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Scare Tactics in NYC


Dear Deb,

What a week this has been!

I received a phone call late last Monday afternoon (Oct. 29) from an editor at the New York Post, offering me a “heads up.” He said, “Just wanted to let you know that there will be a personal attack on you in tomorrow’s paper, on the opinion page.” That was a bit unsettling, to say the least. A few hours later, I received an email from a journalist friend that contained the actual article, with the byline of Kathryn Wylde, the CEO of the New York City Partnership, the organization that represents major corporations in the city. Somehow the article was in circulation before it was published, and the last email—transmitting the article to the Post—was written by Howard Rubenstein, who owns a major public relations firm that is very active in New York politics. So, it was clear that the article came to the Post from a PR firm, and it was not clear who wrote it.

The next day, the article appeared, with a headline calling me a "Hypocritical Critic.” The trigger for the blast at me evidently was an article I had written the previous week, in which I pointed out that the teachers’ union had outsmarted the Mayor and the Chancellor in their recent negotiation over performance pay. Although the Mayor and Chancellor claimed that they had won “merit pay,” what they got instead was a schoolwide bonus plan whose distribution would be decided at every individual school and which might or might not include non-teachers such as secretaries who belong to the union.

But instead of debating the issues, the article was a personal slam at me, attempting to destroy my reputation and credibility because I was not supporting every move of the Klein regime.

The very next day, as I was pondering whether to respond, an article appeared in the New York Sun documenting the fact that Wylde’s attack had been written in concert with operatives at the New York City Department of Education. The Sun reporter, Elizabeth Green, wrote that the DOE had been keeping a file on me, comparing my statements past and present, and this dossier was the basis of the Wylde attack on me.

The next day, the New York Post printed my response to Wylde’s article.

Two points from my article deserve reiteration here. First, I have a right to change my mind, based on observation and experience. As I wrote, I used to think that nothing could be worse than the old Board of Education. But I was wrong. Having watched the Klein team in action for five chaotic years of reorganization and disorganization, having observed their mandates and micromanagement, having seen their disrespect for educators, having seen that they have no educational strategy, only a program of testing and accountability and paying students, teachers, and principals for test scores, the old Board begins to look better and better every day.

The second point is that what they did to me is scary. The fact that they compiled a dossier on me and then turned it over to someone to write an attack is a frightening misuse of government power. They think they did nothing wrong. They think that if journalists and academics can compile files on people, so can they. They forget that they are not journalists or academics: They are government. Wouldn’t you think they have enough to do managing 1,500 schools without having time to pursue those who dare to question their policies?

I forgot to mention one more thing. I discovered last spring that someone from the Department of Education press office was taping my public lectures. The first time I thought it was amusing. The second time I thought it was weird. The third time I thought it was scary. Now I realize that I was under surveillance.

I believe that all of this—the taping, the dossier, the attack by a surrogate—was a blatant effort to silence me. And as I said in my response, if they could silence me, I would serve as an example to anyone else who criticized them.

If any good came of this brouhaha, it was the response of the blogs. From the National Review to the Daily Kos, the condemnation of the DOE’s tactics was swift and strong. And take a look at this spectacular photomontage. I have never been so grateful for the democracy of the blogosphere as I was this past week.

What does this say about the state of education and democracy?



Perhaps when you are back on speaking terms with your old friends you could ask them to define "Progress" as it appears on their new Progress Reports. The reports include three primary measures. There is one measure of inputs called School Environment: "School environment uses surveys and other data to evaluate necessary conditions for learning: attendance, safety, academic expectations, engagement, and communication." There are two sets of outputs: Performance (pass rates) and Progress (year to year changes). The last measure, Progress, is the confusing one.

The city has released data for all three measures for 1,201 schools. That allows for some simple analyses. The means and standard deviations of the variables are very similar:

ENVIRON : MEAN = .5007, STDEV = .185
PERFORM : MEAN = .5509, STDEV = .186
PROGRESS: MEAN = .5023, STDEV = .182

One would expect a strong correlation between the input and output variables. The correlation between ENVIRON and PERFORM is .49, a reasonable relationship. There is no meaningful correlation between PERFORM and PROGRESS, r = .12. That is reasonable. Although both use test scores, they may not be correlated. Just because you are proficient doesn't mean you are making great progress from one year to the next. Just because you are not proficient doesn't mean you are not improving.

What is troubling in the city's data is the correlation -- or lack thereof -- between ENVIRON and PROGRESS, r = .11, no relationship. How could that be? None of the input variables (attendance, academic expectations, engagement, etc...) have any effect on PROGRESS? Surely this is not true.

Oddly, Progress does not seem to be related to any measure. Look at the relationship between the Quality Review Letter Grades (U, P, W) based on site visits and the three measures. These are the means:

ENVIRON : U = .34, P = .47, W = .58
PERFORM : U = .42, P = .52, W = .62
PROGRESS: U = .46, P = .51, W = .50

ENVIRON and PERFORM means seem to be associated with Quality Review letter grades, but the PROGRESS measure is not.

So, here is the question: If the Progress measure is inconsistent with other qualitative and qualitative measures and it does not seem to be influenced by any of the school factors common sense would tell you should influence progress, what is it?

What is it?

Statisticians have a term for a statistical aggregation that does not correlate with any meaningful variable in the model. New Yorkers have a word for it, too.


You finished your post with the question: "what does this say about the state of education and democracy?"

I'd say that democracy could be on the rise, that is, more people debating, reflecting, changing (we knew you'd come around) and acting.

If I can tighten my tinfoil hat a little bit, I'd like to suggest that one of the reasons that neoliberals and neoconservatives are attacking "public" education is that it's working to produce a democratic public, despite all of its shortcomings.

The demographics of bloggers, however, show that the system works primarily for one race and class...

I'm not saying schools don't need help and work, the same is true for many communities across the country, but would the privatizers and profiteers have us believe that the way to save failing communities is by privatizing them...by reducing democracy?

These are troubling times, but the troubling times create spaces for paradigm shifting change. Those of us who believe in public schools but have found ourselves separated on particulars, need to figure out how to work together so we can create democratic spaces where children mature into adults capable of, citing Dewey here (he's not all bad :), "maintaining the state in integrity and usefulness."

I'd like to think that you and Deb are paving the way...but we need to amplify and extend your conversations.

You need a TV show...at the very least, consider contacting Democracy Now. This attack is only the beginning, given that communities across the country are rejecting corporate led reforms (see most recently Utah's rejection of vouchers).

That's it for now...oh...THANK YOU!

Thank you for putting your neck out on the line for children.

...never thought i'd be saying that to you...but you are right...people have a right to change their minds. Intelligent people do so frequently.

Diane - Though we disagree about merit pay and many other things, I am with you on the circumstances of the Post article. An ad hominem attack is easy to dismiss; a concerted campaign, if it was the effort of a goverment agency, should be frightening to progressives as well as neo-cons. I hope there are defenses of your plight from the Left as well. In the meantime, you might rethink the wisdom of centralizing education policy making.


glad you got to see my dailykos diary discussing this incident. What they were doing is totally out of line, unacceptable. And you are right that they were intending to use you as an example, the same way the White House tried to use Valerie Plame as a means of making an example of Joe Wilson. In both cases such a course of action is despicable.

Fortunately sunlight is the best disinfectant, and so long as we have access to fora such as dailykos, there will be those of us who will attempt to ensure that it shines on such attempts to silence critics.


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