Yes. They may cry a little bit. But children in the third grade cry a lot, and it’s part of the growing up. – Mayor Bloomberg, Daily News, March 18
This [is] only becoming a conversation between the mayor and the mayor. – Rudy Crew, former New York City schools chancellor, The New York Times, March 22
Research has shown that learning to read before third grade is essential to reading to learn after grade three. . . . If a child leaves kindergarten unable to decode the English language, a potential problem has just been promoted. – Alfred Sikes, chairman, the READ Foundation, The New York Sun, March 22
In any city or town, the most important continuing newspaper beat is the public school system. In New York, Carl Campanile of the New York Post leads his competitors on breaking stories. The Daily News and, increasingly, Newsday are useful. At the Times, on Wednesdays, in the Metro Section, Michael Winerip sets the standard for in-depth local and national reporting.
The New York Sun is necessary reading on education, particularly columnist Andrew Wolf; but the editorial writers, fixated on vouchers as the Holy Grail, sometimes lose their way—as in the dumb March 17 headline “Bloomberg’s Finest Hour,” on the mayor’s firing of subversive independents on the Panel for Educational Policy.
On the Sun‘s news side, however, Julia Levy broke a March 24 front-page story, “Secret Panel Is Developing a Program for 15,000 Pupils Who Fail 3rd Grade.” The lead paragraph should be tucked away by any of the contenders for the mayoralty next year when Bloomberg trumpets his open “accountability” for the schools.
According to Levy, “The Department of Education has convened a new secret society—with a private agenda and anonymous members—to develop an ‘appropriate’ program for the city’s 15,000 failing third graders.”
Levy noted that on March 22, “the Department of Education told the City Council it has ‘convened a team of instructional experts to develop the appropriate program for these students.’ Yesterday, the department was tight-lipped about the team members, the game plan, and the meeting schedule.”
Chancellor Klein and the mayor appear to be oblivious to the growing concern of the city’s parents of third-graders. Their children are in a state of high anxiety, as Adam Miller reported in a powerful March 28 New York Post story, “A Third Grade in Trauma.” He quotes Jane Hirschmann, founder of the Parents Coalition to End High-Stakes Testing:
“Kids who have asthma are having more attacks. . . . We’re hearing of kids with . . . sleep disturbances. It’s very sad. They don’t like school anymore.” But what the hell, as the mayor said, third-graders cry a lot anyway.
However, as their parents are kept in the dark, Julia Levy reports that the secret team of experts, “assembled in response to [the] backlash to Mayor Bloomberg’s political tactics and educational policy . . . is expected to work quickly implementing its plan by the end of the school year.”
It will send up smoke signals when the plan is in place.
Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has called for $300 million in a budget proposal that—as the March 30 Daily News reported—would, among other things, “boost funding to pre-kindergarten programs and reduce class size through third grade.”
As Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz—chairwoman of the education committee—says, with her customary incisiveness, “My view of the mayor’s plan [third-grade retention] is that it’s too little, too late. Ours is ‘Start at the beginning.’ . . . There is particular enthusiasm for coming up with strategies that give kids a fighting chance earlier on.” She added that the Bloomberg-Klein plan “isn’t going to work.”
Eva Moskowitz has continually worked to pierce this city’s authoritarian educational “leadership.” In November, for example, she held extensive City Council hearings on the contractual work rules for teachers, principals, and custodians. Calling some of the rules “ridiculous,” she told Carl Campanile that “school staffers agreed to interviews only in confidence, out of fear of repercussions from unions or their bosses at the Department of Education.” A new mayor should appoint her chancellor.
As for the present incumbent, Joel Klein told Robert Kolker in the March 22 New York magazine—after Diana Lam was fired for nepotism—that Lam “was a sound educator and I have confidence in her educational judgments.” That’s why Lam’s muddled “reforms” remain in place.
Before he hired Lam, did Klein know anything about her controversial tenures including educational programs in Chelsea, Massachusetts; Dubuque, Iowa; San Antonio, Texas; and Providence, Rhode Island?
“No,” Klein told Robert Kolker.
And the mayor hired Klein!
So, the high-handedness, secrecy, and the climate of fear in the ranks that have defined the Bloomberg-Klein regime go on. But the mayor has cannily tried to sidestep his critics.
On April 1, Bloomberg, following the City Council’s lead, told the governor that the city needs millions more for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, and to reduce class sizes. This is a dream demand in view of the minefields in Albany. Anyway, it’s too late for at least 15,000 third-graders he will hold back with hasty, inadequate interventions. For what he could do now, see Randi Weingarten’s inventive “Conditional” fourth-grade plan in the April 5 New York Observer‘s UFT ad (page 5). More in a later column. Meanwhile, the third-graders are crying louder than ever, but the mayor and the chancellor don’t hear them.
Correction: In the print edition of this column, Robert Kolker’s name appeared incorrectly. The Voice regrets the error.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 6, 2004