For Teacher-Student-Worker-Parent Control of the Schools!
NYC Department of Education:
Corporatization, Repression and Union-Busting
funny? NYC mayor Bloomberg and schools chancellor Klein (right,
at Far Rockaway High School, January 2005) push corporate school “reform,” a wrecking job on public education.
Since taking control of the New York City schools five years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his factotum Joel Klein have relentlessly pursued an agenda of corporatization of public education. This has meant top-down control by managers with little or no educational experience or knowledge; multi-million-dollar contracts for educational entrepreneurs and corporate services vendors; bullying police presence in and around the schools, including beatings and arbitrary arrests of students and teachers; massive and escalating testing, including “high stakes” tests victimizing poor, minority and immigrant students; the wholesale elimination of bilingual schools and failure to service English language learners in small schools (in a city where more than half the students come from immigrant families); the destruction of arts and music education programs; punitive measures including holding back thousands of students rather than providing more resources; forcing out tens of thousands of students every year, producing illusory statistical gains in test scores; the gutting of teachers’ seniority and tenure rights; and no discernable improvement in educational achievement.
Now the Department of Education is in the throes of its third reorganization under mayoral control, throwing the system into utter chaos. Bloomberg/Klein call their program “Children First,” like George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law. This is just a cover for attacking teachers unions, and blaming educators for the mess created by administrators and capitalist politicians. They like to go after faceless bureaucrats, as when former mayor Rudy Giuliani threatened to “blow up” the “Kremlin” at 110 Livingston. But far from cutting down on wasteful bureaucracy, Bloomberg/Klein have greatly expanded it, adding four and five principals in a single building, plus assistant principals and other administrative personnel to administer their multiple small schools housed in the buildings of former large high schools. An army of highly paid private sector “consultants” is brought in for greater “efficiency” and end up producing fiascos like last winter’s school bus disaster. Parents have been shoved out the door as the (often corrupt) community boards were shut down. The 1.1 million school children and 110,000 active teachers, plus tens of thousands of other personnel pay the price.
This onslaught has been facilitated by the repeated capitulation by the leadership of the United Federation of Teachers under Randi Weingarten. Banking on the UFT’s legendary ability to weather the endless administrative “reforms” imposed by each new management “team” at the Board of Ed and now Department of Ed, Weingarten has gone along with every new scheme in exchange for wage increases that still leave New York City teachers far below pay scales in neighboring suburban districts. This “strategy” of passive resistance has played itself out as the DOE has now created a huge financial incentive for principals to get rid of veteran (“high price”) teachers and replace them with inexperienced (and much cheaper) new hires. In some districts up to 50 percent of teachers will be forced out of their jobs in a “reregistration,” and many will end up as permanent substitutes. All this has only weakened the union, leaving it unprepared for the inevitable fight for its existence and to defend teachers and students against the capitalist overseers of “public” education. Instead of coyly hinting about the possibility of a strike, the union should be girding for all-out class battle alongside other key municipal unions, such as transit workers.
This means first of all defending the countless students victimized by racist cop repression in the schools. A couple of weeks ago, 30 students from Bushwick Community HS in Brooklyn were arrested in mass and held for 48 hours by the NYPD as they were going to the wake of a friend. The cops claimed they were engaged in “gang activity” even though several had notes from the principal excusing their absence. Then last week, police descended on Middle School 54 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, seizing more than 400 cellphones out of a student population of 900, managing to infuriate white middle class parents whose kids got a taste of the heavy-handed tactics the cops routinely mete out to black, Latino, Asian and other minority students. These are not isolated incidents, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has pointed out in several recent articles. A study by the New York Civil Liberties Union and its ACLU parent, Criminalizing the Classroom (March 2007), recounted the case of a math teacher at the Urban Assembly Academy in Washington Heights, Adhim Deveaux, who objected last October when he saw cops slam one of his students against a car:
“In response, the police officer hit and then shoved Mr. Deveaux. Students and staff yelled, ‘He’s a teacher, he’s a teacher.’ Another officer then grabbed Mr. Deveaux from behind and slammed him onto the sidewalk, where his head hit the pavement, causing injury.”
The UFT must demand the immediate removal of all police from the schools and an end to the “racial profiling” of minority students and youth. More than a half million people were stopped and searched by the NYPD last year, almost 1,400 a day, and far from being “random” more than half of those stopped were black. The union should demonstratively mobilize its membership in defense of the students at Bushwick Community High when their case is heard, and join with other New York City unions in a labor mobilization against racist cop attacks. The UFT should also come out in force against the arrest and deportation of NYC residents, including students, by the ICE immigration police, who have been intensifying their raids around the country in recent months. In some cases such police-state actions can be blocked by workers action if sufficient numbers turn out.
The union must also act to restore tenure and seniority rights that Weingarten & Co. bargained away in the last contract. The UFT membership must insist that any teacher “excessed” by a school be immediately given a new assignment. In the future, the union should demand that hiring of teachers be done by the union itself, and neither the school principal nor the DOE tops at Tweed must be allowed to block hiring or remove teachers at their discretion. The contracts with private sector vendors and “partners” should be canceled. And to put a stop to the destructive disorganization by the parasitic honchos at the Department of Education, under the aegis of mayoral control, we call for the DOE itself to be abolished. New York City schools should be run by elected collegial bodies of teachers, students, workers and parents, to whom all administrators would be responsible and which could remove such officials at any time.
This is the democratic educational system that was implemented in the early years of the Soviet Union, to the applause of many educational reformers in the United States who for the first time saw their proposals put into action on a large scale. Matters such as school discipline were placed in the hands of councils of older students, and decisions concerning academic programs and initiatives were resolved on a truly democratic basis by the teacher-student-worker-parent councils. It is striking that in the United States today, which claims to be “democratic,” public schools are subjected to dictatorial control by capitalist politicians and billionaires like Bloomberg (and his allies like Microsoft’s Bill Gates).
Today the ruling class seeks to reorder educational priorities to serve their profits (lower costs, eliminate “optional” programs and train workers for their employment needs, while outsourcing as much as possible to private companies). This includes both Republicans and Democrats, such as former Wal-Mart board member and Iraq war backer Hilary Clinton, who have been in the forefront of the drive to mould public education to corporate needs, as well as New York governor Eliot Spitzer who as attorney general slapped a Taylor Law injunction and million-dollar fines on Transport Workers Union Local 100 for its powerful December 2005 strike that brought NYC to a standstill. Tomorrow, these Democrats will use the strikebreaking, union-busting laws against a teachers strike. We need a class-struggle workers party!
A key component of the “No Child Left Behind” law is to regiment the population for war, requiring schools to hand over information about their students to the Pentagon. We are not educating young people to be “cannon fodder” for imperialist war. The union should demand: No military recruiters in the schools, and no student information be released to the military. It is necessary to defeat the imperialist war abroad and the bosses’ war on working people, minorities and immigrants “at home.” But no real educational reform in the interests of the working people, the poor, minority and immigrant population is possible in the context of decaying capitalism, where everything from workers pensions to wages and working conditions are under sustained attack. It will take nothing less than a socialist revolution to make high quality, free public education a right for all, from pre-kindergarten to university, and create an education system that will allow the creative capacity of those who produce the wealth to flower. n
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