Vehement criticism of Mayor Bloomberg’s educational policies, from his release of thousands of teacher evaluations to closing large neighborhood schools, flowed freely at a forum in Jackson Heights last week, when hundreds of people packed the auditorium at PS 69 to listen to United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and Councilman Danny Dromm slam the city’s leader for what they said amounted to the destruction of public education.
“Wherever I go in this city, it’s always the same thing —communities are very upset that parents don’t have a voice anymore,” Mulgrew said at last Wednesday’s forum, which Dromm sponsored. “That’s something that needs to be fixed. When you push parents out of the educational process, you’re damaging the schools.”
As always, Mulgrew had harsh words for the mayor, but his vitriol seemed particularly heavy when discussing the city’s recent release of controversial teacher data reports.
Mulgrew said it has been “demoralizing” for the city to release the rankings for 18,000 public school teachers last week.
The city Department of Education released what are known as teacher data reports — assessments of math and reading instructors on their students’ progress on standardized tests from 2008 to 2010 — after a number of news organizations sued the city for access to the information
“They didn’t have to release this data,” Mulgrew said. “We have years and years of freedom of information requests into them, and they never even respond to us.”
After the teacher reports were released, which schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott cautioned are “only a part of the picture,” Mulgrew said teachers who scored poorly have been harassed by members of the media. For example, he said reporters showed up at one teacher’s parents’ house, and spent much of the weekend outside her home.
“This is a teacher who had chosen to teach special education English Language Learners, one of the most challenging groups to teach,” Mulgrew said of the teacher who received one of the worst scores from the city. “She’s an amazing woman. On Tuesday I got to walk into school with her, and we walked into the library and she received a standing ovation from everyone at the school.”
Mulgrew also criticized Bloomberg’s plan to close 33 schools in the city, including eight in Queens, and said the union would not shy away from filing a lawsuit to stop it.
When the city in 2010 proposed closing 19 schools, the UFT and NAACP filed a lawsuit and stopped the city from being able to shutter the institutions that year.
“We’ll look to take any legal recourse that we can,” Mulgrew said following the forum.
Dromm too had harsh words for the mayor and his administration — and his criticism even brought the audience to a standing ovation. The councilman, who had been a public school teacher for 25 years before he was elected to office, said the city needed to release its grip on standardized testing.
“The focus on testing is madness,” Dromm said. “We don’t need to create another generation of robots who only know how to fill in a bubble.”
Dromm urged the city to decrease class sizes — a suggestion that brought thunderous applause from audience members — and increase accessibility to early childhood education.
Audience members said they were pleased to get a chance to interact with Mulgrew, who noted that a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 69 percent of public school parents said they trust the teachers’ union. Twenty-two percent of the same parents said they trust the mayor.
The same poll found that 56 percent of city voters, not just parents, said they place more trust in the teachers’ union to advocate for students, compared to 31 percent who said they have greater faith in Bloomberg.
“All the mayor sees is business, and all a child learns anymore is testing,” said Sandra Rivera, who attended the forum with her daughter, Kassandra Rivera, a 10-year-old student who asked Mulgrew during the forum if she “has a future” in the city’s education system.