Chapter Nine: Reform School, Part 2
[Although all of the stories about schools in this book are true, this chapter is another purely imaginative, i.e., fictional account of what a teacher in the summer of 2011 might think of a conversation that might have taken place between NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel, Klein, ca. 2006, four years into their tenure.
[“What is a fictional account doing in a “memoir”? you rightly ask.
[I can only say in my own defense that I much prefer fiction to memoir, but in truth I’m attempting to create an entirely new genre by mixing memoir with fiction, thereby cementing my place in the annals of literature.
[“Won’t that be confusing and a little disingenuous?” you also rightly ask.
[Well, confusing, perhaps, to the semi-literate but I’m trying to make very clear which are the fictional parts. I’m putting them in parentheses.
[“But you also put excerpts from your journal in parentheses.”
[True, but that will be worked out, I hope, in subsequent drafts along with all of the other typos and mistakes and foolhardiness – es.
[“By the way, who am I that you’re talking to?”
[Anyway, to make the point again, in spite of being included in a “memoir”, which nevertheless, as I’ve said, isn’t about me but is 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 last 10 years in NYC education]:
Klein enters Bloomberg’s office.
Talk to me, Joel.
Well, Mike, I’ve been going over more proposals for new schools.
Talk to me, Joel. [Mayor picks up phone.]
As you’ve indicated, we set up the new Leadership Academy.
[Mayor listens intently to his phone.]
That’s the program where we’re indoctrinating, er, training future principals. We’re going to be needing a lot of them, you realize.
[Puts away phone.] Talk to me, Joel.
Well, Mike, if we’re going from 25 high schools in the Bronx to approximately 140, then we’re going to be needing a lot of principals. I mean, where there used to be one principal, there’s going to 5 to 7 per building. Multiply that by the other boroughs – do the math.
That’s a lot of principals. What are you doing about it?
Well, as I said, we’ve set up the Leadership program to train them and we’ve had terrific response.
Well, for the prospect of doubling your silly, little teacher salary, who wouldn’t go for that?
Actually, they mostly say that they just want to get out of the classroom. They can’t take it anymore.
Well, that’s not the official word, of course.
And what are you doing to them in this Leadership thing?
Well, we brought in the same people you use in your business, Mike. We’re giving them all the stuff that you’ve done in the past, you know, sensitivity workshops so they know how to make charges of sexual harassment and racism go away.
Those are useful.
We show them how to keep the real Galaxy budget separate from the one that the UFT sees.
I remember that. We’ve used it a lot.
Then the workshops on how to microman…, ah, er, monitor work time. They’re learning how to trick teachers into giving up their professional period altogether.
Well, the principals offer them a deal where they don’t have to come in twice a month for the contractual faculty meetings and they don’t have to stay late for that. They usually fall for that.
What do they give up for that?
Their professional period. Now the principals can keep tabs on them during that period.
And if they don’t go for the deal?
Well, the principals just make them log in and out on their professional duties.
What are those?
Mostly busy work but they can’t do any planning or marking during that period.
So you’ve got them trapped.
Exactly. Now, we’ve already got a plan to get rid of all of those teacher lounges they’ve got in those buildings.
Yeah, all they do is shoot the bull all day in there.
Right. And we’re getting rid of those teacher centers.
What are those?
Those were rooms where teachers had teaching resources and ran workshops of their own.
Can’t have that.
Right. Imagine devoting space to that – which reminds me. Space is going to be a big problem.
Well, 6 principals means 6 principal’s offices, 6 secretarial staffs, 6 attendance offices and so forth.
So we’re converting all those teacher lounges and teacher centers, libraries, clinics, teacher cafeterias and anything else like that into new principal offices. Most of the art and drama rooms are gone now. Some of those places actually had wood shops and home economics rooms but we’re getting rid of all of that.
‘College and career readiness’.
I’ll tell you later. For now it means we’ve got more rooms to convert in those old buildings. They’re turning boiler rooms into classrooms!
Now that’s innovation.
We’ve got the teachers mostly cramped in little closet spaces.
Cubicles. Good. No desks of their own, I assume.
Ha-ha, good one. Anyway with computers now, who needs desks?
But it’s costing a lot of money.
Hell of a lot.
Well, it’s got to be done, right?
Ah, and then there’s what they call the hire / fire workshops.
Yeah, they role play.
Oh, I’ve seen that. You’re fired!
[Klein looks startled.]
I’m role playing, Joel. Relax. I loved those workshops – made all of my veeps and assistants do it every year.
[Relieved.] Yeah, they’re great. They teach them how to never say anything positive from day one so that no one has any idea how they’re doing. That way you can fire them at any time for any reason.
You know, they modeled those workshops after my method at the radio station.
You don’t say.
Used to call it Bloombergs’s taxonomy. I had seven levels of intimidation, from the “no response with grim expression” to the “clear out your desk” memo with the name spelled wrong.
As a matter of fact, they were misspelling names just this morning.
Prospective principals at the academy – they were picking it up pretty fast. Looked like they’d already done some of that.
Of course, Joel, the union is still causing us problems there.
Yeah, but you’ve insisted that principals no longer have to hire from the pool in the new contract, right?
Not budging on that.
So they can hire.
Right, we’re still working on the fire.
But won’t this create a surplus of teachers in the system?
What do you mean, Joel?
Well, if principals are hiring but no one is getting fired, it just stands to reason that eventually ….
We’ll have that worked out soon enough – if not this contract, the next one.
But your term will be ….
[Mayor gives chancellor a “no response” level reply.]
Oh, right, 3rd term. Anyway, at least in some of the charters the principals can fire people so if we can lure enough of the teachers into those schools, we can pick ‘em off one by one. It’ll be like the wild west.
How do we lure them in?
Just like we did with the Indians. We make their lives miserable where they are. Don’t you see? You’ve used that, I’m sure. Then we give them this new open market set-up, sort of like a reservation …. Mike! You’re insisting on that in the new contract, too, aren’t you?
You mean where the teachers can leave their schools during the summer without getting a release from the principals? I don’t know, Joel. That runs against all of my gut instincts, giving teachers more freedom. Weren’t we just talking about getting more power for the principals?
All in good time, Mike. But for now this is how it works. The idea is to make the teachers’ lives miserable and then give them an out. But the out is to a charter school where we’ll be able to fire them. Get it? It’s a set-up, Mike, and a damn good one. It’s like giving the Indians land that we can later just take back. Think of all the money we can save dumping all of those bloated salaries and pension plans. We could actually make up a portion of the money we're waste..., er, investing to put in all those new administrators. You’ve got to stick with that one, Mike. Give the union whatever they want, but keep that in there.
Okay, okay. If they’d just stop holding up that charter stuff up in Albany. Do you have any idea how much of my own money ….
Union is pretty strong up there, Mike.
Tell me about it.
Yeah, but once we get charters up to 10%, 15%, then we’ll really be able to start getting rid of salaries, er, “ineffective” teachers.
How long is that going to take?
All depends. In the meantime, the new principals are going to know how to do it. They’ll be ready.
Tell me about the new schools, Joel.
Well, we’re seeing all kinds of stuff, Mike, some of it good, some of it pretty crazy.
Talk to me, Joel.
Well, ha, ha, one guy came in with a proposal for a school called Bronx Academy for the Humanities. That was a good one.
But you told them we’re getting rid of all the arts, didn’t you?
I guess he wasn’t listening. Another one was proposing the Brooklyn High School for Social Promotion!
Well, you know, he meant for the advancement of humanity, something ridiculous like that, not social promotion in the school.
You threw him out.
Fast. Threw out the Queens Arts Academy, the Brooklyn School for Music and Arts, Bronx High School for Drama, School for Gay and Lesbian Experience ….
Well, actually they were pretty good in the sciences but they were going to require a dance class for graduation.
We almost went for the Staten Island Institute for Jamaican Cuisine.
Like Jamaican cuisine.
Can’t let that interfere with your judgment.
No. We rejected the New School for New Studies.
What was that?
They were still working on the curriculum, said there had never been anything like it. Then there were other non-starters like the High School for Cultural Studies, Harlem School for African-American Studies, School for Chemistry and Fashion Design.
Yeah, they figured they could slip it through by putting chemistry first but it was all about fashion design. You should have seen the suit that guy was wearing!
[“No response” reply.]
Good, Joel, you’re really getting that down.
Okay, good. Now, talk to me about the good ones.
Well, so far we’ve accepted the Bronx High School for Regents Prep. The entire curriculum uses old Regents exams for the daily lessons.
Then there is the Manhattan School for Test Taking. We just suggested that they change it to School for Test Passing. Sounds better.
Yeah. I’ll put my P.R. staff on it – see if they can come up with some good school names.
Okay. We like the Bronx High School for Business, the Bronx Academy for Business, Bronx Business Prep with a plan for a franchise in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Business Prep, then maybe Queens Business Prep and Manhattan Business Prep. In fact, this guy had big plans. He wants to number them.
Didn’t they used to do that?
You mean P.S. 237 and so forth? Yeah, but now it will be Bronx Business Prep 100, 101 and so on.
I like it. Have this guy see my secretary. Maybe I’ve got something for him down at Tweed. I like the way he thinks.
I’ll make a note of it. We liked Business Studies High School, the Business Academy of Innwood, High School for Business and Business Studies, the Profitability Academy, High School for Higher Profits, the Academy for Lower Taxes, the No Taxation Without Representation High School ….
That’s a good one.
Yeah, we liked the allusion to history, even though they don’t teach any history there.
Every course is economics?
Right. At least they’ll get some history in their name! Ha, ha. Then there was the Tea Party Institute, the High School for Hiring and Firing, the Cubicle Academy, the Academy for Executive Creation ….
Not creative. They meant training.
Then change it.
Academy for Executive Training?
Okay. Then there was the Academy for Obsequious Acquiescence.
I wish I could’ve sent my kids there.
Yeah, me, too. That guy shined my shoes.
Knows what he’s doing.
Gave him the best space we had available. We liked the Academy for One-Upmanship but told them to refine their grading policy to reflect the theme. You know, you should really have to show someone up to get an A there.
Good. What about the Academy for Stock Options and Stock Market Prep?
You know about those?
A couple of friends.
We liked those, of course. They’re going downtown along with Wall Street High School, Day Traders Prep, the Institute for Initial Investment – we’re thinking of giving them space in Trinity Church.
Can we do that?
I’ll have to talk to historical sites ….
Listen to this, Mike. You’ll love this. They are going to take in an initial investment from every kid they admit into the 9th grade.
You mean like paying tuition?
Well, but it’s not tuition. It’s “initial investment”. They tell the kids or their families – what do they know!
Right, but this “initial investment” is money going into the school.
Yeah, but they invest it. They tell them that they are going to match this initial investment with equal amounts from the city, the state, the federal government and from private sources –they were hoping you’d contribute personally.
They were going to invest this initial investment and guarantee a return of at least 6.75% over four years.
How much is this initial investment?
Twenty-five hundred minimum. They can go as high as they want. The curriculum consists of managing the investment. They’ve already got a list of prospective invest …, er, families looking for good schools.
That’s why you put it in Trinity Church!
Well, prayer never hurts. Ha ha.
[Mayor is lost in thought.]
If the kid’s investment exceeds 6.75%, he graduates and doesn’t have to take any state tests. They’ve got a list of colleges and universities ready to take the graduates no questions asked if they graduate with an 8.25 or higher.
What if they don’t make the 6.75?
Look at the market, Mike. They’re putting everything into mortgage broker deals. Those guys are making a killing. They can’t lose.
Okay, as long as they diversify over the long run, I mean, over the 4 years.
But it’s guaranteed by city dollars, and besides, they’ve always got new money flowing in. Any guy, I mean, kid who falls behind, they’ll pick them up with new tuition, er, initial investment.
That sounds like a pyramid ….
It’s all out in the open, Mike, and besides, it’s not really investment, it’s education and here’s the good part. The school gets to keep any profits over 8.25%. You see. We can’t, I mean, they can’t miss.
Have this guy ….
A woman, Mike.
Have her send her C.V. to me.
I’ll make a note.
Is that it?
Well, then there are the media schools. We liked the Rush High School – they get kids out in 3 years with no electives, right to the point.
We liked the Michael Savage School – they listen to the program in every class every day - Rush Limbaugh Prep and O’Reilly Academy – they do the same and they follow the web sites and so forth.
Good to be media savvy in this day and age.
Right. Then there are all the Bloomberg schools – that was a popular idea - Bloomberg Business Prep, the Bloomberg Academy of Business and Politics, the Bloomberg School for Politically Ambitious Businesspersons – there were about 10 of those. We picked five.
Well, you know, one per borough.
Pick them all. I like it. Two or three per borough is fine. Do these Bloomberg schools listen to my station?
I’ll make a note.
Okay. Then we liked the Jefferson High School for Math and Science.
But you told them to change the name.
You can’t use Jefferson.
Why not, Mike?
He was a president.
Yeah. That’s why they chose it.
Think about it, Joel. Why are we opening all these little schools?
To break up the union and to make the DOE administration even more top heavy.
No, those are just side benefits. What do all of those schools have in common, Joel, the ones you liked?
They’re business schools.
No, Joel, they’re businesses and they’re going to be run like businesses. Why are you running those hire / fire workshops?
And what happens to little businesses when they don’t make money, Joel?
They go out of business.
And what is going to happen to these little schools when they don’t make money?
They’re not supposed to ….
You know what I’m talking about. When they don’t start cranking out little high school graduates? Just because we take a school and divide it into 5 or 6 little independent pieces, do you really think anything is going to change? Aren’t they going to be using the same raw materials and turning out the same low quality product?
So we’re going to be closing them when they aren’t productive, I mean, when the graduation rate stagnates at 50 or 55%. We’ll just say that they’re failing and get rid of them. Why do you think we’re getting rid of all of those old names, names like Kennedy, Taft, George Washington, Lincoln?
I don’t know.
Because it will be much easier to start closing down little schools with names like the Academy of this or that. Once we can open and close schools like businesses, it’ll be a piece of cake to start treating the teachers like menial help, hire, fire, whatever. Principals and superintendents, too. Then the parents will have no choice but to go for charter schools. Did you ever hear of schools being closed down like this before?
This is our legacy, Joel, as long as we can get it through the courts. We are the innovators. We are changing the way people see schools. They are all going to be small private businesses run by entrepreneurs. Are you getting those people into that Leadership thing?
We’re doing outreach to the business community, sure.
People used to see a school and what did they see?
Education? A prosperous future?
They saw part of their culture. They were cultural institutions. You can’t close down a cultural institution like you can close down a business. Jefferson High School. How are you going to close that down? We’re lucky we’ve been getting away with phasing them out so far. But who’s going to give a damn when the Academy of this or that closes down? See where we’re going, Joel?
Yeah, Mike, it’s making sense.
In 10 years all they’ll have is a bunch of little fly-by-night schools that can be opened and closed like a nail joint on 85th St. And by the way, Joel, keep that word out of those names.
‘School’. Academy, institute, prep – keep those going. Eventually no one will even remember what a school was.
I’ll make a note.
Meanwhile back in class …..
“Mr. Haverstock, did those people really say that?’
“No, I made it all up. I never met either one of them.”
“Then how do you know they didn’t say it?
“Good question. I guess I don’t.”
“Then maybe they did say that.”
“Maybe, I guess, but remember, I made it all up. If they said the same stuff that I made up ….”
“That would be some coincidence, Mr. H.”
“It would, although ….”
“You just keep saying that so they won’t sue you for libel.”
“So you can pretend people say anything? Isn’t that lying?”
“Not if you say in advance that it isn’t true. All fiction is made up. Remember, you told me this was realistic fiction. They’re both public figures.”
“You mean if they weren’t public figures, you couldn’t make up stuff about them?”
“Yeah, the laws are different for public and private people.”
“Like the one that says the rich get richer.”
"Yeah, like that one.”
NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.