2010-11-19 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Wicked Warlock Gone To Murdoch
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Ding, dong, the wicked warlock is dead, gone to work with Rupert Murdoch in order to insure that his new boss gets a big chunk of the for profit education market.

On November 9, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that School Chancellor Joel Klein is leaving his post at Tweed Courthouse “to tackle challenges outside of government.”

In a press release that came out of the blue at about 3:30 p.m., the mayor’s public relations people said, “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has appointed Cathleen P. Black, a highlyrespected leader in one of New York City’s central industries as the next Chancellor of New York City’s Schools and charged her with building on Chancellor Joel Klein’s historic success turning around the nation’s largest school system. Over the past eight years, longer than any other Schools Chancellor has served, Klein transformed New York City’s long-dysfunctional public school system into one that the Obama administration has hailed as a national model, with higher graduation rates, a narrowed achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers, significant progress on National Assessment of Educational Progress test results and lower crime. The Mayor selected Black to follow Klein as Chancellor because of her unique experience building on successes and leading teams to even greater achievements, including her stewardship of Hearst Magazines for the last decade and a half. Black is also widely credited with building USA Today into an unprecedented success in her eight years there, and broke through an important gender barrier in 1979 when she became the first female publisher of a weekly consumer magazine, New York. New York City has never had a female Schools Chancellor.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Besides the fact that we get one more big lie from the city administration, we do not get an educator in the most critical school system position.

After nearly a decade of administration by a lawyer with no educational background who virtually destroyed both the UFT and the school system, we get another business oriented person, a magazine publisher, who is heavily invested in the charter school movement.

Of course, Black’s first duty was to add to Klein’s big lie by stating one of her own.

“Our schools are vastly better than they were just eight years ago when the Mayor took office and Chancellor Klein joined his Administration,” said Ms. Black. “Their passion for improving the educational opportunities of our students has lifted the bar higher than anyone could ever have imagined, and my main goal will be to build on the work that has been accomplished during the Bloomberg Administration, and Chancellor Klein’s tenure. I want to thank the Mayor for the privilege of joining his Administration and the great team of people who carry out the City’s mission each and every day.”

First of all, our schools are not “vastly better than they were just eight years go when the Mayor took office and Chancellor Klein joined his administration.”

The facts are clear as day and proven by the results in this year’s reading test scores.

Students today are actually doing no better than they were eight years ago. The mayor made it look like the scores were moving higher each year by colluding with the state to cook the books. By lowering the cut score – the number of right answers necessary to reach competency, they made it look like the kids were doing amazingly better.

Everybody involved with education knew better, of course, but they were afraid to speak out because to challenge Bloomberg and Klein was to go sit in a rubber room somewhere until the two forced you out of the system entirely.

Scores today are actually just about the same they were eight years ago.

And, at the same time, in an attempt to really raise the scores, Bloomberg and Klein virtually ended the teaching of several content area subjects, including social studies, science, art, music, technology, physical education and foreign language.

It has been reading, mathematics, test-taking skills and my way or the highway for the past eight years, and the education of our kids has suffered.

A recent survey of graduating high school students showed a glaring lack of understanding about how our government works or about our storied history.

That is because those trivial subjects are no longer taught very much in our schools.

Reading, math and test-taking skills. That’s the ticket.

Now, we get Black.

Her resume is great, packed with increasing business and publishing top newspapers and magazines.

Her educational experience, however, is limited to sitting on some college and charter school boards.

Not exactly what you need to run the largest school system in America.

But wait a minute. That’s the theory. If you’re a successful manager, you can manage anything.

Not true!

As the drummer said in “The Music Man,” you’ve got to know the territory.”

Klein did not know the territory, and look what he wrought.

Black knows the territory less than Klein.

Bloomberg knew that when he chose her via a closed “national search” in which the mayor reached out only to his millionaire friends to come up with Black.

The mayor’s attitude towards education can be seen in a telling statement he made when asked about Black’s qualifications. “It just goes to show you that [her detractors] have no understanding whatsoever of what the job is. This is an organization, an agency of the city that deals with 1.1 million customers and has 135,000 employees, has a budget of $23 billion a year,” said Bloomberg. “[Klein] and I spent a lot of time finding the right person.”

Kids as “customers’ and teachers as “employees.” That says it all.

It is going to get ugly, because now that parents know Bloomberg and Klein’s entire tenure was a lie – smoke and mirrors designed to make the mayor look good – they are angry and are not going to take it any more.

Actually, I’m surprised to see that the mayor did not appoint Michelle Rhea, who was just fired from the top school job at Washington, D.C. and was the hero of “Waiting for Superman.”

Don’t worry about it. I am reasonably certain that Black will find a highpaying position for her in New York as soon as she gets settled in.

For Bloomberg and Klein, the schools have become a toy, a way to do some social experimentation and see what happens.

For the rest of us, education might well be life or death. Black probably does not know that fact.

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