It's teacher hunting season!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Will Bloomberg put Zuckerman in the Rubber Room? One less media outlet feather in Bloomberlusconi's cap

New York City lost a voice of independence with the folding of "The New York Sun." The conservative newspaper that had politics close to those of the New York Post and a mature tone closer to that of the New York Times was a rare exception in the New York City commercial media landscape: it dared to print stories that were critical of the direction of the city Department of Education under Chancellor Joel Klein.

Yet, now the "New York Daily News" has now taken this mantle. Pick up an issue or look at its website and you will see frequent stories that tarnish the Bloomberg-Klein record on education. If you just read stories from the paper in the last six months you will have a nice collection of details that sully the myth of the "Joel Klein miracle" in New York City schools.

The Bloomberg myth rests squarely on his alleged record of turning around student performance in New York City schools. Puncturing that myth is the story last week on cheating, grade-scrubbing and improper social promotion that allegedly occurs at P.S. 147, an elementary school in Queens. The concerned citizens of the city can appreciate the courage of math teacher Darren Johnson for having the courage, principles and honesty to come forward and expose administrators' moves to change students' grades. (Read the story to see how students that rarely turned in homework or could not perform basic algebraic operations were moved from failing to "passing." --photostat of grade record, included.) One cannot help but think that the principal's U-rating of Johnson was in retribution for something, perhaps a pattern of failing poorly performing students or clashing over grade changes. Furthermore, one would also suspect that this practice is more wide-spread than one school --particularly in this climate of pressure from "No Child Left Behind" and "grading" of schools.

The question is, will mayor Bloomberlusconi punish Mort Zuckerman, publisher of the Daily News for fostering known dissenters from the official truth, such as columnists Juan Gonzalez or Errol Louis? Surely, he must have some strategem to lash out at this errant publisher. Maybe he can consult with his White House friends on how he can create a rubber room for Zuckerman.

Shame on the Times for burying its head on these crucial issues. When newspapers fail to pursue second opinions on claims of "school success" they fail to perform their duty of informing the public of the un-biased facts of a city government's performance. The Times bears a special obligation to rise to the task of reporting the truth about the New York City schools. For this is the "paper of record" that is held in high regard, touted by high school teachers and college professors, held in microfilm at nearly every college library and in the libraries of countless municipal libraries. As a matter of course, many lettered historians often assume that they can count on the Times to provide that "first draft of history."
William Thompson, the Democratic challenger to Bloomberg for the mayoralty, in July issued a report from his office, in the capacity of city comptroller. In this audit he cited the city Department of Education as "the Enron of American Education," "showing the gains, hiding the losses." In the official audit report, Comptroller Thompson asked, "Did graduates actually meet all requirements to earn their diplomas?" <<< Link to the audit-in-brief; further link to full report available. >>> (See the video at the right column of this page.) Where is the New York Times on this charade???

One of the most important children's fables is Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Emperor's New Clothes." Let us review the fable, the essence of which appears summarized briefly in a wikipedia article:
An emperor of a prosperous city who cares more about clothes than military pursuits or entertainment hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who was either stupid or unfit for his position. The Emperor cannot see the (non-existent) cloth, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor then goes on a procession through the capital showing off his new "clothes". During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, "the emperor has no clothes!" The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth. The Emperor, however, holds his head high and continues the procession.

The 1837 story's importance lies in its being a cautionary tale of the power of propaganda, the folly of group think and the fear of standing out and disclosing an unpopular truth. The story is a parallel to the media deception of school performance in New York City under mayor Bloomberg and schools chancellor Klein. In our case, the swindler is the mayor, the mayor's million-dollar budget publicity office, and schools chancellor. The self-deluding --or hoodwinked-- crowd is the official media, secondary policy-makers (who are enamored of "the-good-work-that-Joel-Klein-is-doing-in-New-York-City"), and the public. Of course, the child is the Daily News and a handful of bloggers hoping for the day that a critical mass of the public --or some principled reporter at a paper of record will pay heed to the disclosed reality.
The New York Times' (and countless other media outlets) willful ignorance of the true Klein record is truly a great tragedy. There is a broad failure of duty to explore the true record of "educational reform" in this city. An election will pass, in which a public will (probably) re-coronate a mayor on the basis of an emperor's new clothes myth. In the absence of efforts to debunk myths, reporters, pundits, policy-makers, and naive voters are all resounding in a massive chorus, adulation for emperor Bloomberg's new clothes.

Conspiratorial-minded people have argued that the New York Times is "bought" by Mike Bloomberg. However, various strands of information have convinced me that while there is possibly no explicit conspiracy, yet there are de facto relationships that compromise the independence of the newspaper from mayor Bloomberg or chancellor Klein. On a simple level, the newspaper needs money, literally. As a corporation with print news at its core, it is quite vulnerable. This newspaper, as others internationally, have lost advertising revenues and readers. The Times came close to shutting down its subsidiary, the New England paper of record, "The Boston Globe." Enter, the mayor. The newspaper needs regular ad revenue. The mayor's office has run ads in heavy frequency, until the "hiring freeze," that seek to employ new talent for teaching positions. And you can add to these advertisements other Department of Education and Bloomberg-funded "community organizations" or "foundations" that supplied regular ad revenue for the newspaper.
Then, there is the radio connection. Until the change-over to WNYC ownership last week, the New York Times operated a commercial classical radio station, WQXR. In past decades the Nine and Eleven O'Clock PM hours brought advance news of the following days' edition of the New York Times. In pre-Internet days it was a nice advance source of news for news junkies. However, in recent years, the Times newspaper connection was severed. When the Times' WQXR chimed in with news of the hour, it said, "Bloomberg Radio News reporting." Do we need any more clear a smoking gun of a biased news subject-to-media outlet relationship than this????

Next we have the matter of a possible inter-locking relationship between the New York Times and Bertelsmann Music Group, the German media conglomerate. Thomas Middlehoff has been on the board of the New York Times since 2003. From 1998 to 2002 Middlehoff had been the Chief executive officer of BMG. Coincidentally, present-day New York City schools chancellor Klein had been chief United States liaison officer for BMG, from January, 2001 to July, 2002.

In the wake of the great recession of the latter half of 2008, Bloomberg suddenly asserted that he could not in good conscience allow himself to deprive the city of his brilliant leadership in this time of crisis. And again, just like the uncritical chorus of Klein-promoters over the education issue, no one questioned the grounds of the argument for his great leadership. Indeed, the city has seen spiking homelessness, a pinch on the working and middle classes, and an exodus of 50,000 African-Americans from the city (compare the 2005 census with the 2000 census). Surely, this is a city that has failed to protect many of its residents. And again, what great wizardry could Bloomberg point to? Even if we close our eyes to more humble groups, what has happened in the glitzier parts of town? Declining patronage of restaurants, thousands of upper end professional jobs lost for good from Wall Street.
Has anyone remembered that the men that are credited with saving New York City in the 1970s fiscal crisis, mayor Ed Koch and governor Hugh Carey, had law and politics backgrounds --not business backgrounds?

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