A New Yorker in China
One night after my Cantonese class, a fellow student approached me to let off some steam. Like me, Jean-Baptiste was struggling mightily with the tonal language. “These evenings,” he said in a thick French accent, “would be much more enjoyable if I stayed at home and was a potato couch.”
I couldn’t have with him more agreed. Our instructor, a 60-something former “office creature,” is decidedly old-school. She follows the textbook to a T, and asks us to repeat after her. It’s immensely boring.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, among those vying to succeed Mayor Bloomberg, may not be so eager to challenge the status quo as the incumbent has shown time and time again, preferring instead to keep interest groups and parochial neighborhood politicians happy and content. And if his recent pronouncement on taxes is any indication, Mr. Bloomberg would be right to worry about the priorities of the next administration.
Mr. de Blasio wants to expand access to full-day pre-kindergarten in the city. That’s pretty ambitious—and pretty expensive. No problem—the public advocate has a plan for that. He says he wants to fund the pre-K program by raising taxes on those who earn more than $500,000 a year. That would raise $500 million, he said, and that would be sufficient to fund pre-K classrooms and instructors for about 68,000 children.
There’s no question that pre-K programs help to prepare young children for primary school. That’s why Mr. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott recently announced the addition of 4,000 new full-day pre-K slots beginning next fall.
The question is how best to pay for this vast expansion of the city’s school system. Raising taxes on the rich—a move that would require state approval—is the wrong answer on so many levels.
Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a parent and teacher struggling to turn around a failing school, is a movie that clearly wants to say something, even if The Observer had a hard time hearing what they were saying because of chanting protestors.
The eyes of school reformers—and their opponents—are fixed on Chicago, where the teachers’ union has picked a fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. If nothing else, this shows that New York’s teachers’ union has no monopoly on foolishness. Some politicians pretend to be rough-and-tumble characters. Mr. Emanuel is the real deal, as the teachers in Chicago are discovering.
The teachers’ strike has moved into its second week, although there are signs that the dispute may end as early as late Tuesday afternoon, after press time. If it doesn’t, the mayor plans to go to court to force the teachers back into the classroom. As well he should, because the strike was an affront to the city and, of course, to Chicago’s 350,000 students. Before they walked out, the teachers managed to water down some needed reforms—the city agreed, for example, to hire back some laid-off teachers regardless of their past performance in the classroom—and extracted an additional $74 million per year in salary hikes. Mr. Emanuel, for his part, insists on including standardized tests scores as part of teacher performance evaluations. The union, of course, hates this. Like their counterparts in New York’s schools, union leaders in Chicago oppose anything that even hints at accountability.
New York most definitely has a dog in this fight—his name is Rahm.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE IVY
In the event you haven’t heard, there’s a big hullabaloo over who’s going to be the next President of this subjectively important office, and New York Times readers are on it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature chose discretion over valor in the battle over access to teacher evaluations in New York. Sometimes discretion is a good thing. But not in this case.
Mayor Bloomberg and others believed in full and unfettered access to teacher performance evaluations. They made the case that transparency would only help the effort to encourage good teachers and weed out the bad ones.
Unfortunately, the governor and legislators decided to limit access to the data to parents, who will be able to review evaluations of their childrens’ current teachers. While that’s better than nothing—and bear in mind that the unions fought the whole idea of performance evaluations to the bitter end—it’s a far cry from the sort of transparency that Mr. Bloomberg and his allies sought.
Governor Cuomo and other top policymakers and legislators are in the process of negotiating a deal that would give parents of public school children full access to teacher evaluation data. That’s good, but there’s the not-so-good part: The data will not be released to the general public.
That’s a bad deal. How bad? Well, all you need to know is that there has been some discussion about possible prosecution of parents who slip the data to news organizations. That this kind of conversation is taking place at all should persuade Albany to make the data available to everyone. Complete transparency would make the issue of parental prosecution moot.
Those who wish to restrict access to the data note that evaluations of other public employees are not subject to disclosure. That’s true, but other public institutions are not in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime transformation, at least not to the degree that public education is.
There’s a lot of internal turmoil in New York City schools, ranging from budget cuts to Race to the Top to that perennial nightmare—will my kid get into the right private school? The issues are deep rooted, but are put into perspective when a greater root of the problems are unearthed: Where’s the space?
No more excuses. No more delays. No more double-talk. The time for changing the status quo in New York’s public schools is now. The teachers union will either be part of the process or will be crushed. It’s really that simple.
Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo have made it clear that they no longer will accept the union’s reactionary worldview that change is unnecessary. In separate speeches this week, Mr. Cuomo correctly noted that “we have to realize that our schools are not an employment program,” while the mayor argued that the “school system shouldn’t be run for the people that work in the school system.”
Both of the statements should seem obvious. To the union leaders who claim to represent the city’s public school teachers, the remarks by the governor and the mayor are nothing short of revolutionary. And it’s a revolution they continue to resist.
For many years—decades, in fact—there has been a discernible pattern of migration from the five boroughs. Young singles get married, have babies and then start thinking about safe streets, good schools and picket fences. So they trade city life for a three-bedroom home in the suburbs.
Now, however, that pattern may be subject to change. According to the latest census data, more people moved to the city than moved out last year. Some 252,000 people moved to the city last year, while about 220,000 left for parts unknown. Generally, those numbers are the reverse.
The new figures illustrate a few points, all of them good.