July 25, 2009

Looking for Michael B.

Summertime for me usually means reading Tom Stoppard, but let’s face it: There’s nothing like Shakespeare to help you understand the mind of a despot.

I’m talking about Richard III, though I’m sure anyone who knows me probably thought I meant Michael Bloomberg.

When Al Pacino came out with his documentary Looking for Richard in 1996, he had spent four years poking around the soul of that hideous king. The film is fascinating if you’re looking for insights into the psychology of New York's ruling class.

Take the remark Vanessa Redgrave makes in the film, that "those in power have total contempt for everything they promise, everything they pledge,” and then review the list of Bloomberg statements about running for a 3rd term:
"The people themselves have twice explicitly voted for term limits. We cannot ignore their will. They want the openness new faces bring. And they will get it. We will not go back.” (2002)

“I would oppose any change in the law that a legislative body tries to make.” (2002)

“There’s no organization that I know that would put somebody in charge for a long period of time. You always want turnover and change. Eight years is great. You learn for four years. You can do for four years." (2002)

"I think it would be an absolute disgrace to go around the public will." (2005)

"I always thought term limits were a good idea. I am not trying to overturn term limits." (2008) [credit to www.youreadisgrace.com]
Contempt, yes. There's also the greasing. For example, the Independence Party — “Asked if the mayor had pledged a specific amount of money to support the party this year, Salit was understandably coy. The mayor had assured them that ‘ample resources will be brought to bear,’ she said with a smile. In Bloomberg talk, this is always a seven-figure number.” Or the people who find real estate projects a piece of cake these days — look at image 2 in this link when it zips by, which shows how they're planning to build 4 big towers in the Coney Island acreage that’ll block the sun for the next 200 years.

Barbara Everett, a Shakespeare scholar Pacino interviews in the film, suggests that "Everybody may have a price, but for a lot of people there is a fundamental decency. It takes quite a long time for them to reach that point. The action of the play, the sense of exciting movement, is Richard's finding the point" — or in real time, the moment the pandering and corruption stops.

Bloomberg may be getting his kicks from straddling the line between legal and illegal, moral and immoral. He certainly doesn’t need the cash.

Richard, Everett continues, is "bound to be left alone, because nobody can love the king beyond the degree of their own egoism, or perhaps their own goodness. There’s going to be a point.”

Well, New Yorkers are sure waiting a long time for that point, the one when enough legislators and council members break away from the mayor’s contemptible grip to vote for something relating to public education that makes sense. It hasn't happened up in Albany, and it's not happening down here either. A few perhaps, but not enough of them.

Says Richard when Buckingham asks him to make good on his promises:
"I’m not in the giving vein."
Neither is Bloomberg. He’s locked out parents and educators for eight years, and if he’s handing them a few crumbs this past week, it’s because he was forced to. He wants that third term.

Al’s producer, Michael Hadge, suggests Richard is a man who in the end “knows that he does not have his own humanity. That he’s lost it, that he has let the pursuit of power totally corrupt him, and that he is alienated from his own body and his own self.”

To my mind, so is Bloomberg, else how could he as a Jew compare anything going on in the Senate these days to the failed policy of appeasing the Nazis. That’s losing your own self big time in my book.

At the end of the play, King Richard comes to terms with his self-loathing, and he doesn’t hide behind a cloak of insanity when he openly convicts himself in Act V, scene iii:
"Alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.

I am a villain.

Every tale condemns me for a villain.

And if I die, no soul shall pity me.

Nay, wherefore should they?"
I think Bloomberg’s not there yet, because he’s still an arrogant son of a bitch. But as Everett says about Richard, "Although he’s frightfully clever, he’s at the same time like a kind of boar who has subsumed into himself all these frightful animal images. And all the rest have got to do is hunt the boar, and that’s what they do. And they get him."

We’ll never be able to “get” Bloomberg for the crimes he’s already committed against half a generation of NYC school children. But we can get him OUT, for as Richmond puts it:
"England hath long been mad and scarred herself." (V, v)
Not one shred less than New York, methinks, when scoundrels rule and people beflower the paths they tread.

July 24, 2009

Now for some levity . . .

. . . while New York slugs it out with a mayor we were never meant to have.
A NEW FILM: "A blogger turned stand-up comic, an obsessive political gadfly and a high-school math teacher compete against each other and arch rival incumbent Michael Bloomberg for the post of New York City mayor."
Click to see the trailer.

And this, about saving Coney Island from robber barons.

Click on Dick
for an important
video message!

July 17, 2009

Obama's double-take

If you haven't seen this video clip on Obama's July 16th speech at the NAACP, here it is:
"And let me say this. If Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich can agree that we need to solve the education problem, then that's something all of America can agree we can solve. [clap, clap, clap]

"Those guys came into my office . . . [pause for irony] . . . just sitting in the Oval Office, I kept on doing a double-take.
[mimics his own disbelief, laughter, clap, clap, clap]

"But that's a sign of progress . . .


I would like to say Obama doesn't get it, but he's way too smart. With both feet planted square in the neocon agenda, he and his Secretary buddy Arne "Non-Educator" Duncan have been working overtime on creating a feeding frenzy for public monies.

The cash is going to charters without a doubt, even though nobody says what the big deal is with these schools. The only thing I can tell is that they get to keep the class size down and pick their students. That doesn't cut it with the masses, the people whose dreams were once tied up with putting this president into the White House.

Sharpton, Gingrich and Bloomberg — not an educator among them. Just a trio of dissemblers with a nose for power and cash.

President Obama, I agree with you it's weird to see these guys sitting around the Oval Office, but what I can't get is why the heck were you in there with them?

July 14, 2009

Welcome to Lilliput

NYC Educator brought up the word "liar" in a recent post, and I agree:
It's time to go there.

A few minutes after I got the latest flyer from the Bloomberg campaign, I found myself driving up the FDR and doing what the man in the movie Network told us to do. I rolled down the window and yelled out:
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
Boy, did it feel good.

There is so much lying these days, and absolutely nobody should be taking it anymore. Particularly people who send their kids to public schools.

Across the front of that flyer there's this bold announcement: "New York's newspapers say: Mike Bloomberg is making PROGRESS in our schools." A nice trick when you think about it, to use quotes from a bunch of newspapers instead of facts.

Inside, a heading quotes from the Daily News: "New York public school students are achieving at unprecedented levels." Well, that's a lie right there — unless you take it to mean that literacy and math competence in our schools have reached an unprecedented low.

Then there are four big-print highlights of the mayor's "strong, independent leadership" and more newspaper quotes to back them:



All lies. Flaming, outrageous, hugely expensive prevarications of a billionaire pol who has quite frankly crossed the line.

It's clear that the mainstream papers print what the Bloomberg pressroom sends them, because you can't publish something like this:
"Mr. Bloomberg has created clear lines of authority in this once-chaotic system and cut back a spreading bureaucracy that defied previous mayors. Judging by test scores, the city's students are benefiting." (the NY Times, Sept. 08)
without someone failing to check the facts and do some analysis.

Fortunately there are muckrakers and sharp-sighted eagles picking up the slack where the ostriches, sloths, and varmints at city newsdesks renege, and there are sites like this to remind you to re-read their posts.

For Bloomberg's claim about "GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY", read how Seung Ok and Steve Koss debunk Press Secretary David Cantor's claptrap on regents scoring over at Ednotes and Leonie Haimson's latest post on the resignation of the DoE's Chief Accountability officer, James Liebman ("the man had no qualifications for the job"). Eduwonkette did a whole week of posts on school report cards when they first came out (she covered strategy, flubs, theory and problems), and you can both laugh and cry at Celia Oyler's pop quiz on the same topic.

For his claim about "MORE PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT", see James Eterno's post on how parents had to fight to get a decision-making role at local schools after Klein marginalized them with a 2007 regulation. Then check out this G.E.M. post (earlier ones also) for stories of parents fighting back against BloomKlein's school closings and doing things specifically without their involvement.

For his claim about "STANDING UP TO THE BUREAUCRACY", that's baloney to start with. See Elizabeth Green in Gotham Schools for a frightening account of the three reorganizations of the system to date. How much more fiddling around with bureaucracy can the city take, or pay for?

And for his claim about "HIGHER TEST SCORES and GRADUATION RATES", there's tons on this already. Two good reads come to mind: Diane Ravitch's important testimony at the NYS Assembly on both these topics last February, and NYC Educator "Just the Facts." In fact, you can get a whole lot of other links about grad rates if you read Chaz's post, like he suggests in the comments.

I'm at the stage where rolling down a car window is not going to be nearly enough. It has to be louder, bigger, and pack a big punch.

But until all that comes together, I'll just keep thinking of Gulliver and how a whole lot of little people doing their thing can eventually bring a big guy down.

July 8, 2009

Barron and the art of protest

For more on this demonstration, see the David Mark Greaves report "Parents Demand Voice in Education System."

If you were lucky enough to attend the rally at Tweed two days ago against BloomKlein malfeasance and thuggery, you would have been reminded of something we don't always see these days. People power.

About half an hour into event, Councilman Charles Barron led the crowd right up the steps to take the place back. Of course he stopped at the doors, and of course we all wished he'd barge right on in. Not this time, but we're getting there.

The sunsetted Department of Education did a miserable job of serving the people in spite of Bloomberg's cash-flow hype, and most know in their bones that the new so-called Board of Education is illegal.

It's clear there's no shortage of great speakers at any of the rallies these days. Some of the parents, teachers, and council people who've taken the mic have really been able to put our profound disgust into spine-tingling speech. [For more on our profound disgust, read Polo Colon here.]

Too bad, of course, that NONE of these speakers are Weingarten's people, and that's a fact. The staff she sends out to monitor these events all hover around the back edges in their Sunday best looking fairly muzzled — when they're not hob-nobbing with Tweedies, that is.

Thanks to NYCteachers.com, there's a video of part of the protest.

And here's a transcription of the text, because honestly, it's time we learn to start sounding like this to everyone who'll listen. So, practice up.
There’s no way on God’s earth can you get into the 21st century if you’re not teaching science,
if you’re not teaching computers, [someone yelled out History],
if you’re not teaching about the green economy,
if you’re not teaching about economics,
if you’re not teaching about leadership,
if you’re not teaching about the culture and the rich history of the African community,
if you’re not talking about the Latino community and their rich culture and their rich history.

So, we gotta say: We want a culturally relevant curriculum.
We want a curriculum— not some businessmen getting in a room and saying one-size curriculum fits all.

We say: You failed us, Mayor. You failed us, Chancellor.
And we come to make citizens’ arrests, because they are illegally ... illegally ... occupying this building.

Finally, on this day, on this day ...

We the People ... [WE THE PEOPLE] ...
declare ... [DECLARE] ...
this Board of Education ... [THIS BOARD OF EDUCATION] ...
now belongs to the people ... [NOW BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE] ...
now belongs to the parents ... [NOW BELONGS TO THE PARENTS] ...
now belongs to the children ... [NOW BELONGS TO THE CHILDREN] ...
now belongs to the teachers that want to teach ... [NOW BELONGS TO THE TEACHERS THAT WANT TO TEACH] ...
And we support student unions.

So that’s the declaration we make here today.

This struggle will continue.
They’re not going to take our education system from us. We’re taking it back.

We will be back again, and again, and again
until they are gone.

Thank you very much.
Thank YOU, Councilman Barron. The pleasure hearing you speak was all ours.

July 1, 2009

Scott the pol

Scott Stringer is sinking us.

I wrote him this morning out of disgust, particularly after taking a look at his website and learning he no longer needed the services of the clearest thinking man on Klein's PEP, Patrick Sullivan.

In my letter, I basically asked him what about mayoral control so pleased him these past 7 years.

As far as I could tell, it's been:
• chaotic (three reorganizations of the heirarchy in 7 years, busing fiasco,etc.),

• faked (manipulated test scores, an inscrutable school grading system, etc.).

• non-transparent (no-bid contracts, hidden liaisons with corporations, etc.),

• dictatorial (shutting parents and educators out of decision-making, the firings at the PEP meeting a couple of years ago over the tests, etc.), and at times

• irregular or unlawful (appointed an uncertified and non-educator chancellor who needed a waiver, broke up the districts into regions without court approval, etc.).
The borough president is not elected to do a mayor's bidding, which is what checks and balances are all about, and since we haven't had any checks and balances for the past seven years on mayoral dictates, Manhattan expects Stringer to start showing some muscle.

A full-out rejection of this mayor's irregularities, arrogance and downright incompetence running our schools would be a good start. Insisting that long-term educators get to make the important decisions should be another priority. At least they know in their bones that parent input counts.

What Stringer thinks about education can be read on his website. In light of his decision to continue backing mayoral control (a position he's taken all along, according to Lisa Donlon), I am concerned that he's become deaf to his own words:
However, there is widespread discontent with the councils and, in 2006, the Borough President released a report [Parents Dismissed] showing that the CECs have not received the support and training the DOE is supposed to provide in order to allow them to be effective.
He's also taken away our best shot for keeping the DoE clean. Failing to re-instate a real advocate for public education on the newly constituted board, we now get his general counsel (Jimmy Yan). What did tossing Sullivan get him? The public really wants to know.

Here's the part of Stringer's position paper that shows how well Bloomberg's PR machine achieved its primary goal, getting elected officials to believe the fabrications and not bother themselves with with due diligence.
New York City’s public school system has seen some improvement in recent years: in certain grades student achievement on standardized reading and math tests has posted notable gains; a modest gain in the high school graduation rate has been achieved; there is an ambitious capital plan that seeks to address overcrowding and facility deterioration; the number of gifted and talented and bilingual programs has increased; and additional accountability measures have been put in place.

Despite this progress . . .

. . . The chancellor has called tackling this achievement gap the major impetus behind new accountability and assessment measures and the most recent re-organization of the system.
In fact, the test score gains and graduation rates have all been debunked, overcrowding is worse than ever (they're still using trailers for classrooms), and there's no sign of a single instrument of accountability or assessment that doesn't leak like a sieve.

If as Stringer says "far too many students lack the most basic skills in reading and math" and "70,000 students each year do not graduate on time," keeping the BloomKlein edifice in place makes no sense. Unless you've sold out for something bigger.
It remains to be seen whether these changes in structure and funding will help close student achievement gaps. Likewise, it remains to be seen if the City’s new pilot program to pay parents and students for improved standardized test scores and good attendance will improve student performance.
If Stringer needs more time to see that this mayoral control thing isn't working, then Manhattan will definitely need to cut him loose.