Alan J. Singer: Goodbye Mayor Bloomberg, Goodbye 2013 and Hope for a better 2014.

Jan 9, 2014 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1)        Alan, first of all could you briefly comment on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s time as mayor of New York City and his impact ( if any ) on education?

The difficult part of the answer is to keep it brief. Bloomberg’s strategy as Mayor was to operate the schools using his preferred business model. It was characterized by authoritarian centralized control and no respect for experience or the opinion’s of others. Teachers were treated as interchangeable parts that could be disposed of. Supervisors were middle managers whose job it was to impose directives from the top. No one had any flexibility. The teachers’ union was publically vilified. Parents were consumers who could be easily ignored. Students were products to be shaped and continually tested. The bottom line was test scores.

In the Bloomberg administration here was a nearly religious commitment to market solutions so the education system was dismantled and anything that could be outsourced to profit making ventures was outsourced. It was much like we witnessed during the war in Iraq.

It will be very hard if not impossible to rebuild what Bloomberg has dismantled.  Experienced principals, assistant principals, and teachers have been pressed into retirement and replaced by neophytes from the Bloomberg teaching fellows and Leadership Academy. Curriculum and support has been outsourced to private networks. Charters with transient teaching populations have sprouted.  I like to think I was a pretty good high school teacher. I would have been in constant rebellion if I had to work in a Bloomberg school.

By the way, few people realize that Bloomberg’s personal wealth went from $5 billion when he was first elected to $31 billion when he left office. The man made $26 billion dollars while Mayor of New York City. Not a bad gig.

2)       It seems the nation focuses on New York City as a central hub of the world. Why is this?

I always thought it was because of the Yankees. I grew up in the Bronx a few blocks from Yankee Stadium and I thought it was the center of the universe. Mickey Mantle was my hero. New York is also the media and financial capital of the United States and if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, at least according to Frank Sinatra and George Steinbrenner.

In this case, Bloomberg and his money played a major role. It certainly helped that he allied with Bill Gates and the Obama/Duncan Race to the Top in the so-called reform movement. He also used his personal fortune to support anti-union, anti-teacher groups around the country. His pro-business plan to outsource essential aspects of public education attracted support in the speculative business community always excited to milk the public purse for more money.

3)      Alan, excuse my language here, but how the hell does Bill Clinton get to inaugurate the New Mayor of New York City, Bill DiBlasio?

Actualy, it let’s you know who de Blasio really is. He talked up progressive rhetoric and the tale of two cities during his campaign but the reality is that he is a longtime main stream Democratic Party operative. De Blasio worked in the Dinkins administration in New York City, the Bill Clinton Administration in Washington DC, and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. His early appointments are mostly traditional Democrats. Bill Clinton is the “liberal” who undermined the safety net for poor people and undermined the campaign for national health care. I hope De Blasio does a better job than Clinton in New York City.

4)       In New York, they talk in certain circles about chutzpah- Bloomberg trying to outlaw sugary drinks- Your thoughts?

I think this was part of Bloomberg’s authoritarian personality and program. It was very anti-democratic. You might agree with some of his preferences like limiting tobacco use, but his ability to buy political support to promote his agenda seriously undermined the democratic process. He was able to purchase Council support to suspend term limits in 2009. This later cost his ally, the Council President, the Mayoral nomination. Bloomberg’s disciplinary tactics in public schools and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk in the streets treated minority teenagers like criminals. To get into working class minority schools in the morning you had to pass security that was stricter than at the airports. Cell phones were confiscated. Of course this did not happen to the children of middle class professionals.

5)      New York City schools has these rubber rooms where teachers are put on administrative leave until some decision is made about returning them to the classroom. How much, in your opinion, does the new Mayor know about education and what kind of practical experience has  he had in education?

The rubber rooms are actually gone. Now teachers who are under investigation are kept in their schools on administrative assignments. These assignments can be grossly unfair. A teacher can be reassigned and investigated based on an anonymous tip. It can be from a parent, student, or staff member with a grudge. Although this is completely demoralizing, the union accepts the reassignment as long as the teacher is paid and has due process. The biggest pool of unassigned teachers in New York City is the surplus teacher pool. It is the result of Bloomberg closing schools and then charging individual school budgets for teacher salaries so new schools do not want to hire higher paid experienced teachers. So far De Blasio has projected a lofty vision for the future of the schools but we have heard very little on the nuts and bolts level. His children attended public schools, but the designer programs for children from professional families.

6)      Spitzer and Weiner seem to be continually in the public eye. Are New York city residents all that forgiving, or do these two individuals have some sort of magic charisma?

I  think Spitzer and Weiner had their entertainment value and 15 minutes of fame but their charisma is gone. Spitzer lost handily in his election bid and Weiner got less than 10% of the vote in the Mayoral primary. Other political oddities have taken their place in the television news and the tabloid press. Didn’t ex-Governor Sanford just get elected to Congress in South Carolina despite a history of marital infidelity at the expense of the state government. We also have the outrageous Mayor Ford of Toronto to laugh at. But for followers of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, Carlos Danger (a/k/a Anthony Weiner) will always have a special place in our hearts. Maybe he will try another political comeback.

7)      Carmen Fariña – who is she and what does she have to contribute to education?

Carmen Fariña is a very well regarded educator in New York City with a lot of experience on many levels. But unfortunately there is no magic bullet for transforming education for inner city minority students from families that are having economic difficulty. In one school that I work with newly arrived immigrants check into the high school and then just disappear. Many are undocumented and are in the United States to work to help their families, but they are also registered for school.

In announcing Farina’s appointment, De Blasio said “We cannot continue to be a city where educational opportunity is predetermined by ZIP code.” He added that Fariña would help all children realize their potential. But as far as I can see, Carmen Fariña has closer ties to the top 2% income bracket than the other 98% of the population and has always been willing to play political games. It remains unclear to me what Fariña, who was a Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning during the Bloomberg/Klein regime, has to offer the working class and poor Black and Latino students who have been left behind.

8)      Now who is Bill Bratton and what has he contributed to the world?

Bratton is actually a Rudy Giuliani retread. When Bratton was police commissioner under Giuliani his biggest achievement was getting rid of squeegee men who wiped car windows at red lights. Giuliani did not lot squeegee men. Bratton promises to pursue aggressive police tactics but claims to be reborn as an opponent of the controversial stop and frisk program. I think his appointment was really an effort to show that liberals can be tough on crime.

9)      Do you think Bill and Carmen ( Di Blasio and Farina ) would accept your help in updating the renovating the schools?

I did offer to meet with them in my Huffington Post column, but so far they have not taken up the offer. I have met with the new public advocate Letitia James in the past and I have a lot of respect for her.  She was very conscientious as a city council member representing her community and I believe she is a true progressive and fighter for the under-served. I think she will help keep De Blasio honest.

10)   What have I neglected to ask?

How can people follow my blog? The best way is to Google Alan Singer Huffington Post. I also want to thank you for helping me receive the Education News Upton Sinclair Award.

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 11549
(P) 516-463-5853 (F) 516-463-6196

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.