Friday, November 3, 2006

Bloomberg and Klein Drop the Big One While Weingarten Goes Along for the Ride

Reprint from Education Notes, Spring 2003

When former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared that the Board of Education should be blown up there was a huge outcry, particularly from the leaders of the UFT. But when the Bloomberg administration dropped an atomic bomb on the system, the breathless reaction of UFT leader Randi Weingarten was: "What Mike Bloomberg did today was declare war on the entrenched bureaucracy. The implementation is going to be tough. There are a lot of transition issues that have to be worked out. But it is breathtakingly possible.”

Weingarten’s comments are curious considering statements she made as recently as a December [2002] “Meet the President Meeting” in Brooklyn where she lamented the way Klein was destroying the fabric of the school system by tearing down every institution, including many that were so useful to the UFT. For public consumption she will go along with anything the DOE does. Privately, she will blast them. One way or the other, it’s all about public relations. As for the concept of a union fighting for the kind of school system that teachers and children really need, hey, forgetaboutit.

Analytical coverage by Ed. Notes of the massive changes being instituted at DOE will have to wait until future editions. As usual, to the classroom teacher who has been through a zillion chancellors, a lot of this won’t make much difference. And will we be shocked if we see another total revamping of the system if there’s a new Mayor in a few years? Let’s say UFT favorite Bill Thompson becomes Mayor. Maybe the new flavor of the month will be a mushrooming of UFT controlled Teacher Centers (A Teacher Center in every pot?) as the magic answer to our educational problems.

To the 6000 District Office and Central Board people who fled the classroom, the changes might make a large difference. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of these people for my last 4 years in the system--boy, did I retire just in time.) We tend to think that many of these people will somehow land on their feet as the new plans call for using many of them in other capacities. We can expect that those with political sugar daddies will have to hustle to find new mentors. One thing is sure. The DOE gurus will start putting their own political buddies into place.

The Bloomberg/Klein (BloomKlein) attempt to break the Byzantine way the school system has operated (we in the district office got to see this lunacy up close and personal every day) by unseating entrenched bureaucrats is not necessarily a bad thing. But the fact they totally ignored people at the lowest levels of the system who have faced the impact of these policies does not bode well. Don’t be shocked to see one lunacy replaced by another.

If resources are truly allocated to classrooms, as Bloomberg and Klein claim they want to do, that would be a good thing. But pardon me if I am skeptical. As far as we’re concerned, a major attack on reducing class size would be a good start. The plan to reduce class size to 28 in middle school English classes is minuscule. Always remember: we are ruled by people who send their own kids to schools where class size is under 20; people who never mention class size in any of their reform packages. With smaller classes you could teach kids to read with phonics or schmonics.

Interestingly, did you hear one word on class size from our union leaders? Like, how about Randi Weingarten saying: it is [all] breathtakingly possible --IF CLASS SIZES WERE SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED? What impact would adding 6000 teachers to the classroom have? For years Ed. Notes has called on the UFT leadership to demand a reallocation of resources to reduce class size. If every teaching resource were put in the classroom class size would be reduced significantly. First, get class size to a point where there is parity with the suburbs. Then worry about staff development, pull-out, push-in and other programs. A system-wide attack on the class size issue is necessary and it should be led by the union. Supposedly crime went down when a massive police presence was placed on the streets. Why hasn’t anyone advocated the same technique to solve the problems in education? Do we think we would have the same problems in the schools if there were enough teachers to really work with the kids? Inundate the classrooms with teachers. Not enough space? Put as many teachers in a room as necessary. And stop using the excuse that teachers have a tough time working with each other.

Instead of our union leader’s kowtowing to whatever schemes come out of the DOE, we should see the UFT and the Klein/Bloomberg truly team join together in a true spirit of cooperation to make the classroom a truly workable place. It is all so breathtakingly possible. It is all so breathtakingly unlikely.


  1. I'm mostly with ya, until the "Put as many teachers in a room as necessary. "

    Last time I had an oversize ESL class, they found a special ed. teacher with a hole in her program, dumped her in with me, and voila! Problem solved.

    She was very nice and all, but another class would have been a far better solution. And despite all the happy talk, I haven't noticed a lot of new classrooms appearing.

  2. NYC,
    I view the extra teacher in the room in a more general way. I mean if there's no room for true class size reduction, we should staff schools as if there were. So even if there's 34 kids in a class a teacher might only have to teach 4 classes instead of 5 -- think of it as the number of kids a teacher has to see a day which is a form of class size reduction. Or the extra personnel could be used to grade papers or do one-on-one for the 5th period.

    There are probably plenty of creative ways to deal with the issue but to not act because we have to wait for more schools to be built is just an excuse we hear from both the union and the DOE. And Klein's motto is "No Excuses" but he is the biggest excuse maker there is ("Aw shucks, we know we have to do better.)


  3. You're certainly right about Klein.
    As for class size, I don't really want to be compensated on a per-student basis. I've got one class now with only ten kids in it.

    The big difference between that class and the full one I have at the end of the day is that individual kids get a lot more of my time--and it's my time they pay me for. Smaller classes aren't less work for me--I'm just not spread around so thin.

    As a parent, I want small classes for my kid. As a Nassau resident, I get them. I strongly believe it's better to emulate what works that to "innovate" with things.

    I've yet to see any innovations that rival good teachers, decent facilities and reasonable class size.


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