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NYC Klein

Dear Diane,

I wrote the following after reading the NY Times piece you sent me last week. Meanwhile my earlier effort to lay out our differences has led to a lively response from you on progressive education and the rationale for standardized national tests. I'm already preparing my counter-arguments. But before I blast back on either one of these subjects where we appear in great disagreement, I thought it interesting to talk a moment about where we are intellectually and viscerally on such common ground—on the educational system in NYC. I find that interesting—since one naturally imagines that one's day to day responses on the ground are the "natural" outgrowth of one's deeper positions. So while I want to explore the nitty-gritty of the larger disagreements you have responded to so eloquently—it will have to be postponed because this NYC contretemps will be old hat soon.

As to The New York Times piece "Mayor Attacks Critics of Plan to Fix Schools," (April 10, 2007), what an amazing photo, to start with. That grim crowd surrounding Klein, following a smug-looking Bloomberg to the podium, are determined to stop the enemy. But looking somewhat confused, too.

Photographers have the capacity to make us all look foolish if they want to. But that photo nicely captured it. Plus the quote in the story: "You are either with the children, or you're against them"

The existing system of 10 regions that the naughty "opposition" is supporting—by demanding that the Mayor and Klein not make still another overhaul so fast—was Klein's plan. It is not the "status quo" any more than his new plan—which virtually no one understands—will be ten minutes after he inaugurates it.

The "status quo" is, in fact, the great revolutionary upheaval he instituted two years ago to get rid of the old 32 districts and the complacent central bureaucracy. Now the last revolution is labeled the status quo and those who support sticking with it for a while called supporters of "failure, indifference and paralysis." If you aren't for my "new season of hope" you must be against children.

The most astounding thing, Diane, is that the Mayor may really be sincere in his amazement —"sadly and incredibly, I think, there is a small chorus of people" who aren't with me, he proclaims. Given his relentless and successful drive to marginalize any opposition base, and his overwhelming support from the business/foundation/university community, the abolition of all even semi-representative school boards, and the aura of secrecy that surrounds each new reorganization, it's amazing to me that parents and teachers have gotten organized at all, but probably equally amazing that it took them so long.

The juxtaposition—"you are either for or against"—is after all part of our political landscape. The "opposition" merely asks that he postpone the next revolution until folks can figure out what it is.

The nerve! Those folks standing behind him may be a bunch of well-meaning New Yorkers, folks who hope and expect that the institutions they represent will be able to do great things for kids if his latest set of reforms goes through. They would have been wiser to stay out of this since neither they nor anyone else knows exactly what it is that the next plan is—except that principals have to choose one of a prescribed set of new "bosses" within the month.

This is not just teachers lives that are being remodeled every year, but parents and kids too. It is hard to tell any parent in NYC where to go for advice or even—dare I mention it—to protest a decision.

In the absence of any lay control, accountability arises only when choosing the mayor—and this one isn't running again.

The frustration and anguish that many parents experience in "choosing" schools is staggering. Figuring out what to do if the system isn't working the way it claims it is requires unbelievable stamina, not to mention free time—assuming one ever finally gets to the bottom of it.

Since who's in charge constantly changes, it isn't even possible to get advice from a neighbor or the school principal! It does make me wonder if I'd have chosen private schooling if I were doing it over.

I think of the tension and potential anguish we all went through last month waiting for my 18-year-old grandson to hear if he got into the college he had his heart set on.

In a city in which parents with kids in public schools hardly represent a serious political threat, demonizing the teacher's union is the best the mayor could offer up. It's a measure of how out of control he feels at the least sign of opposition.

Shame on New Yorkers for having let things get this bad. As a "native" of NYC I take it more personally than perhaps you do, Diane.

But as a native of Texas you can sympathize.

Deb

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