Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who Killed the CFE Lawsuit?

The CFE lawsuit promised to bring NYC children good teachers, smaller classes, and decent facilities. For years I walked around convinced that substantive change was coming to our system, despite the babbling of various self-serving politicians. But now I think it's nothing but a fond memory.

There are a lot of suspects.

Was it Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Mayor Bloomberg strongly supported the idea of the infusion of capital. However, when the judge said the city might have to pay a portion, he decided decent education was too expensive. His representative said if the city were asked to pay any portion whatsoever, it would say no thank you to the whole deal.

Was it ex-Governor George Pataki? To his credit, Governor Pataki immediately offered to shoulder 60% of the award. He probably could have come up a little, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to pay a dime. As a result, he appealed the decision.

Was it the judges? One of them decided an eighth-grade education was good enough for New York City kids, and that our sole obligation was preparing them for a career in fast food. When the mayor refused to kick in dime one, another decided to cut the award by two-thirds and ensure there was no oversight in how the city spent the money.

Was it UFT President Randi Weingarten? Though Ms. Weingarten speaks about class size frequently, she negotiated two contracts under the spectre of the CFE lawsuit, and made no effort whatsoever to enforce reductions. She continues to push petitions and letter-writing campaigns knowing that any ballot proposal she wins is subject to the mayor's veto. The mayor has singlehandedly killed referendums before, and there's nothing to indicate he won't do so again.

Was it Governor Eliot Spitzer? The new governor promised great things for NYC schools. He promised to force Mayor Bloomberg to kick into any award. Gone is all such talk, and now he's kicking in money, but offering a menu of "improvements." They can reduce class size, but they can also increase the school year or day or offer "other changes in scheduling."

On teacher quality:

In a call for better teacher preparation, Mr. Spitzer said the state should offer expanded alternative certification programs to increase the number of teachers entering the profession without traditional training.

Mr. Spitzer, perhaps, is the only person on earth unfamiliar with the results of New York City's thirty-year program of intergalactic recruitment. While such programs swell the ranks of teachers and artificially depress New York City salaries, I don't see anyone standing up and praising Chancellor Klein for retaining teachers who've failed basic competency tests, often dozens of times. The overwhelming majority of internationally-recruited teachers turned tail and fled when they got a whiff of the cost of living here in fun city.

Mr. Spitzer has also taken a stand supporting Mayor Bloomberg's demand that test scores become part of tenure reviews, despite Randi Weingarten's prominent protestations. So much for the clout of the so-called "powerful teachers' union."

After years of resisting class size reduction, I see no reason why Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein would embrace it if not forced. It's likely their "other changes in scheduling" will be smoke and mirrors, or further privatization of the public schools. What will they do with the money? Hire extra levels of administrators? Construct schools on toxic waste sites? Invest in cutesy programs like Everyday Math? Who knows?

One thing appears certain--there will be no significant reduction in class sizes unless and until it is mandated, one way or another. The last best opportunity to have done so was during contract negotiations with the UFT.

The next best chance will be with a new mayor. And if teachers are really serious about this, they'll elect a new union president who values education even more than the half-century old UFT patronage mill.
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