It’s On! Bloomberg Picks a Fight with Teachers Union

| January 13, 2012 10:50 AM

“I loved the children in the beginning, the singers and the dancers. Weren’t they wonderful?”

That was the nicest thing United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew could think to say about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address yesterday, which was studded with education initiatives that reformers love and the union loves to hate.

At his State of the City address on Jan. 12, Mayor Bloomberg announced several measures that were seen as targeting the Teachers Union. Photo courtesy of City & State.

Bloomberg proposed a $20,000 merit pay boost for teachers rated highly effective two years in a row – provoking gasps from the audience at Morris High School in the Bronx – and said the city would unilaterally move ahead with a new teacher evaluation system at 33 struggling schools that could remove up to half the teachers there.

“We are raising the bar for teachers, just as we are for students,” the mayor said. And this year, we’ll do more to make sure every classroom has an effective teacher and to remove those who just don’t make the grade.”

Mulgrew didn’t clap when the rest of the audience did. He had been given a heads-up about the mayor’s initiatives just a few minutes before the speech began, and was still fuming at being punched in the nose in front of an audience.

“I don’t understand what he’s doing. Basically, it’s a fantasy world,” Mulgrew said afterward. “We’re going to do what’s in the best interest of the school system and the children … and if that gets him angry and he wants to come at us, so be it. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo loved it, in his own fashion – praising the mayor for following in his footsteps.

“As I said in my State of the State address, and Mayor Bloomberg reiterated in his State of the City today, we need an education system that puts students first,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I look forward to working together to create an accountability system that puts the interests of students ahead of the interests of the education bureaucracy.”

Other politicians were much more critical of the mayor’s moves, however.

“I do worry tactically that this Lone Ranger approach to education is not going to get him the results he thinks,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a likely candidate for mayor in 2013.

“To come out charging and create a schism with the teachers, it’s just not an effective tactic,” Stringer said. “I was hoping to hear something different … a much more collaborative, governmental approach that could show us that City Hall can play chess with Albany, not checkers with Albany.”

City Council Finance Committee Chairman Domenic Recchia had a different criticism: Who’s going to pay for all those bonuses, and a separate program to pay up to $25,000 worth of student loans for new teachers?

“Some of the programs he was talking about today are very costly,” Recchia said. “I don’t know where he’s getting the money. I spoke to the chief operating officer of the [Department of Education]. I asked her if she has, how are they going to pay for this. They have money socked away somewhere?”

What did she say?

“She says, ‘We have to talk.’ ”

Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel said he expects the dangling carrot of a $20,000 salary boost will appeal to plenty of teachers, even if their union hates the idea.

“They have to work together, and from what he’s offering, I think it’s a pretty good deal,” Rangel said. “It looks like they may have more to deposit in their bank accounts too.”

Still, even as the issues are ironed out in months ahead, New York’s political and education establishment were left buzzing about the mayor’s full-frontal attack on Mulgrew – almost everyone, that is, except City Council Speaker (and likely mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn, who repeatedly ducked reporters’ attempts to pin her down on the battle between two allies.

“The mayor has to defend how he does and doesn’t get things done,” Quinn said. “I think working together is always a good thing, and I think you should always try to do it even if you are in disagreement about some things.”

Read the full report on City & State.

  • KariKES

    Mike is passing the buck. He has to blame SOMEONE for 10 years of stagnation and curriculum strangulation, despite massive increases in DoE budget (very little of which has actually reached the classrooms). He certainly can’t blame the testing industry, because clearly it’s a success, otherwise how could it be so profitable? (SARCASM!)

    Bloomberg is failing our children, running something he doesn’t begin to understand. He hasn’t the slightest idea what goes on in New York City schools, especially those serving struggling populations. From several experiences as a parent leader in my children’s school, I find the the Department of Ed to be bloated and ineffectual. They focus on marketing, measuring, and damage control, when they should be teaching. That, and funneling money to questionable technology companies and currying favor with the for-profit education industry. There is no meaningful dialogue with public school families; there’s not even a regular venue for it. I’ve been to a Town Meeting held by Chancellor Walcott, and it was as much a charade as every other DoE meeting or training I’ve attended. The bureaucrats take notes about long-standing problems with concerned looks on their faces as if they’ve never heard such a thing. Or they throw up their hands in impotence at the first hint of critique. “The budget!” they cry. Walcott spent more time berating a parent for referring to DoE employees as his “posse” than answering any other question. Literally, he devoted his most salient argument to debating the semantics of an off-hand quip. Seems like he’s got nothing else going on. Why not blame the teachers?!

    But I, for one, don’t. They are doing a tough job in conditions Mayor Bloomberg would never put up with. I volunteer in my children’s school every week; this week I was there every day. The teachers don’t even have post-it notes, for goodness sake. Mike, do you have post-it notes? On top of that, arbitrary and unproven test scores are being held over their heads as proof of their effectiveness, when research points clearly to economic factors as the more accurate predictor of a child’s test scores. Sorry Mike, teachers are pretty superhuman when it comes to engaging an inexcusable number of kids in their classrooms, but they can’t fix poverty or broken homes. Every school is different, every neighborhood is different, and the people who best know how teachers are handling their particular situations are the parents, their peers, and their principals. Same with the principals. We parents are their clients. Let parents hire and fire them from an OPEN pool of applicants, not the two your “posse” has hand-picked from your brain-washing machine, the Leadership Academy. If they were worth their salt, you wouldn’t have to eliminate all other competition to get them hired.

    The worst worst worst thing is our children are suffering. Bloomberg has fostered a climate of fear and back-biting throughout the school system, and his speech only furthered it. Is this what we want our kids to emulate? They’re suffering a stilted, starved education that teaches them to be parrots, not independent thinkers and active citizens. New York’s schools are becoming an institutionalization of the economic inequality that is crippling our democracy. Kids from wealthy private schools–Bloomberg’s kids–will continue to enjoy the privilege of their position, while the rest of New York’s children turn into lemmings. Or worse.

    A disgusted NYC public school parent.

  • Roberto

    Hopefully with some of these measures, we can see some improvement. I think that even if improvement is only modest or even non-existent, that we will at least not have the “ineffectual teachers” excuse anymore. Whatever systematic issues there may be, whatever demographic issues exist, whatever parenting issues may be swept under the rug, we collectively won’t be able to blame teachers after the poor ones are removed and the best ones are rewarded. Certainly some of the teachers are better than others, and there is no solid reason to protect their jobs any more than any job in any another industry. In no industry is evaluation, promotion, and dismissal perfect. I think we are due for more transparency and accountability. If teachers are not held accountable simply because the measurement is imperfect or ineffectual, then no one will care to fix the measurement. It has taken us this long to get to this level of accountability with parent pressure and teacher resistance, but I think that if teachers are finally on the hook, the measures will improve quickly.

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