Reality Based Educator is reporting that Bill de Blasio, the overwhelming favorite to be the next mayor of New York City, has been meeting with the business and media titans of the city. Should we be alarmed that de Blasio is just another Democratic politician who leans to the left during an election campaign and then leaves working people behind after winning?
The amazing Diane Ravitch, leader of the fight for public education and a de Blasio supporter, doesn't seem to think we should be that concerned. She published on her blog de Blasio's speech to the business elite.
I understand the skepticism of many teachers and other supporters of public education. Public school teachers have been beaten down for a long time and haven't had too many victories in the last twenty years.
We've heard the politicians talk and talk about supporting the public schools but our working conditions (student learning conditions) have deteriorated steadily. We want to think de Blasio will turn the situation around but we have been fooled in the past.
The most extreme example is Vincent Gray. Gray ran for mayor of Washington DC against Adrian Fenty in 2010. Gray defeated Fenty. One of the major issues in that campaign was Fenty's schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, the most high profile public school teacher basher in the country. Rhee came out during the campaign and actually said that Gray wasn't committed to school reform like Fenty was.
She even took the blame for Fenty's loss in this interview published at the Huffington Post. "O'DONNELL: Let me ask you personally because a lot of people say that Mayor Fenty who took on the -- along with you took on -- along with you -- some of the teachers and the union in this that you were part of the reason he lost. What do you think about that?
RHEE: Well, I think without a doubt.
RHEE: I just want to be real about this."
What did Gray do when elected? He hired Rhee's deputy Kaya Henderson to basically continue Rhee's policies in DC.
One could argue convincingly that Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton by running to the left of Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008. Obama opposed the war in Iraq while Hillary voted for it. On the issue of education, supporters of the public schools were all excited after the 2008 election when educator Linda Darling-Hammond was chosen to lead the education transition team. However that elation was short-lived as Obama named Chicago teacher basher extraordinaire Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education and it has been five more years of terrible times for the public schools.
After being elected, Gray and Obama stepped on the faces an important part of the Democratic base: public educators. We never made them pay the political price for dismissing our needs. Democratic politicians have correctly figured out that, practically speaking, we have no place to go so they take us for granted. (Sorry but the Green Party and the socialist alternatives are not currently large enough to scare anyone. The Democrats are emulating Republican education policy so going right is not the answer either.)
Will de Blasio turn into another Gray or Obama after election day?
The odds of a sell out will increase significantly if we do nothing and just sit back and wait for de Blasio to do right by the public schools.
His platform calls for universal pre-k and after school programs for all middle school students. These sound like fantastic ideas as does his plan to charge rent for charter schools using city buildings. However, more fundamentally, the school system needs to reverse the nightmarish Bloomberg, Obama, Cuomo, etc... teacher bashing, closing schools agenda. Having us work in a climate of fear where we have to watch our backs consistently does not make us better educators and does nothing for children.
Educational activists need to be proactive in demanding a revamped school system that starts to value educators and views students and schools as more than data points.
Now is the time to attempt to convince de Blasio to appoint a chancellor who supports public education. We need a clean break from the Bloomberg years and the three disastrous chancellors (Klein, Black and Walcott).
The new mayor should hire someone who can put Humpty Dumpty back together again as the system is now almost completely dysfunctional. I would conservatively estimate that the education budget contains billions of dollars of wasteful items that do nothing to improve student outcomes.
The system before Bloomberg was certainly no educational paradise but parts of it actually worked. A new chancellor could build off of that as we move forward. First, he or she needs to clean house at Tweed by moving out the bulk of the lawyers, public relations people and numbers crunchers while moving in some professional educators.
De Blasio is a supporter of mayoral control. He will have eight votes out of thirteen total on the Board of Education, now known as the Panel for Educational Policy. Will he appoint a panel that respects the public or are we going to have to deal with a different group of eight people who come in with rubber stamps and ignore virtually everything the public asks for?
Let's recommend strong public education activists for the PEP. I would start with Class Size Matters leader Leonie Haimson. Mayor de Blasio should also retain Manhattan PEP representative Patrick Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan might actually have an opportunity to shape some policy under a de Blasio mayoralty. I also believe NAACP's Ken Cohen, an education leader from Queens, would make an excellent PEP representative. In addition, the new mayor should seek out for the panel parents who currently have kids in the schools and are independent minded.
These are just a few suggestions. I'm sure people much more knowledgeable than me can come up with others. The point is we cannot sit back and expect the public schools, nearly destroyed under Bloomberg, to magically improve under de Blasio. It's up to us to actively push to make positive change a reality.