadership of Michael Mulgrew. Just watch what the AFT does in July in Seattle when the 800 members of NYC’s Unity Caucus go there and vote as one to endorse every single policy of Randi Weingarten.

One of the successes of what is known as “the resistance” (to the corporate takeover) is that this story that was getting out to such few outlets six years ago is seeping into the mainstream. At the January 26 PEP meeting where the mayor’s rubber stamp panel, many speakers, ironically, including UFT officials, said so much of the things many of us have been saying for years.

In the light of that, the charter school scandals have been growing and are being picked up by the mainstream press. Rachel Monahan from the Daily News did a piece on how three charters were getting enormous sums from the city because their patrons are politically connected. And yep, our own homegrown charter scam artist, State Senator Malcolm Smith, was one of the favored few.

Then came a fabulous piece by the NY Times’ Susan Otterman on how the closing of the trades programs at AE Smith Vocational school was tied in with its replacement by a troubled year old charter school, South Bronx Charter School for International Culture and the Arts, run by Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, who is Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo’s grandson and chief of staff and the nephew of City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who founded the school.

I wrote on my blog in a piece titled “Charter Scams Will One Day Make Extinct Community Control Scandals Look Clean,” that “there will be no crook that won’t open a charter - the John Gotti Charter School of Fashion? The Rudy Blogoyovich School of Hair Design? Remember the days when people in some districts made headlines by taking home dilapidated pianos and how the crooked districts were a major justification for mayoral control? Read the tea leaves as these scandals grow and grow and we see the day when the same arguments will be used to dismantle mayoral control.”

Susan Ohanian, one of the leading members of The Resistance, put it much more eloquently: “As hundreds and possibly thousands more charter schools open, we will see many financial and political scandals. We will see corrupt politicians and investors putting their hands into the cashbox. We will see corrupt deals where public school space is handed over to entrepreneurs who have made contributions to the politicians making the decisions. We will see many more charter operators pulling in $400,000- $500,000 a year for their role, not as principals, but as “rainmakers” who build warm relationships with politicians and investors. When someday we trace back how large segments of our public school system were privatized and how so many millions of public dollars ended up in the pockets of high-flying speculators instead of being used to reduce class size, repair buildings, and improve teacher quality, we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top [Obama’s education deform plan] and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it.”

Yes, the heat is on charters and getting turned up every day. And speaking of heat, I have to head off to Anita Ruderman’s yoga class, the hottest thing in Rockaway since her much awaited opening last month. I’ve been a fan for 10 years and it’s why I don’t fall over when I get out of bed every morning. But then again more than a few people at the UFT and Tweed wish I would never get out of bed.

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