Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bowling for Bailouts: Billions for Corps, Nada for Class Size

This article is part of the Ed Notes handout at the Delegate Assembly today and will also appear in The Wave this Friday. Click on the image to read the entire leaflet. Print a copy and share with the people in your school.

“Lobbyists Swarming the Treasury for a helping of the Bailout Pie,
” read a headline in a today's NY Times. Where have the education lobbyists been for the past quarter century?

The last time I bought an American car was… hmmm, let’s see now, was it 1980? Nooo. Maybe 1970. No, not then either. My 1970 Toyota Corona Mark II was my first car – $2,700, and that was the top of the line. It didn’t have giant fins like American cars and the doorknobs didn’t fall off the day you got it home.

The American car industry got its ass kicked in the 1970’s as the gas lines got longer (remember those?) by cheaper, more fuel efficient cars coming in from Japan that worked better. What did they do about it? Oh my! Here we go again.

Thomas Friedman in the NY Times has no sympathy for the American auto industry. “Instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design, G.M. threw away too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers.” The usual corporate shenanigans where they worry more about buying politicians who will do their bidding than trying to run an efficient company.

Of course, we hear “blame the union” stories. Oh, my all those health care and pension costs G.M. has to pay that are making them hemorrhage $2 billion a month. “Please, spare me the alligator tears,” Friedman writes. “Why did G.M. refuse to lift a finger to support a national health care program…?” Friedman goes on to show how Honda and Toyota are still flourishing building cars in the US and Canada. Are the guys running things incompetent or what? They’re asking for so many billions, my calculator exploded trying to add them up. But, hey, we’re in a financial crisis, aren’t we? So let’s dump more money down the well.

Enough about cars and economics. Let’s talk education. For 25 years since the business-financed “A Nation at Risk” was released, we’ve been told we are in an educational crisis. Whenever we bring up the concept that reducing class size is the key, we have been told it is too expensive. People like NYC Chancellor Joel Klein have said that we first need to guarantee a competent teacher in every classroom. How about assuring a competent manager of car companies? Or banks? (We just handed another $25 billion, making it a total of $150 billion, over to AIG.)

The numbers are astounding when we compare them to what it would cost to assure every kid in America the same class size and educational services enjoyed by kids in the most elite private schools. Another generation of opportunity wasted as we will now see educational budgets cut to the bone while the financial and auto industry and who knows what else will go bowling or bailouts from the very same politicians that have denied the poorest kids the services they need to truly close the achievement gap.

The so-called education quick change artists running so many large school systems – Michael Bloomberg/Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee in DC, Paul Vallas in New Orleans (after messing up Chicago and Philly) – have been telling us we can’t change education by throwing cash at the problem but by changing the culture of the schools. All in the name of closing the achievement gap, which has been termed the civil rights struggle of our times.

Read this to mean – get rid of teachers who won’t be bamboozled into thinking they will close the achievement gap just by working 12-hour days, doing all the dumb assessments, making an astounding number of dumb charts that will look good for visitors but have nothing to do with teaching and learning – with 25% more kids in their class than schools in the suburbs have even though they are dealing with the poorest kids with the most difficult academic problems. Find a kiddie corps of people with zero educational background to train to be principals in a business oriented manner. Hand over a major chunk of schools built and supported by public funding to charter schools run by private interests – the biggest land giveaway since the land rushes in the Midwest in the 19th century.

And oh yeah, and turn urban school systems over to dictatorial mayors while suburban (white) parents actually get to vote for school boards and school budgets. Here’s the real civil rights struggle of our times – give parents in our city the same rights 95% of the parents around the nation have by removing politics from education and getting rid of mayoral control.

Where’s the UFT/AFT?
Reading the “Bailouts” article, you might be wondering where the UFT and AFT has been on this issue. Since Albert Shanker signed onto A Nation at Risk in 1983, our union at the city and national level has tried to accommodate the business community by signing on to so many of their schemes (see merit pay, rating teaches based on test scores, Etc.) This has diverted us from the fight for full funding for a generation. The obscenity of following this policy is all the more obvious today when our schools will be cut while such enormous sums are given away. You can read more about the origins of this policy under Shanker in the review I co-wrote of Kahlenberg’s “Albert Shanker: Tough Liberal” for New Politics. We called it “Albert Shanker: Ruthless Neocon.” I have copies with me. Just ask on the way out.


  1. Ah, so true, as a FORMER NYC Public teacher, I enjoy the part about 12 hour days and chart paper, which by the way, the administrators want teachers to use in their lessons, yet by the end of the year there is none left. By it yourself?


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