What Kind of Tree is Education?

Michael_Bloomberg_splotchedRecently Mayor Bloomberg, in a move that is being blasted all over NPR and the blogosphere, lost $240 million for NYC public schools, by rejecting the United Federation of Teachers 2-year concession to his proposal for permanent performance evaluations for teachers. In typical Bloomberg style, he dug his heels in deep, canceled on mediations, and minced no words as he lambasted the Union as well as the leaders in Albany.

So what does Mr. Bloomberg teach us?

As the unabashed tsar of NYC’s education department, Bloomberg illustrates exactly why the mantra of current education reform, “our public schools are failing,” may actually be true. Rigor. Rigidity. Inflexibility.

In this move to prove a point against the UFT (which last month he likened to the NRA), Bloomberg is literally cutting his nose off to spite his face. But why? “We’d be better off finding a way without the money from the state and not compromising on an evaluation system that was a fraud,” he answers.

I see this principled, uncompromising stance toward education, and thus the lives of children, as the force behind the estrangement of teachers, students and parents. If you talk with those who recoil at the standards movement and the changes started by No Child Left Behind and continued by the Race to the Top, their biggest complaint seems to be that there seems to be less and less room for creativity and flexibility.

An old adage says that the tree that does not bend with the wind breaks. Any good teacher carries that with them in their toolbox. And as in nature, or in the classroom, or in life, it is our ability to adapt, to bend, to flow that makes possibilities possible.

And yet we wonder why, as a nation, we are falling behind to the innovators of the rest of the world and look to the data for answers. But innovation does not exist in math scores, or teacher evaluations, because innovation is dead in a world where the boundaries constrict us. Innovation thrives when our worldview moves with the world.

During his trip to Albany, Mr. Bloomberg did say something I agree with, “Money is not the answer to everything.” And I want to be clear that his failure here has little to do with money. Instead, his inability to come to a compromise with the workforce that day in and day out spends more time with his city’s children then anyone else, illustrates exactly why our education system is broken. And like the tree that tries to stand straight in the wind, the force of nature will render it irrelevant, that is until it is used for firewood.

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One Comment on “What Kind of Tree is Education?”

  1. Barbara Tringali says:

    From the very beginning, after seizing control of the budget and establishing the DOE, Mr. Bloomberg has had an uneasy time trusting his teachers and not lumping them all in the category of “irresponsible and ineffective”. He is furious that he has been unable to get rid of “the older teachers who are not good” in favor of “the newer, younger, good (and cheap) teachers”. He did say that verbatim,,, except for the cheap part. He knows zilch about education, and we hope he goes away. But the evil fraud, Michelle Rhee (1 and 1/2 years in the classroom, record expunged) and Joel Klein hover around to take our tax money for their non-profits that hire “non traditional” teachers. These ideologue teachers who think that the union is the problem will soon find out why a union was necessary in the first place.


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