Billy Wharton, November 20th, 2010 3:30 pm ET
Bloomberg’s bypassing of democratic norms such as public hearings, town hall meetings or a transparent selection process allowed the charter school owners to appear as authoritative sources in the realm of public opinion. This was, however, something more like an echo chamber since the charters were in on the Cathie Black appointment from day one.
The Charter Schools Speak!
Chief among the charter spokespeople is Deborah Kenny, the founder and CEO of the Harlem Village Academies. Kenny squared off with New York Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio on the popular FOX morning show Good Day New York after Bloomberg announced the Black appointment.
DeBlasio made the rather tepid demand that a public hearing be held where Black could lay out her vision for the school system and take questions from opponents. Kenny wasn’t having it.
She called the proposals that Black have a background in education “extremely disrespectful to teachers” who, she argued, didn’t need pedagogical direction from above. In addition, a hearing, “takes us back into the Dark Ages” before Mayoral control where everyone had an opinion, but nothing was done. Kenny described Black as “an excellent leader” and emphatically stated that she trusted Bloomberg’s judgment.
Not surprisingly, DeBlasio caved quickly by swearing allegiance to Mayoral control. He then followed this by saying that he himself was not opposed to the Black appointment per se. He just wanted to hear her present her ideas. So much for the opposition.
The FOX News anchor was a bit feistier. He pushed Kenny by indicating that appointees at the Federal level also face public confirmation hearings where they are forced to lay out their plans. A snide smile from Kenny was followed by, “And how much do we get done at the Federal government level?” Sensing he had gone too far out on a liberal branch, the anchor recoiled.
Kenny was successful in tying the appointment to the larger issue of Mayoral control, demonizing an attempt at public accountability and staking her claim as an authority capable of evaluating such an issue.
When the Privatizers Attack!
Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Harlem Success Academy, took a different tact on the Black appoint by choosing to lay out the charter’s vision of the future in print. The debate offered Moskowitz an opportunity for mass ideological education, charter style.
Drawing on claims that presented Black as a “no-nonsense leader” and “bold manager,” Moskowitz presented a “to-do” list in a Daily News op-ed. Top of the list, no surprises here, is “parent choice.” In charter school new-speak this means even more privatization of the public education system by opening up the number of charters that are available.
The second was even more openly ideological with a few dashes of racial overtones thrown in. In Moskowitz’s mind, “middle-class parents” want in on the charter school craze, but these institutions mostly exist in “low-income communities.” Expanding charters is her next step following “our focus on crime in the 1990s made the city more livable.” This could “take city living to the next level.” Presumably, white flighters from the suburbs would roar back into the city once the charter schools clean things up educationally.
The final points on the list involve a direct assault on public schools, public school teachers and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). “Charter schools,” she argued, “need to be treated like the public schools they truly are… [not]… routinely targeted and attacked as private entities.” She called for increased funding per-pupil to make the public and charter schools equivalent, a move that would certainly bankrupt the system and shift the advantages even more in the direction of charters.
Finally, Moskowitz urged Black to confront the UFT. She presented the union contract as serving to, “prevent the city from attracting and retaining talented educators who want schools organized around teaching and learning, not the interests of grownups.” Presumably, grownup interests include trivialities such as healthcare, vacation and job security. Are there any talented educators that are not concerned about these issues?
Autocratic City Hall – Where the Charter Schools Breed
While Moskowitz and Kenny took their conservative message to the masses via the media, Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, worked in place more familiar to charter school owners – the political shadows of City Hall politics. Canada admitted that he was the only “educator” consulted about the Black appointment by Mayor Bloomberg. No surprise since the Mayor recently described Canada as “the most important living New Yorker.”
Despite the revelation, Canada still played it close to the vest in an interview with the New York Times. He refused to relay any details regarding his conversation with the Mayor and towed the company line by saying he was “thrilled” by the choice while deflecting notions that he himself had been a leading candidate.
Then again, Canada has bigger fish to fry then the New York political scene has to offer. He has vaulted himself onto a national stage as a leading voice for “educational reform” in the form of charter school privatization. The heavily pro-charter documentary “Waiting for Superman” has solidified his national profile and open the door for presentations such as recent one made at the US Department of Education.
Tea Partiers in Suits?
Kenny, Moskowitz and Canada are the public faces of a deeply conservative political force in New York City. Flush with funds hijacked from the public sector and skilled at manipulating terms like “reform” and “empowerment,” these are not your Tea Party type conservatives. Nonetheless, the goals seem quite similar – annihilate the public sector, break the strength of unions and exert political authority outside of democratic norms.
They have clearly found a champion in Cathie Black, a corporate manager skilled at asset stripping, downsizing and violating rights on a local and global basis. The social power of the charters has been exercised in her defense.
The hope is that the sheer arrogance of this maneuver by Bloomberg will awaken some spirit of resistance amongst the people of this city who are served by the public schools. If not, the trends toward privatization and autocratic political authority will accelerate, leaving behind students in increasingly desperate need of a good education and a society in equally urgent need of grassroots democratic renewal.
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of theSocialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached email@example.com. Become a FAN on Facebook.
oh yes, and let's add that Michelle Cahill has been brought in to "help" Commissioner Steiner with getting the waiver for Ms. Black so that she can be Chancellor.
Michelle Cahill????? I spoke with her several times when she was General Counsel for the NYC BOE. I tried to get due process rights for several children, both in special education as well as suspended without cause. Ms. Cahill helped the BOE obstruct the justice due these kids quickly.
Vice President, National Program, and Program Director, Urban Education
Michele Cahill is vice-president for national programs and director of urban education at Carnegie Corporation of New York where she leads the Corporation's strategy to meet the twin goals of contributing to societal efforts to create pathways to educational and economic opportunity by generating systemic change across a K-16 continuum, and to create pathways to citizenship, civil participation and civic integration in a pluralistic society.
Prior to rejoining Carnegie Corporation in 2007, she held the position of senior counselor to the chancellor for education policy in the New York City Department of Education under Chancellor Joel Klein. Cahill was a member of the Children First senior leadership team that oversaw and implemented the full-scale reorganization and reform of the New York City public schools. She played a pivotal role in the development of Children First reforms in secondary education, district redesign and accountability, new school development, and student support services. Cahill led a number of research and development projects and co-managed the cross-functional school restructuring processes for four years.
Cahill spent three years with Carnegie Corporation as a senior program officer in the Education Division. She was responsible for the vision and the establishment of Schools for a New Society, the Corporation's seven-city urban school reform experiment, and the New Century High Schools, a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Institute and New Visions for Public Schools.
Cahill has more than thirty years experience in education reform, youth development and urban affairs work. She served as Vice President of the Fund for the City of New York where she developed the Beacons Schools initiative with New York City and as Vice President for Schools and Community Services at the Academy for Educational Development where she led several national demonstration projects with more than 20 urban districts. Cahill spent a decade as the co-founder of the Public Policy Program, a nationally recognized innovative college program for non-traditional students and assistant professor and Director of the Urban Studies Program at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City.
Cahill has a B.A. in Urban Affairs from Saint Peter's College, a Masters of Arts in Urban Affairs from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she pursued doctoral studies in social policy and planning at Columbia University where she was a Revson Fellow.
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