June 21, 2009

Crime down, PR up

Over at GEM this week it was predicted that Bloomberg would quickly try to burnish his image once a report called The New Marketplace got published on Wednesday. The New School study showed that the larger high schools have not fared well during Tweed’s slash-and-burn strategy to create more and more small schools.

As it turns out, Bloomberg obliged and did mount a press conference at one of the big high schools: Truman — way up in the north Bronx. Accompanied by some very high-profile people, including Commissioner Kelly, the chancellor, UFT prez Randi Weingarten and her heir-apparent Michael Mulgrew, the mayor felt a strong urge to talk about the drop of crime in the city’s public schools.

I guess he chose Truman because it was one of the two large HSS cited favorably in the report under the heading “Leadership and Stability Matter”:
Some other large high schools managed to handle the side effects of school closings and growing numbers of new students without severe disruptions. Those with strong, stable leadership and a solid core of high-achieving students have been especially successful in coping with sharply higher enrollments. . . And when enrollment boomed at Harry S. Truman High School, there was initially a steep decline in attendance and graduation rates, but the school managed to rebound.
At some point during the conference, Bloomberg referred to a number of handouts graphing the decline in "major" crimes (burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny auto) and "violent" crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, felony assault, misdemeanor assault, and sex offenses) in schools.

When a reporter asked why anyone should believe the numbers, Bloomberg apparently shot back something like: “Are you saying I’m lying?”

To which I'd have responded: “Duh!”

First, everyone knows there’s underreporting of incidents, by teachers and administrators. In the “gotcha” climate wrought by Tweed, no one likes to report incidents unless you have to — for insurance purposes. Sometimes it’s a matter of sullying the school’s image or your own. After all, if an incident happened while you were around to see it, maybe you weren't doing something right. I don’t know whether principal’s bonuses are affected by the number of incidents they report, but they may be. There’s also a question of being afraid to make a false statement (Did I really see that?), and in some cases fear, retaliation, and/or blowback.

Let it be known that both the UFT and the DoE use the word “incident” for a broad range of negative behaviors. Included in the union’s list are: “assaults, classroom disruptions, threats, and violent or dangerous behavior.” The official DoE Incident Report gives the following definitions on page 2:

In both lists, classroom disruption and misbehaving are as much “incidents” as are assaults and violent behavior, and that’s weird. Remind me to file an incident report next time Johnny tells me to f... off when I tell him to stop pawing a girl and get to class.

It’s actually a little confusing to match Bloomberg's graphs with the comment made by Criminal Justice Coordinator Feinblatt in the press release:
Thanks to the collaboration between the Department of Education and the police, we have reduced the behaviors that disrupt our classrooms and hallways and prevent our students from concentrating and learning.
Someone really has to explain what the "behaviors that disrupt our classrooms and hallways” have to do with homicide, rape and other violent crimes — or, in fact, with the NYPD at all.

Behavior is controlled by good security leadership (which Truman has, I understand), adequate space to place kids while they calm down or serve suspensions, and most importantly, enough staff — aides, agents, and teachers on patrol — to do the job, inside the classroom and out in the common areas. Not all schools have all three, and they may very well suffer for it. For Bloomberg to leave teachers out of the security equation is strange. The press conference was by invitation only and it was reported only two teachers were in the room. That’s interesting, and distressing.

Getting back to the reporter’s question on the credibility of Bloomberg’s numbers, there’s this:

Massaging data to support a favorable school governance record has been a trademark of Klein’s chancellorship. In fact, it’s what the Tweed PR team actually do best.

Look how they've already manipulated test scores, school grading, and graduation rates — statistics that congressmen and city council members seem to accept without question regardless how frequently their conclusions have been shot down by ed analysts like Jennifer Jennings (aka Eduwonkette) and Fred Smith, historians like Ravitch and Meier , and brainy activist parents like Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters).

Thank you, Mr. or Ms Reporter, for asking Bloomberg that question about believing his numbers. Maybe it made them think twice about broadcasting the conference all over the news.

And maybe the press is just not buying this stuff anymore. Fingers crossed.

Which brings me to Randi Weingarten, who once again greeted the mayor with a kiss.

Does that mean the new contract’s already in the bag?


  1. woodlass:

    We all know the schools hide incidents and pressure teachers not to report disruptive behavior. Furthermore, the lack of teacher input into anything that is related to policy is a trademark of Bloomberg and Klein. Why should you be surprised by the lack of teachers at the press conference?

    Finally, it is my belief that a new contract is already been negotiated and will be announced this summer. I will post my guess what this contract contains in my next post.

  2. Hi, Chaz - no, I wasn't surprised by so few teachers. I heard it was by invitation only and only those two were allowed in the room.

    Teacher marginalization is going on all over the place. The Ed Reformers don't want teacher input at all. It doesn't advance their agenda. They keep scheduling conferences during school hours.

    When the mayor does need teachers to show up at certain rallies (like the charter school one in Harlem), I heard they put pressure on teachers to be there or else.