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Mulgrew: Mayor lost in fantasy world

Blasts State of City speech as ‘smokescreen’ to hide failed education policies

“The mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply,” declared UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Mulgrew made the remark in response to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City speech on Jan. 12, where the imperious mayor lashed out at the UFT, proposing merit pay for selected teachers and the rapid removal of teachers deemed “ineffective” while threatening to fire half the staffs in 33 schools receiving federal School Improvement Grant support.

“I can tell you this: we’re not going to wait around while ineffective teachers remain in those 33 schools or in any school. Period,” the mayor said.

Mulgrew said the speech highlighted the astonishing disconnect between the worldview of Bloomberg and the needs of teachers and their students.

“What I saw was a man who was trying to set up a smokescreen about the decade of disaster that he has put upon our city schools,” he said. “He’s trying to start a fight with the UFT, rather than negotiate with us on an evaluation system so that all children will be helped more. He would rather start a fight with us, so that people will stop talking about how bad his legacy has been for the schools during his mayoralty.”

Mulgrew, who attended the speech at the former Morris HS in the Bronx, said that contrary to the mayor’s portrayal of himself as the savior of city schoolchildren, he has “done nothing to enhance teaching and learning — in fact, he closed the ‘teaching and learning’ division at Tweed. He’s turned schools into test-prep factories and he once again wants to close schools rather than take the responsibility to fix them.”

Much of what the mayor proposed in his speech must be negotiated with the union. But a 10-year education record tarnished by low student scores and widespread disaffection among teachers, principals and parents has reduced the mayor’s political capital.

Merit pay, firings

In a line that he knew was sure to grab headlines, the mayor offered to pay teachers rated “highly effective” for two years in a row an extra $20,000 a year as long as the same evaluation system allowed him to quickly fire those at the other end of the rating scale.

Citing a significant body of research, Mulgrew responded, “It doesn’t do the kids and the schools any good for the mayor to propose the kind of teacher merit pay model that has failed in jurisdictions around the country.”

The mayor fumed in his speech that the city hadn’t gotten its way in negotiations over a teacher evaluation system for 33 schools in the restart and transformation models. The DOE walked out of negotiations on Dec. 30, unwilling to consider an appeals process before an independent third party for teachers rated ineffective.

The UFT has asked the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to intervene to force the city back to the table.

In his address, Bloomberg claimed that he could unilaterally transfer the 33 schools into the more Draconian turnaround model and thereby salvage the $30 million in federal funding that the state suspended when negotiations broke down. In that model, the mayor claimed, the city can create school-based committees that would evaluate and replace up to half the teachers.

Mulgrew responded that the mayor did not have the power to impose the turnaround model on the 33 schools without first negotiating with the union.

“If he's really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the bargaining table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process for these schools,” he said.

Charter schools to multiply

The mayor promised over the next two years to open 100 new schools — including 50 more charter schools — many in buildings housing large schools that he is targeting for closure.

Bloomberg said the charter school expansion would be achieved mainly by speeding up the replication of chain-style charters such as KIPP and the Success Academy network that already have a presence in the city.

He announced that another charter operator, Rocketship, which relies heavily on online instruction, has committed to opening schools in New York City, too.

College ready — or not

Responding to the embarrassing findings of state evaluators that fewer than one in four city students graduate prepared for college-level work, Bloomberg said he would compel every public school student to complete new “study lessons and assignments” in math and literacy and show the results to their parents in March.

But the city has made no move to date to develop a sound curriculum or assessments aligned to the new Common Core Learning Standards, leaving it unclear what results he was planning to show parents in March.

The mayor used the speech also to announce plans for a dozen more career and technical education schools even as he ignored current CTE schools that have been asking for support for years.

To the only really sustained applause of his speech, the mayor called for passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to apply for college loans and state scholarships.

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