by John Lawhead
The election on November 3rd will have lasting consequences for public education and the city. It deserves the attention and involvement of all New Yorkers. The UFT has a long history of candidate endorsements made without any regular process of consultation with the membership and often contrary to members' interests. The decision to sit out the contest between Michael Bloomberg and his opponents speeds us to the brink of more disasters. If appearances are real and the UFT leadership's passive support for the mayor's reelection is a deal for a new UFT contract by deadline, our union is deeply complicit in another landmark defeat for the teaching profession.
Nearly eight years of direct control over the schools have provided Bloomberg with an unchecked opportunity to implement numerous policies premised on distrust and contempt for teachers, students and school communities. Early on with his rush to implement grade retention policy he put the blame on 8-year olds for low reading scores and further worked to make standardized testing a year-round concern. “Weekend, vacations, summer -- time off is a luxury earned, not a right,” he told a radio audience in 2002. Chancellor Klein went to work making testing an obsession for all schools by hanging their fate on it.
His administration accelerated the wholesale closing of neighborhood high schools. Together with a successful assault on teachers' contractual rights this led to the creation of an excess teacher reserve force in the thousands. The result of dozens of school phase-outs deepened the gulf between the two worlds children in New York encounter at the high school level. One consists mostly of large neighborhood or selective schools and is increasingly filled with white and Asian students An entirely different realm awaits black and Latino students consisting mostly of new small schools, stripped of both enrichment programs, IEP services and bilingual programs and plagued with teacher turnover.
The new schools have been staffed with discriminatory hiring through privately-run programs. Just as tens of millions in funding by Bill Gates went to school reorganizations, Eli Broad's millions were used to train principals to see teachers as antagonists. In recent years Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have extended the agenda of privatized education by embracing charter schools, displaying a marked preference for the chain operators. Their favoritism towards the charters has allowed them to invade neighborhood schools and shrink them.
For educational activists the past eight years have meant not only palpable damage but also lost opportunity for positive and progressive change. The Bloomberg monopoly of power has excluded local participation in decision making, eliminating a common entry into politics by Black and Latino New Yorkers. It has also preempted meaningful discussion around educational goals and policy. What should be the goals of a public education? How can schools do more just provide an exit from the poorest communities? How could schools be part of a collective effort to improve neighborhoods and increase democracy?
Bill Thompson has played an important role as city comptroller in exposing Bloomberg-era fraud and mismanagement. His supporters are waging a spirited fight against a billionaire mayor with lopsidedly less resources. It is difficult to offer Thompson unqualified support when he has thrown support to mayoral control and supports much of the underlying corporate agenda for education. The mayoral race this year also attracted Tony Avella (who Thompson defeated) and Billy Palen who is running as the Green Party candidate. Both advocated a more grassroots response to the current mess and it's a shame Thompson didn't adopt some of their policies in his campaign against the mayor.
Despite these differences anything other than energetic rejection of the Bloomberg monopoly is the wrong choice for our union. We urge all readers to vote against Bloomberg!