Brill vs. the UFT -- Part II
May 19th, 2010
Steven Brill, who took on New York City’s “rubber rooms” in a controversial article in the New Yorker last summer continues his attack on the teachers union in The Teachers’ Union’s Last Stand in the upcoming Times magazine. It sounds many of the same themes as the New Yorker article: blaming unions for what’s wrong with education, crediting Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (referred to as a “patron saint” of reformers this time around) for what’s right, and taking Klein et al’s positions on key issues from teacher compensation to charter schools.
And, as in the previous instance, it can also mean playing fast and loose with the facts. While saying Harlem Success charter serves the same community as P.S. 149, Brill does not look into complaints that charters do not have the same number of challenging students — special ed kids, English language learners and homeless children. He discusses the cost of teachers but conveniently leaves out the cost of administrators, notably Harlem Success’ Eva Moskowitz who makes far more than Klein, and of private management companies. (For a more balanced look at some of these issues, see the recent profile of Moskowitz in New York Magazine.)
And for someone who once made significant contributions to journalism, he fails to follow the basics. He quotes United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew as saying teachers should not be fired at the whim of their supervisors because “teachers are just different” but then does not follow up with the obvious question: Ok, why are they different?
He lauds Klein but notes that only about half of the third graders at P,S. 149, donít read at grade level. From this he segues into a discussion of public school etcher pension costs. Are we really to believe kids at P.S. 149 have problems reading because their teachers are in line for healthy union pensions? Does Klein, after almost eight years of running the school system, have any responsibility for this?
There is no indication Brill spoke with independent critics of charters schools (yes they exist), such as Diane Ravitch or Margaret Raymond, the Stanford professor whose study determined that nationally students at traditional public schools outperform those at charters. (Another Stanford study by Caroline Hoxby, found that in New York City, charter students performed significantly better.)
Brill mentions that the teachers’ union backs anti-charter politicians such as State Sen. Bill Perkins but gives only scant mention (and doesnít name names) to the cadre of hedge fund managers who have lined up to support the pro charter lobbying group, Democrats for Education Reform.
In Brill’s view apparently, the people who oppose charters are self-serving union officials and the politicians they support; the ones supporting them are selfless reformers.
He paraphrases Klein as saying charter schools ” can demonstrate how public schools can be improved,” but does not ask, what if any lessons Klein’s Department of Education has taken from charters and applied to traditional public schools. For example, many charters — contrary to what Brill indicates in his story — have smaller class sizes, a change Klein. has shown little interest in bringing to traditional public schools.
Not surprisingly the piece has already generated buzz, both pro and con. Whitney Tilson, a supporter of and donor to charters and to Democrats for Education Reform, hails the article as “brilliant.” The Quick and the Ed calls it “an excellent primer on the current intersection of politics and education.”
On the other side in a post on NYC Public School Parents, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters slams Brill’s article as “one of the worst instances of journalistic malpractice I have ever read. He managed to interview only the pro-privatization crowd, with the exception of Mulgrew; omitted all mention of controversial co-locations and charter school financial scandals, and failed to mention the ongoing and inexcusable opposition of the charter school lobby to audits from the State Comptroller office.”By Gail Robinson on May 19, 2010, 5:53 pm
In category: Albany, Education, Electoral Politics | 7 Comments »