Thursday, August 11, 2016

Abstract Portrait of a Chancellor

There's an interesting piece in Newsweek today. It's written by Alexandar Nazaryan, and ostensibly about NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Full disclosure--I have a little experience with Mr. Nazaryan. He edited an op-ed I placed in the Daily News when he worked there, and it was a bit contentious. I can be picky about my writing, as anyone with whom I've worked will attest. Nonetheless, we treated one another respectfully. There was no personal animosity when we finished working together, at least none on my part or that I'd heard about.

That's why I was pretty surprised when, on Twitter, for no reason I could determine, Nazaryan accused me of being a UFT mouthpiece:

That's ironic, because I'm wholly confident UFT President Michael Mulgrew, among many others, would spring to my defense and tell the world I have been doing no such thing. As if that weren't enough, after my response to that absurd statement, Nazraryan saw fit to attack me personally:

Now that's not simply a personal attack. It also utilizes what you call a stereotype. You see, whatever I do, or have done, or whatever Nazraryan perceives me to have done, is then attributed to all teachers. We are, therefore, in his view, disrespected. This is the same sort of thinking bigots of all stripes use to insult people of a given religion, race, nationality, or ethnicity. So yes, I absolutely believe the writer is prejudiced against us, and we therefore need to question his assumptions very carefully.

De Blasio, after all, is a self-styled progressive who promised “transcendent” change, surrounding himself with youthful advisers minted in the Barack Obama mold. Fariña, meanwhile, was coaxed out of retirement.

Now it's entirely possible that Nazaryan simply forgot, while writing that particular sentence, that Fariña had worked for Bloomberg. And it's entirely possible that Nazaryan doesn't know that a whole lot of Bloomberg people are still sitting at the DOE.  But being that he's writing a piece about the chancellor, it kind of behooves him to know that, doesn't it? I mean, here I am, a lowly UFT shill, disrespected by all for reasons known only to Nazaryan, and even I know it. Here's how Fariña is seen, according to Nazaryan:

Some see her as a defender of teachers, others as the pawn of teachers unions. 

That's not much of a choice, is it? I see her as neither, and I'd argue that this is a black and white fallacy. Lots of teachers do not feel the love for Fariña, and don't see her jumping to our defense. She let Jamaica High School wither and die, she is not shy about removing and/ or firing teachers, and is much ballyhooed for having done so in her career as principal.

Nazaryan devotes a good deal of time to speaking about himself and his brief teaching career. Perhaps he feels that gives him some cred while writing about this. Who knows? What I do know is he has no idea how working teachers think or feel. Even in the piece, Nazaryan outs himself as a supporter of right to work with no respect whatsoever for our union:

I was once a member of a teachers union and have long lamented its moribund conception of the teaching profession. (I was not a fan of the mandatory membership fees extracted from my paycheck either.)

I actually wonder how on earth Newsweek can present this as a portrait of the chancellor, or why their editors, if indeed they have any, deem Nazaryan's feelings about labor unions germane to what is, supposedly, a piece about the chancellor. Nazaryan is also clueless about the recent teacher contract:

Fariña said sensible things—that she wanted to bring joy back to the classroom and earn the teachers’ trust (a generous new contract with the United Federation of Teachers has helped). 

In fact, the contract gives us the 8% over two years that FDNY and NYPD got, but we don't actually receive it until 2020, a full decade after they got it. It then goes on to give us 10% over seven years, the lowest pattern in my living memory, and for all I know, in the history of the City of New York.

Nazaryan is also less than opaque about his own feelings on charter schools.

Her “old-school” tendencies are also responsible, I suspect, for an outsized antipathy to charter schools, which she shares with the mayor. Charters are public schools, and Fariña could have embraced them as a small but critical component of the education system, one that does an admirable job of educating poor kids of color.

For Nazaryan, there's no question that charters do an admirable job, but there's also no awareness of the fact that they shed students at an alarming rate, dumping them back into public schools, not replacing them, and thereby increasing their test scores. There's no awareness that they rarely if ever take students like I teach, or those with severe learning disabilities. As far as I can tell, there's not even awareness that the state pretty much decreed NYC would have to pay rent on charters of which it didn't approve. There are also a whole lot of us who dispute the characterization of charters as public schools.

There are rambling paragraphs about Moskowitz, Rhee, and all the reformy things they've done, and or tried to do. Then there's this, the conclusion:

This state of affairs is unfortunate but not surprising. We are not a small, monocultural nation like South Korea, or an autocracy like Russia where a history textbook might fall victim to Kremlin diktat. In America, school reform will always be a Hegelian contest between clashing visions, frequently maddening, infrequently productive. It is the only way we know.

There are always clashing visions, but reforminess has thus far reflected mostly one, and that has been pretty much whatever Bill Gates placed his many dollars behind. Small schools, charters, VAM, Common Core, and other such things proliferate. Despite Nazaryan's conversations with Diane Ravitch and Patrick Sullivan, and despite his limited experience as a teacher, he has no idea what goes on in city schools.

From what I can glean here, Nazaryan has little interest in finding out.
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