Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taking Down Steve Brill and Sunday Times Mag

The upcoming Steve Brill hit job on the UFT in the upcoming Sunday Times Mag is causing a stir minutes after being passed around.

One of the amazing things about Leonie Haimson is that she can take a sleazy character like Steve Brill and pull his piece apart just minutes after publication.

Now an interesting thing about Brill was that he met with Brian Jones from GEM (Grassroots Education Movement) and ISO (International Socialist Org). Brian teaches at PS 30 in Harlem which is an Harlem Success Academy invaded school and certainly he has a point of view that is counter to what Brill is pushing. Brill wanted to go to the school but they were smart enough not to let him in to do his hatchet job despite the fact that the DOE tried to lobby for him.

But you will never see a balanced view in a Brill piece. Another badge of shame for the Times.

And by the way, the UFT flails around helplessly while parents like Leonie show some spine. Take this point from the Brill piece:

Next to Mulgrew was his press aide, Richard Riley. “Suppose you decide that Riley is lazy or incompetent,” I asked Mulgrew. “Should you be able to fire him?” “He’s not a teacher,” Mulgrew responded. “And I need to be able to pick my own person for a job like that.” Then he grinned, adding: “I know where you’re going, but you don’t understand. Teachers are just different.”

Why Mulgrew would talk to a hack like Brill is beyond me. Did Mulgrew say more and have Brill leave the rest out? Possibly. Then let's see the UFT be more articulate in defense of the kinds of protections we have and need. By the way, Riley has had numerous stints as UFT press aide in what seems like a revolving door.

Leonie takes down Meryl Tisch: Tisch says the bill was a product of the UFT’s “poison pills” against the charter school industry, which is ridiculous.

God. You just had to see how Mulgrew waxed poetic about how wonderful Tisch was at the Delegate Assembly. Pathetic pandering. He doesn't tell the delegates that Tisch is Bloomberg's next door neighbor and spends Passover with Joel Klein.

Here is Leonie's email to her listserve (and make sure to follow her advice to leave a comment at:

The Sunday Times magazine has posted blatant propaganda in the Sunday NY Times magazine section, in the form of one of the most inaccurate and biased articles I have ever seen. It is written by Steve Brill, who did an unfair piece for the New Yorker on the rubber rooms. It seems as though one can make a pretty decent career now in hack journalism, as long as you attack the UFT.

The article blames all our educational problems on the union (as usual); doesn’t mention any of the controversial charter co-locations that are squeezing space from our regular public schools; doesn’t mention any of the charter school financial scandals, or their abuse of student and parent rights, the opposition of the charter school industry to audits, or the hedge fund guys who are driving these policies.

Except for the exception of Michael Mulgrew, he managed to interview only members of the pro-privatization crowd.

He quotes Merryl Tisch who squeals about how awful the Assembly bill that would require parent input into co-locations and would allow the Comptroller to audit the use of public funds at these schools. Tisch says the bill was a product of the UFT’s “poison pills” against the charter school industry, which is ridiculous.

Most blatantly, Brill claims that the students at PS 149 are exactly the same students at the co-located Harlem Success Academy.


P.S. 149 is rated by the city as doing comparatively well in terms of student achievement and has improved since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over the city’s schools in 2002 and appointed Joel Klein as chancellor. Nonetheless, its students are performing significantly behind the charter kids on the other side of the wall. To take one representative example, 51 percent of the third-grade students in the public school last year were reading at grade level, 49 percent were reading below grade level and none were reading above. In the charter, 72 percent were at grade level, 5 percent were reading below level and 23 percent were reading above level. In math, the charter third graders tied for top performing school in the state, surpassing such high-end public school districts as Scarsdale. Same building. Same community. Sometimes even the same parents.

Here Brill is parroting Eva Moskowitz, who in NY Magazine claimed that “The children in proximate zoned schools, she insists, “are the same kids we have.”

Really? 20% of the kids at PS 149 are special education students; and 40% of these are the most severely disabled, in self-contained classes. 81% are poor enough to receive free lunch, and 13% are English Language Learners. In 2008 (the latest available data) more than 10% were homeless.

Instead of 81% free lunch, 49% of the students at Harlem Success Academy are poor, a difference of 32 percentage points.

There are only 2% English Language Learners at the charter school; compared to 13% at PS 149 --more than six times as many.

HSA claims to have 16.9% special education students, compared to 20% at PS 149, and of these, few if any are the most severely disabled.

And I can find no mention of how many are homeless, but according to state data, few if any of the 50,000 homeless kids in NYC public schools are enrolled in charters.

The article also ignores the rampant counseling out of high needs students out of the HSA schools; so common as to be widely reported in the press, including in the NY Magazine, which reported the following;

At her school alone, the Harlem Success teacher says, at least half a dozen lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs have been withdrawn this school year. If this account were to reflect a pattern, Moskowitz’s network would be effectively winnowing students before third grade, the year state testing begins. “The easiest and fastest way to improve your test scores,” observes a DoE principal in Brooklyn, “is to get higher-performing students into your school.” And to get the lower-performing students out.

English Language Learners (ELLs) are another group that scores poorly on the state tests—and is grossly underrepresented at Success. The network’s flagship has only ten ELLs, or less than 2 percent of its population, compared to 13 percent at its co-located zoned school. The network enrolls 51 ELLs in all, yet, as of last fall, provided no certified ESL teacher to support them.

This New York magazine article received over 240 comments, many of them by former teachers and parents at HSA, writing about the overwhelming predominance of test prep and the high number of students pushed out or counseled out of the school. The fact that Steven Brill and his editors at the Times didn’t see the need to provide accurate data or a less biased depiction of this issue is not just shocking; it represents journalistic malpractice.

The rapid expansion of charter schools is leading to our public schools becoming more concentrated with high needs students, while taking away valuable funds and space from our public school system, at a time when already their budgets have been slashed to the bone. Do we need more privatization and more profit making off our students? Should the guys who brought our financial system to the ground also be allowed to bring our public education system to the ground?

Go leave a comment now here:


  1. "Journalists are probably the only people on the planet who make lawyers look good."---Steven Brill

    No wonder...

  2. You mention statistics that differentiate HSA and PS 149 that are omitted in Brill's article. Do you have a source for those statistics? It's worthy of a letter to the editor at the Times if this information is publicly available.


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