Archive for January, 2010

Much Ado

January 27, 2010
David Bloomfield

originally published on, Jan.26, 2010

Our current education policy debates have me depressed.

“But there’s so much going on! Look at all the intersecting issues we’re juggling in New York:  school closings, small and charter schools opening or expanding, our Race to the Top application, the Regents proposal expand preparation options, eliminating the charter school cap, another DOE restructuring, teacher merit pay and tenure based on student performance! Isn’t this a great time for addressing the BIG ISSUES in education?!”


Arguably, I feel this way because of deep flaws in most of the above proposals. But it’s not mere opposition that drives my ennui. I like an energized debate over real issues as much as — probably a lot more than — the next person. I was supercharged in my disagreements with the Gates-led small schools movement, cell phone prohibition, and repression of parent and community input under mayoral control. So it’s not that I am unhappy being contrary.

The problem is that current initiatives have almost nothing to do with kids. Today’s politically-driven agenda is concerned more with money and power than education. It bores the hell out of me.

Take the federal Race to the Top competition. Billions of dollars in one-shot stimulus funds are at stake. But the administration’s policy agenda tied to the money — bribes, really — is a litany of warmed-over, unproven or disproven Bush-era buzz words. Accountability, merit pay, data systems, higher teacher quality, charter schools. All sound fine, yet all have been widely tried and have failed to significantly improve student achievement, especially among our low-income, minority, ELL, and special needs students. This isn’t an educational prescription but, rather, an economic and political strategy to jump-start spending and to shore up Obama’s right flank while he fights for health care reform on the left. The “top” that politico-policymakers are racing toward is just too distant from the classroom.

State initiatives are similarly off-target. While talking the talk of higher standards, the Commissioner and Regents have signaled approval of a credit recovery system that is an open door to academic abuse. Not one step has been taken to actually tighten test standards or grading policies, let alone the primary State function of assuring a broad and rigorous curriculum.  Lacking legislative elimination of the charter cap, the centerpiece of New York’s RttT application appears to be an entirely speculative plan to permit organizations outside of higher education to prepare teachers and principals. Such training will no doubt be cheaper, faster, and narrower but will it improve teaching? Who knows? But it gives a politically attractive appearance of doing something and satisfies myriad non-college constituencies, from unions to business to philanthropy.

The City is no better. Every school that Bloomberg closes is his failure, since he has presided over the system for almost eight years. Did converting Robeson High School to small learning communities several years ago improve it? Apparently not, since it is now on the chopping block. Again and again, the Mayor’s strategy of churn and burn has proven of little help to kids yet the political noise it makes masks its substantive silence. Similarly, the shock and awe of his charter school advocacy, proposals for merit pay, and testing monomania cloud the reality that the guy has no idea how to run a school system; every restructuring exposes the vacuity of its predecessor. By his own measures of success, at least four in 10 ninth graders still fail to graduate on time and, if Regents diplomas are set as a low standard, even the grads are often ill-prepared for college and careers. These children are Bloomberg’s educational progeny; they were in elementary school when he took office.  Yet, for all the hoopla, achievement is — at best — only marginally better, following a trend line established before he took office and reflected in other districts besides our own.

There is so much BS in the current debate that I can hardly stand it. I long for the new semester so I can get back to preparing new leaders for real schools. The teacher-student relationship is where the important work takes place. But, as usual, the politicians’ focus is on the sizzle, not the steak.


Testimony Opposing PS 15 / Charter Co-location

January 20, 2010

Testimony of David C. Bloomfield

Professor and Program Head, Educational Leadership

Brooklyn College, CUNY


P.S. 15, The Patrick F. Daly School

71 Sullivan Street, Brooklyn, NY

January 19, 2010

I am honored to speak before you tonight about saving P.S. 15.  The children of P.S. 15, along with their parents, teachers, and administrators deserve at least as much respect for their educational needs as the Department of Education has heaped on PAVE Academy.

Chancellor Klein’s rhetoric appropriately focuses on “children first,” not schools.  But when he concentrates on students at PAVE, he fails to meet his obligation to students at P.S. 15.  PAVE gets extra consideration, not equal consideration.  PAVE gets capital money that it is not entitled to while P.S. 15 kids are marginalized, receiving less than their fair share of space.  Their education is disrupted, corrupted, and disgusted by the Chancellor’s ideologically-driven preference for PAVE.  The Chancellor says that he needs to meet the needs of all students.  I agree.  Let him prove it here and now by keeping his previous promises to the children of P.S. 15.

I am not an enemy of charter schools.  I wrote the first draft charter school bill for New York State.  I support charters.  But charters were not meant to compete with other public school students for resources.  They were to supplement the traditional public sector with new ideas and new funding.  Charters should expand the pie, not compete for crumbs.  Thus, PAVE should secure outside funding to support its capital needs. 

P.S. 15 students should not have to bear the burden of PAVE’s grade-by-grade expansion.  The children of P.S. 15 should not be victims of the DOE’s broken promises that predetermine instructional disruption and inter-school conflict.

Thank you.

Leadership, Law, and Policy January 6, 2010

January 6, 2010


David Bloomfield Closing Schools: A Call for Independent Review by David Bloomfield

To write that I am a fan of closing failing schools is to fall into the same bombastic trap now enmeshing the Bloomberg administration. Before the Mayor took office, I wrote about the need to take forceful action against these educational mediocrities. But the wholesale closing and opening of schools that the Mayor has embarked upon is not the answer.

Replacing schools does not necessarily improve education. In the Mayor’s hands, it has become a shell game that defers instructional problems until they reappear elsewhere, to be met again with a similar reaction. Meanwhile, the often lengthy period of the schools’ decline — until so drastically and unconstructively arrested — has harmed thousands of students.

Until now, the Mayor’s strategy has been largely immune to public opposition. The Department of Education announced its hit list with little or no prior warning, the better to keep critics at bay. The new school governance statute, however, has created a process for notice and hearings that — while imperfect — will subject this year’s target list to formal scrutiny followed by likely approval by the mayor-controlled Panel for Educational Policy. Students, parents, teachers, and their supporters are organizing to reverse the DOE decree.

This is a public scenario that DOE operatives — probably with the best of technocratic intentions — wanted to avoid. School-based opposition was identified as the Achilles’ heel of reform after the failure of Mayor Giuliani’s initiative to have Edison Schools take over a number of failed schools. Families at the schools voted against the move.

But Bloomberg still seems committed to playing a power game despite the new legal landscape and a public increasingly fed-up with his paternalistic mien. His is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory, with his PEP majority ready to work his will but giving rise to increasingly mobilized school communities that will oppose even justified closings.

This warfare could be avoided if the Mayor took a different, more conciliatory tack. What is needed — both legally and instructionally — is to articulate a clear set of standards for determining school closures, with thorough review of actions taken to avoid the disruption attendant to this last resort and the possible impact of closure on other schools.

The Mayor has created a sense that these closures are less than inevitable but, rather, part of a considered strategy to free up space in certain schools for charters and preferred small schools. Rationales for school closure are a moving target. Some are cited for low graduation rates — though other schools, not slated for elimination, are worse. Or the emphasis shifts to enrollment, or application rates, or whatever other metric might appear deficient either currently or over time. The data seem a pretext for closure and, like so many dominoes, set up a new round of schools predetermined for failure.

These actions give the appearance of illegal caprice: the inconsistent application of otherwise rational criteria so that the action is ultimately unpredictable and subject to whim. If indeed there is a hidden, consistent rationale for these decisions, then it is the Mayor’s obligation to reveal it. Keeping the public off-balance through secrecy is deplorable. This is a typical private-sector strategy based on the competitive edge of proprietary trade secrets. The Mayor’s people still haven’t learned that such tactics are inappropriate in a democracy where an informed public is a paramount, legally-enforceable value.

The more objective, transparent, and deliberative process of school closure suggested here has been used successfully in State registration reviews and finds favor in State law. Education Law § 402-a recommends district creation of an Advisory Committee on School Building Utilization six months before a scheduled school closing, with a clear set of factors for committee review. This is a more independent process than the current New York City formula and could profitably supplement it without sacrificing urgency.

So far, though, Mayor Bloomberg has refused to see the writing on the wall. His unexpected announcement shortly before the holidays, of almost two dozen school closures with a quickly scheduled series of required hearings prior to the PEP determinations on January 26 manifests a continued disdain for the spirit of recent statutory changes.

As a result, the Legislature should publicly contemplate buttressing the new but demonstrably ineffective requirements of Education Law §§ 2590-e(21), 2590-f(1)(w), and 2590-h(2-A) with mandatory application of Education Law § 402-a unless the Mayor recognizes that his policy of intentional opacity will no longer be tolerated.

The days of Oz and the application of naked, self-justifying power are over. If the Mayor is right, then he should step from behind the curtain and allow independent review of his decision to close each school.