With so many schools being closed this year by the Department of Education – 26 at last count – and charter co-locations – the word the DOE uses while I use “invasion” (one commentator compared them to bed bugs) there seems to be a Panel for Educational Policy meeting every day. Actually, there are two this month and two in March. Memories of last January’s marathon ten hour horror story meeting where 19 schools were being closed still haunts people. So now will we have two 5-hour marathon horror story meetings? Not so fast.
The February 1 meeting started at 6 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. I gave up by 10:30 and headed home (which might explain some wobbly grammar in this column). This meeting was billed as a big confrontation with the UFT, which had called a pre-hearing rally akin to the one last January that packed Brooklyn Tech and led to a massive round of booing during Joel Klein’s speech and Eva Moskowitz’ Harlem Success Academy machine which followed up the next month with busloads of parents who cheered Joel Klein while spending the evening talking about how they need charters because the schools Uncle Joel ran were so awful. But Eva loved Joel because he gave her whatever she wanted. Rumors she had him locked up in her basement with a ball in his mouth have not been confirmed but I suspect the real reason he left the DOE to earn millions as a propagandist for Rupert Murdoch was to get out from under Eva.
Well, the UFT decided to postpone their rally supposedly because the weather report was bad from February 1 to the February 3 PEP (where the final nail is expected to be driven into the coffins of Beach Channel and Jamaica High Schools, among others). I don’t think it was the weather but a strategy to avoid a major confrontation with the HSA parents. One of my colleagues in the Grassroots Education Movement commented, “I think their moving the rally date from the 1st to the 3rd is a tactical disaster (compounding the fiasco of their wider strategy). Moskowitz will able to dominate the hearing (hopefully the D3 parents will out mobilize them), the vote will happen and the result will dominate the news cycle – leading to demoralization and decreasing turnout for Thursday.”
Eva didn’t postpone anything and showed up, depending on the reports, with either hundreds or thousands of busloads and food for them all. How many buses does that take and what did this all cost? Money that could have gone towards getting her own buildings instead of takeovers of public school space. But she has a political, not an educational agenda. She is pushing into white middle class areas where public schools are overcrowded and the massive Brandeis HS campus, which already has four high schools in it, is her target. There was a lot of pushback from just about every upper West Side politician and parent leader. The community board voted 40-0 against Eva and every single PTA lined up against her. But the final outcome of the Bloomberg-dominated PEP was a foregone conclusion (Egypt’s Hosni Mubarek often complains he allows way more democracy than Michael Bloomberg does) and Eva prevailed again, but leaving in her wake another neighborhood of people filled with outrage. This time she picked the wrong neighborhood and look for some severe hostility from parents who want more high school space at Brandeis but will be denied as Eva expands her school grade by grade and pushes out some of the existing high schools – I predict at least two will be set up for failure so they can be closed and have their space given over to Eva over the next few years.
The UFT did show, but mostly with staffers. At times it seems there are almost enough of those to fill a few busloads. I didn’t see food for them but then again many of them have UFT credit cards. They did have blue tee shirts to counter Eva’s orange ones. The UFT shirts said, “Chancellor Black Do Your Homework” on the front and “Fix Schools = A+, Close Schools = F.” Okay, a little lame but at least there was a sense of some pushback at the charter juggernaut.
One of the highlights of the evening occurred when my pals in the Grassroots Education Movement – who term themselves the “Real Re-formers” – did their usual thing, wearing their red capes with a big “RR” on the back and this month singing “What a Wonderful World This Could Be” with lyrics like “They don’t know much about history ... but they do know how to close down schools ...” Battle over public schools escalates with civil disobedience
Joel Klein called the misnamed “achievement gap” the “civil rights issue of our time.” Fighting back against the ed deformer strategy of forcing the closure of many inner city schools to make way for favored privately controlled charters is the real civil rights issue of the time. On Monday, January 31, I attended a rally of mostly NYC high school students near City Hall and Tweed focused on the forced closing of schools as part of the drive to privatize by short-changing these schools of resources. Shouting “Fix Schools, Not Just Close Them” and “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like” two New York City Council members and dozens of parents and youth were arrested for blocking traffic at Chambers and Centre Street following the rally. Councilmembers Jumaane Williams and Charles Barron were among those arrested.
Students began a march to the precinct but on the way they were told that the police, to curtail the march, took the arrested to another precinct. The event was organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice, consisting of community-based organizations, and the Urban Youth Collaborative. I put up a 14 minute edited video of the rally, excerpts from speakers, the push into Chambers St., the arrests and the follow-up march to the police station. Fabulous stuff from a great bunch of students who did us all proud. You can view the video at http://vimeo.com/19443862.
I’m loading up the camera for the next PEP meeting on February 3 where the UFT promises to come out in force. By the time you read this you might be hearing about a major disruption of the PEP at that meeting to attempt to stop the vote to close the schools. Or not.
When Norm is not spending his life videotaping PEP meetings, he blogs at ednotesonline.blogspot.com.