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He's back

New York Teacher

Michael Bloomberg has decided he is the candidate who can beat Donald Trump in 2020. Of course, any billionaire can run for president and promise the moon. But Bloomberg actually has a record as an elected official to run on. For public school communities, it’s not a record to be proud of.

Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor of New York City, from 2002 to 2013, left a lot of wreckage in its wake. Under his regime, dozens of large schools were closed, the neediest students became concentrated in a small number of troubled schools, and money was diverted to charter schools with no transparency or accountability. Despite an economic boom, Bloomberg failed to give public schools and public school students the support they needed.

Bloomberg embedded in the city’s education bureaucracy noneducators with a deep disdain for the work of public school teachers. Joel Klein, a lawyer with none of the education credentials usually required for the post, was Bloomberg’s choice for chancellor. Schools received report cards, graded A–F, a simplistic and insulting grading system that stigmatized schools with multiple challenges and scant resources. After Klein, Bloomberg once again turned to a noneducator: Cathie Black, a Hearst magazine executive who was woefully ill-matched to the challenges of being chancellor. Black, in a meeting with parents, jokingly suggested birth control as the solution to school overcrowding. She was gone after 95 days.

In the Bloomberg era, public school educators felt disrespected and demoralized and students were shortchanged by a system that was test-obsessed and data-driven. In a UFT survey of teachers conducted as the Bloomberg years came to an end, members said he had made their jobs “intolerable.” Many left the system rather than stay under his regime. A Quinnipiac poll near the end of Bloomberg’s tenure showed parents disapproved of his handling of public schools and trusted the UFT on education issues much more than they trusted the mayor.

Outside the schoolroom, Bloomberg’s legacy will forever be linked with stop-and-frisk, which targeted African-American and Latino communities, and with rezoning that pushed once-affordable neighborhoods out of the reach of working families. Homelessness began to soar.

Bloomberg is spinning his record furiously, trying to make his case for 2020. It’s up to those of us who remember the truth of what happened during his mayoralty to set the record straight.