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, dont 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 doesnt 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 on May 19, 2010, 5:53 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Electoral Politics | 7 Comments »

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7 Responses to “Brill vs. the UFT -- Part II”

  1. CarolineSF Says:
    May 19th, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    A point of correction: Margaret Raymond is NOT a critic of charter schools. She’s part of an organization, the Hoover Institution, that promotes privatization and free-market education “solutions,” including charter schools, as part of its mission. That’s why it was so significant that her study found that charter schools overall are less successful than regular public schools. It is to her credit, and/or her organizations’ credit, that they didn’t suppress the study, though we don’t know what back-and-forth may have gone on in the process.

  2. Gail Robinson Says:
    May 20th, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Point well taken. Thanks!

  3. Larry Littlefield Says:
    May 20th, 2010 at 10:44 am

    My prediction — in three years no one will be talking about these issues, as soaring retirement costs gut public education. For the second time in NYC, but for the first time in many places.

    You’ll see the “you pretend to work and we’ll pretend to pay you” deals that proliferated in NYC after the 1970s replicated. The lower pay and benefits will be concentrated on new hires; the diminished expectations will be for all.

  4. John Krinsky Says:
    May 20th, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks Ms. Robinson for this.

    It’s also disturbing to me that somehow people think that teachers–or anyone with a decent pension–are getting more than they deserve. Teachers have an extremely tough job, and many do it fantastically well, amid considerable challenges. My kids are in public school, and almost all their teachers are wonderful. Even those who aren’t utterly inspiring don’t deserve to be treated with anything less than dignity at work, and certainly don’t deserve to become aged in poverty.

  5. Larry Littlefield Says:
    May 21st, 2010 at 8:59 am

    One year in retirement, tax free, for each year worked is not a decent pension.

    Not when the majority of workers have nothing coming to them other than Social Security at age 67, and may not even get that.

    Younger generations will in fact be aged in poverty as a result of Generation Greed. The 25/55 pension deal in 2008 was the last straw in the case of the NYC schools.

  6. redbluemoon Says:
    November 14th, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Brilliant analysis and indictment!

  7. Sybil Featherstone Says:
    February 24th, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Superb blog post, I accept book apparent this internet website so alluringly I’ll see abundant added on this accountable in the accountable future!

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