2011-12-16 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Is It Dementia Praecox Or Just Plain Ego?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Far be it from me to talk about senior citizens. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is, after all, nearly two years younger than I am.

Yet I believe that, in his final term in office, he is moving towards the dreaded dementia praecox, which often leads to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Or, perhaps his ego is so great that he believes that he can say stupid things just because he is THE mayor, king of all the mayors in the world and the greatest mayor in New York City history.

Despite the fact that I disagree with the mayor in several im0ortant areas – his nannyism, his destruction of actual education in our public school system, bike lanes and such, I have always thought of him as intellectually grounded and stable.

No more. I believed that until he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to talk about the differences between the public and the private sector.

From his speech you could infer that the private sector is, as Michael Powell said in the New York Times, “muscular, businesslike and unsentimental while the public sector is flaccid and filled with protestors waving placards and legislators who only want to spend money.”

An interesting take from a man who has run in both the public and private sector and who has “led” the largest city in the world for nearly 10 years.

It became clear just how far into La La Land is when he started to talk about his “private, 700 member army, the 40th largest army in the world,” and the fact that he could solve his education problem by firing half of the teachers in the city and paying the ones that are left twice as much. Most teachers, he said, came from the lowest quarter of their graduating classes.

“If you could effect change,” he said, “you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you double their compensation and you would weed out all the bad teachers and then just keep the good ones.” “Double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for students,” he added.

When Karen Matthews, a reporter with the Associated Press asked, via Twitter, whether the mayor thought that one teacher in front of 62 students was a good model,” she got an answer from the mayor’s longtime press secretary.

“Are you asking as a journalist, advocate or mother,” Stu Loesser asked.

A year or so ago, when asked about the class size issue, the mayor said, “I don’t even understand why the subject comes up anymore,” adding that all that counted in the classroom was teacher quality.

He pointed out that he sat in a classroom that was “five rows of eight,” or 40 students. He did not add that his school was a top prep school that enrolled only the top students in the Boston area.

The mayor’s daughter went to Spence, where class size is anywhere from a dozen to 15.

Most of his top advisors went to private schools where class size certainly was well below 20 students. bYet 60 kids in a class is alright for the rest of us. Things are much different in New York schools, and Bloomberg should know that.

He would, if he were not trending towards dementia (or, an outsized ego).

Powell, who writes the “Gotham” column for the Times, writes about a friend who teachers at Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the top high schools in the city.

He wrote of his friend, “He loves teaching, but teacher morale has slipped into a ditch. The past decade with its singular obsession over testing and data collection coupled with a concerted effort to demonize the teachers and their union have really delivered a knockout punch.”“In a way,” he added, “Bloomberg has been successful. Good teachers are leaving and teachers like myself, with a decade in, are wondering if we can stomach another decade.”

Responding to the criticism he drew after the MIT statement about cutting half the teaching staff, Bloomberg later told reporters, “In education, it’s the quality of the teacher, the quality of the teacher and the quality of the teacher,” adding that weeding out all the bad ones would help the students in the long run. He reiterated the story about his classroom days and classes of 40 students or more.

“Everybody I know in my generation went to classes like that, and education, by some people’s argument, was as good then as it is today.”

His plan drew a lot of controversy and not a little anger.

“Next time he’s at MIT, he should take in a math class,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers.

“Those of us with kids in the public schools find the thought of 50 or 60 kids in a class appalling,” one local parent said of the plan.

If the mayor was kidding or setting a “modest proposal” scenario, then he showed no signs of either.

He was serious, and that shows his pathology.

There are many flaws in the Mayor’s proposal to fire half the teachers and increase class size to 60.

One is the mayor’s contention that studies show that class size does not matter.

Those studies were all done by advocacy groups that got lots of money from people like the mayor and his millionaire friends to “prove” a fact, a fact that any teacher and the great majority of legitimate studies show is false.

The second is that nobody is quite sure who is a “good teacher” and how you quantify and measure that with any reasonable accuracy.

The mayor wants to use the standardized test scores given by the state. Those tests have proven to be phony, rigged to show educational growth so that the state could get federal money and the mayor could look good.

The mayor should see a good neurologist. It seems he will soon need one.

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