Some Dispute Mayor’s Statistics, Claim 'Hostility' Towards Teachers
By Mary Frost
In his State of the City speech at Morris High School in the Bronx last Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the city has made “real progress” in turning the school system around over the past nine years, with graduation rates up substantially (especially for black and Hispanic students) and school crime down by nearly half.
But the mayor also said he would put a controversial teacher evaluation system in place in 33 schools — and fire up to 50 percent of the faculty. The evaluations have been opposed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) because it offers teachers no chance to make their case to an independent arbitrator. The mayor blamed the teachers union for the loss of state funds that depended on a series of reforms, including the evaluations.
Bloomberg said that under a school turnaround program “already authorized by federal and state law and consistent with a provision of the existing union contract,” the city could form school-based committees to evaluate teachers on merit and replace up to 50 percent of the faculty.
“We plan to move forward with this approach for the 33 schools that should’ve gotten state grants,” he said, adding that he believed that the schools would then be eligible for the $58 million in funding.
Closing Big Schools, Opening More Charters
The mayor also touted the progress made by the four small schools at the Morris campus, formed by closing down the large school that existed previously. The small schools “are among the 500 new schools we’ve created over the past decade, including 139 new charter schools,” Bloomberg said. “This year, we’ll phase out another 25 schools and open smaller schools in the same buildings.”
He said that his goal was to open 100 new small schools over the next two years, including 50 new charters. He also said he would ask several charter school operators to expedite their expansion plans, including the KIPP Academy and Success Academy networks, and ask another charter operator called Rocket to expand into the city.
Parents across the city have protested co-locations of new schools into public school buildings. Often, these co-locations drain resources such as libraries, gyms and special ed facilities from the existing students. Hundreds of parents in Cobble Hill and nearby neighborhoods recently protested the co-location of a Success Academy Network charter school into an existing Cobble Hill public school complex. The Mayor’s Panel on Educational Policy voted to allow the co-location.
The mayor also spoke about new schools that will partner with companies like IBM to expose students to careers in technology, and said the city would help lead the charge for the New York State Dream Act. The Dream Act allows children who were brought here illegally to apply for state-sponsored college loans, grants and scholarships.
Reaction to the Mayor’s Speech
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said, “Education is the other key to ensuring real middle class opportunity, and so I welcome the mayor’s focus on the school system today. Strengthening career and technical education and passing the State Dream Act are important steps. But the more divisive parts of the mayor’s agenda are counterproductive to reform. A war on teachers will not help educate our kids.”
Comptroller John C. Liu agreed. “The mayor devoted much of his speech to addressing some of the continuing shortcomings in our public schools, but his harsh criticism of teachers was surprising and unwarranted.”
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, strongly disputed a number of the mayor’s claims, including the wisdom of breaking up large schools to replace them with small ones.
She pointed out that the four small schools on the Morris campus cannot be compared to the old large school because only 1.7 percent are in self-contained special education classes, compared to 14 percent enrolled in the old Morris High School. Dividing up the building has caused its own problems, she said. “According to a teacher at one of these schools, there is no longer any librarian and the library is completely unutilized.”
She also countered Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that his educational policies are helping more students leave school college-ready. “After a decade of school closures and other free-market policies, only 21 percent of New York City high school students overall and only 13 percent of black and Latino high school students are college-ready after four years.”
The mayor’s educational policies are unfair, Haimson said. “Most of the schools closed in recent years and those proposed for closure this year enroll higher than average concentrations of English language learners, students who entered the schools overage, and/or students with disabilities. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg’s school closing policy is a shell game that displaces high-needs students from one school to another, without addressing their educational needs.”
Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group including many hedge-fund managers with positions on the boards of the charter schools supported by the mayor, backs Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed expansion of charter schools.
“What the mayor put forward today is a series of bold yet common sense initiatives to improve our public schools, ideas so obvious that with each one he announced the crowd erupted in applause. Opening high performing schools, paying teachers more and creating an elite corps of educators from the tops of their college classes are all important steps towards giving every child the top notch education they deserve.”
January 18, 2012 - 1:02pm