Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chapter 5: Reform School, Part 1

NOTE: This is first draft.  Don't hesitate to point out typos.

Chapter Five: Reform School, Part 1

[Although all of the stories about schools in this book are true, this chapter is a purely imaginative, i.e., fictional account of what a teacher in the summer of 2011 might think of the initial introduction of Michael Bloomberg’s new NYC schools chancellor, Joel, Klein, ca. 2002.  “What is a fictional account doing in a “memoir”? you ask.  I can only remind you that I hate memoir and wouldn’t read this book myself if that’s all that it was.  Remember (for my own protection): in spite of being included in a “memoir”, which nevertheless, as I’ve said, isn’t about me but about the best kids being sacrificed for the worst in Bronx schools, this particular chapter is pure fantasy, though based on what has transpired over the succeeding 10 years in NYC education]:

“How’s it going, Joel?”
“Good, Mike.  What’s going on?”
“Well, I’m looking for a new guy to run the schools.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“Well, Joel, buddy, you’re my friend, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.  So?”
“Well, how would you like it?”
“Like what, Mike?”
“You know, Joel, a new job.”
“I’m doing fine, Mike, really.  Bertelsmann is working out even better than I thought it would.”
“I know that.  I wouldn’t have called you otherwise, Joel.  But what about your legacy?”
“What legacy?”
“You know, what you’re leaving behind.”
“Leaving behind what?”
[Exasperated]  “Leaving behind you!”
“You mean my kids?”
“I’m talking about your work in education.”
“What work in education?”
“The work you’re going to do in education?”
“Huh?  I’m a lawyer.”
“Didn’t you teach once?”
“Let me see ….”
[Talking to a subordinate]: “Get me Mr. Klein’s file.”
“Yes, sir.”  [Subordinate leaves.]
“Oh, yeah, now I remember.  I did teach one time.”
“See, it’s coming back.”
“There isn’t anything to come back.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I barely taught.  I got out of that fast.”
“But you did teach once, right?”
“Well … technically.”
“Good, that’s all I need.”
“But ….”
[Subordinate, handing Bloomberg a thick file.]  “Thanks.”
“What’s that?”
“This is your life.”
“Where’d you get that?”
“I was a good student, Joel.  I do my homework.”
“But why me?  What about Cathie?”
“Cathie who?”
“You know, Cathie Black.  Don’t you know her?  Have asked her?”
“She doesn’t know anything about public education.”
“Neither do I.”
“That’s exactly why I want you Joel.  I want a fresh look.”
“Well, what did you have in mind?”
“I want to be known as the reform mayor.”
“Well, you know the school system here isn’t working for shit.  It needs to be reformed.”
“What about Stuyvesant and Bronx Science?”
“See, you do know something.”
“Everyone knows about those schools.”
“I don’t want to mess with those.  I’m talking about the failing schools.”
“What do you want to do?”
“They’ve already broken up a few of them.  I want to break up the rest.”
“Break up?”
“Yes, you know, turn all those big old schools into little schools.  Aren’t small schools better for kids?”
“How should I know?”
“Well, start studying up on it.  You’ll have a good staff already in place in the D.O.E.”
“The what?”
“Department of Education.  There’s a guy I’ve got who will do anything you tell him.  His name is Walcott.  You’re going to be chancellor.”
“Okay ….”
“We can break up all those big schools like Walton and Roosevelt and Evander Childs. Do you have any idea what the graduation rate is in those places?”
“It’s not good – 20%, 30%, sometimes worse.  We can have contests for new schools.  We’ll turn it over to the free market the way businesses are supposed to be run.”
“But schools aren’t businesses.”
“They will be when we get done with them.”
“What’s going to happen to the old schools?”
“We’ll get rid of them.”
“But they’ve been around for decades.  They have long histories, don’t they?  Didn’t some famous people go to these schools?  Canarsie?  Lincoln?  DeWitt Clinton?  I think a famous basketball player went there.”
“So what?”
“Well, I just thought some people wouldn’t like it if those schools disappeared.”
“That’s business.  You know that.  Tell me you haven’t made some enemies along the way.”
“Well, yeah ….”
Of course, you’ll make some enemies.  The UFT isn’t going to like it, that’s for sure.”
“The UF what?”
“The teachers’ union.”
“What do they have to do with it?”
“Well, you know, there’s a union chapter in each of those big schools.  Every time I try to do something they get in the way.”
“So if you break up those big old schools, you’ll also break up these union chapters?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought of it that way.  See, you’re already giving me fresh insights.  That would just be one of the side benefits.”
“What’s the main benefit?”
“Well, the kids will have a small school.  They’ll be like little prep schools all over the city – you know, academies.”
“That sounds all right.  So you’re going to build a bunch of new small buildings for these little schools?”
“Well, yeah, when we can.”
“And when you can’t?”
“We’ll just renovate the old buildings so that we can have different schools on each floor.  That way the kids won’t have to go all the way upstairs just to go to class.”
“We did that at Bryant.  It wasn’t a problem.”
“That’s you.  Things have changed.  We have to keep up with the times.”
“So you’ll have one school on the first floor, another on the 2nd and so on?”
“See, you’ve got it already.”
“Who’s going to run all these new schools?”
“Like I said, we’ll have competitions.  Principals will submit ideas for schools and we’ll award contracts to the ones we think know what they’re doing.  You’ve been involved in hiring.  You know how do to that.”
“Well, yeah, but never for schools.”
“It’s all the same thing.  If you can run a business, you can run a school.  You just delegate the educational stuff to the experts until you get up to speed.  Like I said, you’ve already got a professional staff ready to go to work and by the way, I want you to cut that back some.  They’re spending way too much money over at that DOE.”
“But let me think – you want to put 3 or 4 schools in each of those big buildings?”
“Five or six.”
“So we’ll need 5 or 6 principals in each of those schools?”
“Well, yeah.”
“Won’t that cost a lot of money?”
“It’s for the kids.  It’ll be worth it.  This is a very big system.  That’s why I figured you’d be right for the job.  You’ve always loved a challenge.”
“It’ll take me a while to learn the ropes.”
“You will.  Hey [laughing], what did I know about running a city before becoming mayor and look.  I got elected.”
“Well, but you spent all that money ….”
“That’s not the point.  The point is that we’ll turn this educational thing around and leave our imprint on the biggest school system in the country.  That will be our legacy – yours and mine.  We’ll go down in history as the educational reform team that turned around a failing school system.  I’ve already got full control.  We can do whatever we want now.”
“I thought you said the union will put up some roadblocks.”
“That’s another thing.  You’ve got a lot of connections.  You’ve been all over – Washington, Clinton, Department of Justice – that’s just the experience you’ll need.”
“To do what?”
“To start shifting these public schools over to charter schools.”
“Charter schools?”
“Yeah, get this.  They’ll use a lot of private money – that’s where you come in.  You get your friends to pump their money into these schools.  All you’ve got to do is tell them that it will give parents choice.  I got a lot of votes with that one.”
“You think they’ll go for that?”
“Piece of cake.  It’ll be like selling insurance.  But get this, these charter schools also get money from the city and the state.  Best of all, they’ll be able to set their own work rules.”
“You mean the teachers won’t be organized?”
“Are teachers going to go for that?”
“Who cares?  Teachers are a dime a dozen.  We’ve already got various programs churning out teachers – Teach for America, Fellowships and so forth – these are mostly kids who will do whatever you want them to do.  They’re idealists.  They want to help struggling school kids.  They’ll go wherever we send them.  Just tell them it’s all about the kids.”
“And what happens to the teachers who are already in the system?”
“We’ll worry about that later.  You’ll think of something.  What do you say?”
“Well, I’ll have to give it some thought.”
“Of course.  Just remember, I guarantee, by the end of my 3rd term ….”
“Third term?  I thought there were term limits here.”
“Laws are made to be amended.  You know that.  By 2014 when New York City is the only system in the country that is living up to No Child Left Behind, ha ha, we’ll be able to write our own ticket in Washington.  What’s more important to voters than education?”
“Taxes?  Jobs?”
“Education!  It’s the future.  It’ll be our legacy.”
“But doesn’t No Child Left Behind mandate 100% graduation?”
“How in the world are we going to achieve that?”
“You’ll have a talk with the Regents people.  We’ll change the teacher evaluation process so we can get rid of anyone we want.  You’ll put pressure on these new principals to get all these kids their credits.  They’re going to want to keep their jobs and pensions, right?”
[Scratching his chin.]  “I see, well, let me get back to you, Mike.  Sounds like you’ve got some good ideas here.  That Microsoft case did take something out of me.”
“In the meantime, just start talking about your passion for public education.  That way it won’t be such a surprise.  You do have a passion for public education, don’t you, Joel?”
“Well, I hadn’t ….”
“[Grinning.] Of course, I do – always have had.  I went to public schools here and – hey, I’m one of those famous people who went here.”
“See.  Now you’re thinking.”

[Meanwhile, back in a fictional class, this fictional exchange may have taken place during the fictional portion of this “memoir”:
“Mr. Haverstock?”
“What genre would you call this?  It doesn’t seem like memoir.”
“Good point.  You were paying attention.  What do you think?  We’ve been studying genres in class, haven’t we?”
“Yeah, that’s why I was thinking.  It says it’s fiction up there but these are real people, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are.  So what genre is it?”
“Historical fiction?”
“Well, that’s a good guess but I’ve never met either of these people.  I made up all of this dialogue.  As far as I know, none of it really happened.”
“But you know a lot about them.”
“Not really – just what anyone can Google.  I don’t know anything about what they really said to each other.”
“It’s not science fiction.”
“Not exactly, although ….”
“Well ….”
“I know!  It’s realistic fiction!”
“Now you’ve got it!”]

No comments:

Post a Comment