The Bloomberg School Legacy: Flawed Policies Poisoned by a Fatal Arrogance
It should surprise no one that only 34 percent of New Yorkers approve of Michael Bloomberg’s education policies, the policy area within which the Mayor most hoped to create a legacy. The Mayor not only introduced numerous questionable initiatives- ranging from school closings, to preferential treatment of charter schools, to attempts to rate teacher performance based on student test scores-he did so with an arrogant disregard not only for the most experienced teachers and administrators in the system, but of parents and community leaders and elected officials who tried to make their voices heard in matters of educational policy.
This top down approach to reorganizing the City public school system not only reflected the ideology of the national School Reform movement- which viewed public schools as corrupt institutions in dire need of the kind of competition and accountability allegedly characteristic of the private sector- but an egotistical effort to reproduce the success of Bloomberg LP by importing its management techniques into the Department Education.
Within weeks of taking office, The Mayor put his mark on the school system by insisting the central headquarters of the NYC Department of Education, as well as all of its district offices, look exactly like an office of Bloomberg Inc, with cubicles replacing offices.
This astonishing reorganization, done without the input of anyone in the system, was designed to show that this Mayor was determined to put his own personal stamp on the system down to the smallest detail, and a penchant for Mayoral micromanagement has been a characteristic of the New York Department of Education ever since.
Among the highlights of Mayoral Micromanagement have been
Replacing four members of the Panel on Educational Policy, the major policy making body governing the Department of Education, when it refused to determine the promotion of third graders exclusively on their performance of standardized tests.
Publicly denouncing principals who questioned the school grades issued by the Department of Education after it became clear that the formulae used to compute those grades produced results that defied common sense, as well as school performance on state and national tests.
Appointing publishing executive Cathy Black as School Chancellor without the advice or input of anyone
In the Department of Education, including outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein
Showing favoritism to charter school advocates who were personal friends of the Mayor, such as Harlem Success Academy director Eve Moskowitz, giving them license to seize facilities from existing public schools and discourage the enrollment of students who might lower their institution’s test profiles
It is one thing to try to convince educators and the public that schools , administrators and teachers should be evaluated regularly on the basis of student test scores, and that public schools would benefit from competition from charters, it is another thing to implement those policies unilaterally, from the top down, while stifling public discussion and trying browbeat and intimidate opponents.
Lost in the process were not only principles of democratic governance, but any kind of institutional way to subject Mayoral policies to external oversight, critical evaluation, or adherence to the most basic rules of evidence. Among the most damaging results have been, favoritism, cronyism, and corruption in the awarding of Department of Education contracts, and the creation of evaluation systems, first of schools, now of teachers, that are wildly inaccurate, and counterintuitive to what parents , teachers and administrators believe.
When you have a system without checks and balances of any kind and without any institutionalized or marginally respected input from the major stakeholders in the system- parents, students, teachers and administrators- don’t be surprised if you generate tremendous opposition.
What we have now in New York is a school system filled with teachers and administrators working under extreme duress, convinced the Mayor is their enemy, of students whose school experience is defined by one test after another, and of parents who feel their voices don’t matter.
This is Mayoral Control Michael Bloomberg style.
Many people in this city-teachers and principals foremost among them- will breathe a huge sigh of relief when his third term is finally up.
September 8, 2011