September 29, 2007

The numbers games people play

Remember this conversation from 1976 when Bob Woodward was trying to sort out what Deep Throat was telling him?

BW: All we've got are pieces. We can't seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like . . . I mean, it sounds like bullshit, we don't exactly believe that . . .

DT: Follow the money.

BW: What do you mean? Where?

DT: Oh, I can't tell you that.

If you’re into figuring out how BloomKlein continues to scam and slam us, here are a lot more people capable of following the money than I am. So I'm going to change the parameters a bit and ask you to follow the numbers. And the charts, and the PowerPoint presentations, and the faked test score analyses, and the manipulated graduation rates, class-size calculations, and attendance quotes. As many as you want of them. You can make a list and put them in one long, long column.

Then make another list — of all the data the DOE won’t ever be coughing up, like how many excessed teachers there are subbing or teaching out of license, or how many teachers never got an interview when they applied in the Open Market system, or how many vacancies were filled this past summer by fresh-out-of- school first-job 20-somethings instead of experienced and tenured teachers afloat in the system, or how many teachers sit in rubber rooms without being told why they’ve been put there, or the number of kids who chronically miss the first and last periods of the day but who get marked present anyway, or ... well, you know what I mean.

You’ll see the first column gets a lot of hoopla from Klein, in fancy charts and speeches at public meetings, circulated in press releases and promulgated all over the media in newspapers, cyberspace, radio, and TV. But, don’t even bother looking for any of the stuff in the second column, because you'll never get answers to those questions.

The DOE can get their computers to cough up any information they want, and to our continued disbelief and growing contempt, massage it into something that will make their point and enshrine the result in any number of cool graphic displays to wow the general public. Those same people, though, have a heck of a time extracting the stuff that really counts. In fact, they don’t even want you to think about any of the questions posed in column two.

That’s the way corpocrap works.

Visual spectacles, with appealing colors, nifty graphics, extended data compilations, all designed to package the image of a benevolent, efficient, and hard-working bureaucracy, but not the sociopathy and probable malfeasance behind it.

I was at the PEP meeting the other night and subjected, like the Panel and everyone else in the room, to a super-duper presentation about the new $30,000,000 hotline installed at the DOE called HR Connect. (It’s already been "promulgated" —
here on the DOE website, which says that “HR Connect offers a one-stop, easy-to-use hotline that allows employees to find answers to their questions, learn about benefits, and resolve problems in a single call.")

With all that acclamation for the new system, I thought, good: I can call the hotline first thing in the morning and ask them to look on Galaxy and tell me if the position I got excessed from last June was really cut after all. And that’s what I did, I called the hotline and got this really friendly guy, all trained up just like Klein said he'd be (and as the promulgation says as well: “Trained customer service representatives at HR Connect have already answered nearly 50,000 calls from DOE employees and prospective employees with information about certification, payroll, health benefits, and other topics.”) He tried desperately to find someone or some link in the system that could help me with what we both thought was a very simple question: was I legitimately excessed or were they lying to me.

“I really want to help you. Let me think, let me think ...” I did let him think for a moment or two, but coming up against a fearsome dead end on his supercomputer — which every one of us could have bet their paycheck on — he told me he was sorry that he couldn’t help me after all. I should call HR in my borough. This was the office, of course, that I had been communicating with since last spring, without that $30,000,000 hotline system, and to no real avail. After endless routing through the phone system, I got dumped for the umpteenth time into an answer machine (which Wikipedia says was invented in 1904).

So, here's a project for us. Let’s start making these two lists: the manipulated numbers, charts and displays they put out there for public gullibility and incomprehension and the real numbers and data they deny us. If we get everyone’s input, I’m sure the results will be stunning and informative.

My guess is we can take the clothes off this devious and malevolent emperor yet.


  1. I got an email from an MD friend of mine in England who has just retired. Relevant bits:

    "We ,of course, are experiencing the same sort of problems in education here (massaged exam, literacy results etc) that make me all the more aware how aspirations and wishful thinking completely distort true information.Add to that willful mis-representations and the truth becomes completely inaccessible.

    "The same happens widely in Health with the result that people simply no longer trust information coming from the Government or anywhere else for that matter.

    "... a lot of senior doctors are retiring early, their experience being lost to the system. As I am reaching the age when their knowhow is becoming increasingly relevant to my personal health, it is not a reassuring situation."

  2. CUNY started something similar back in the 80s, making everything more "efficient" by running things "like a business." It was nearly impossible to get a full-time job as a teacher with an MA; all you got were adjunct positions, max. 13 hours a week. or CUNY would have been obliged to provide health insurance.

    Parallels in the corporate world, since the "bubble" burst. Businesses have been axing older employees or encouraging buy-outs, and then replacing them with younger employees to whom they offer only limited benefits...except of
    course if they are at the top of the food chain and entitled to one of those over-inflated salaries and golden parachutes...

    Yes. The crapitalist profiteering approach is ruining education...just like it is undermining the security and professionalism of everyone else these days.

  3. There is no telling what management envisioned, but luckily the union negotiated a "no layoff" provision. There is no "reduction in force" in New York City. Even if there were, it would have to be in reverse seniority order. It's all explained in the "Know Your Rights" document that all UFT members received.

  4. Thank you, but no thanks, for referencing the uft website, which gets more and more obsolete each day.

    Some years ago this leadership negotiated 10-20 min. onto the day (I can't remember now, it's a while back), and experienced teachers said NO, NO! don't vote for that because in a couple of years they'll turn it into a whole extra teaching period. Of course we did get that whole extra teaching period a few years later, as a "professional activity" – fewer kids perhaps, but 10 kids, 20 kids, 30 kids: Who cares: teaching is teaching whatever the numbers.

    And professional activities were once separated from the jobs we were never supposed to do unless we agreed to tgen, like hall or cafeteria duty. Now that's gone as well, and we're in the halls and cafeterias en masse. I remember at my school they had something like 96 jobs of hall duty and about 8 for real professional duties.

    They want us to believe that the no-layoff protection in this contract will be saved in 2009. But, do wake up. They'll lose that for us, too, because in all these years, Unity has not figured out to build this union from the bottom up.

    With the high numbers of untenured staff, the level of fear, the principals who have no trouble lying and are possibly even being trained to do it, with letters in the file for years, a hobbled grievance system, a lack of transparency at the DOE, hideous detention centers where you can be sent without even being charged – with all these and many more kinds of losses, the leadership can only spin its success stories to new teachers who don't know what's up yet and to the comfortably gullible.

    There's no reason to believe that next time round Unity can stop a chancellor who is hellbent on having us serve at his will. And that's because they have exchanged union-building for autocracy. Hers.