A Kick in the Teeth
has said repeatedly that he wants voters to
judge him on how well he improves New York
City’s public schools. Research shows
that the most important factor in improving
schools is having a qualified teacher in every
classroom, so it would seem logical for the
Mayor to make his first priority the recruitment
and retention of good teachers.
But, sad to say,
he is doing just the opposite. The administration’s most recent proposal for a new teachers’ contract
to replace the one that expired last May 31
is a kick in the teeth to teachers, not to
mention students and parents.
The Mayor’s proposal eliminates limits on class sizes, would make schools less safe and impair teachers’ ability to teach. It would cut mentoring for new teachers and remove provisions meant to protect educators from tyrannical and incompetent supervisors. Furthermore, the city’s
proposal would effectively impose a 20 percent
pay cut on teachers by adding 18 unpaid days
to the school year, including eliminating holidays
such as Yom Kippur and the Christmas, mid-winter
and spring breaks.
How is such a proposal supposed to attract, keep and support qualified teachers? I talk to thousands of teachers, and I have not met one who would work under the conditions the Mayor proposed. And what parent would want to send a child to a school where there were no limits on class size and where teachers had no voice on a range of other issues, including safety and environmental standards?
to say, the United Federation of Teachers unequivocally
rejected the city’s proposal.
Problems with mayoral control: Last
September marked the beginning of the first
school year with Mayor Bloomberg having direct
control of the city’s public schools.
He reorganized the school system under a plan
he dubbed Children First.
was designed to make the system more responsive,
but its implementation has left much to be
desired. Since September, school safety has
suffered greatly because the reorganization
provided schools with no effective means of
coping with disruptive or violent students.
Students who assaulted other students—or teachers—were
often back in the same schools the next day.
The Mayor and
Chancellor often complain that the teachers’ contract is too detailed and ties the hands of management. But look at what they complain about: The ceilings that keep class sizes from growing are part of that contract, as are the requirements that safety infractions and violent incidents be reported. Without those provisions, which would be eliminated under the Mayor’s
new proposal, we never could have gotten the
Mayor to focus on this key problem.
Micromanaging teachers: The
administration has also wasted too much time
and energy on over-regulating and micro-managing
teachers in their classrooms—insisting that teachers focus on issues such as where rocking chairs are placed in classrooms and how many thumbtacks are on bulletin boards. When it comes to addressing the things that really matter to education—qualified teachers, smaller class sizes and enough equipment and supplies—the Mayor’s
reorganization is woefully inadequate.
A recent New
York Times editorial said, “The Bloomberg administration would have smoother sailing if it took a less hostile attitude toward teachers and the union that represents them. The United Federation of Teachers in New York is far more enlightened than the unions that dominate other cities and has been a cooperative partner in the city’s
most successful school experiments.”
The Mayor does
not have a reputation for being a good listener.
But he should know that New Yorkers are too
smart to be fooled by any attempts to scapegoat
teachers for the system’s own failings. And when it’s
time for voters to judge him on how well the
schools are faring, the Mayor will need to
show that he has learned to work with teachers
and parents to actually make the schools better.#