After January 26, What Now?
By Class Struggle Education Workers/UFT
Audience protests Klein's Panel of Education Puppets at 26
January 2010 public hearing on school closings. Well over
2,000 came out. Their voices were ignored. (Internationalist photo)
January 2010 public hearing on school closings. Well over
2,000 came out. Their voices were ignored. (Internationalist photo)
Tuesday, January 26, was D-Day for the battle over the raft of school closings decreed by the New York City Department of Education last December. The outcome was never in doubt: no matter how much outcry there was, Mayor Michael Bloomberg would ram through his decision to shut down a score of schools, including some of the city’s largest high schools, that the DOE had labeled “failing.” After all, a majority of the members of the Panel for Educational Policy (8 out of 13) are mayoral appointees, and as Bloomberg showed before (over 3rd grade tests) he will simply discard any of his flunkeys who doesn’t toe the line. But there was an outcry, and it was loud, boisterous and big, with hundreds of parents, students and teachers, heavily minority. They were heard ... and ignored. The question now is: Where do we go from here? Is the battle over? Hardly, because the privatizers and corporatizers will keep up their attack until they destroy the teachers unions and gut public education – or are themselves defeated. So how do we fight against the implacable enemies of public education who are running the schools?
The public hearing by the PEP was required by law, otherwise schools chancellor Joel Klein would just have ordered the closings, as he has done to 91 schools in the past. Prior to the hearing the United Federation of Teachers called a demonstration outside, where the union tops offered a platform to Democratic Party politicians to spout off. But the big show was inside Brooklyn Technical High School where an angry crowd of well over 2,000 filled the auditorium. The audience frequently jumped to its feet, booed Klein and denounced the panel. Several schools on the hit list sent big delegations of students, notably from Paul Robeson, Columbus, Jamaica and Maxwell high schools. The meeting continued until after 3 a.m. as more than 350 people signed up to speak But despite the fact that only a couple of speakers supported the closures (and were roundly booed), the PEP voted 9 to 4 to close 19 schools. The member from Staten Island (where no schools are slated to close) voted with the mayor’s appointees (who refused to speak in favor of the closures), while the reps of the borough presidents of the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens voted against. Their toothless “opposition” meant nothing.
Supporters of Class Struggle Education Workers joined actively in the protest. We had called last December for a union-led citywide mobilization against the school closings. We attended protests at Maxwell, Robeson, Columbus and Norman Thomas HS, and spoke at several of the school hearings. On January 26 more than 500 copies of a special issue of The Internationalist newspaper were sold with a back page article reprinting a CSEW leaflet under the title “Stop Racist School Closings.” We distributed several dozen signs with the same appeal, and another saying: “Charter School Invasion = Educational Colonialism.” Inside, the PEP put a whole slew of elected officials and community school board members ahead of the public. After three hours or so, a supporter of the CSEW was able to speak, saying that the closings reflected a policy of “racism and classism.” Our spokesman noted that while in 1968 the rulers were able to divide black people and teachers, Bloomberg had brought us back together by attacking teachers and minority students and parents simultaneously.
The racist character of the whole charade was underscored when the PEP chairman turned off the microphone on Annie Martin, president of the NYC chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). There were a hundred or more cops inside the meeting, policing the aisles (and even the bathrooms). Even the “community affairs” police were ostentatiously armed, and as the meeting was drawing to a close the cops lined up in front of the stage to “serve and protect” the PEP, presumably against a “riot” by the mostly black parents and students. Scores of black, Latino and white students argued powerfully of their anger at being labeled “failing,” some staying late into the night to testify. Several spoke of the education they were receiving at the meeting of “democracy” in action. And then the panel of puppets cast their votes with the predicted result and the event was over.
But the fight goes on. Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News (27 January) wrote that “the tide is turning on the Bloomberg school reforms.” If so, it hasn’t yet stopped or even slowed down the mayor and his chancellor. In the last couple of weeks they have ordered tenure decisions to be linked to student test scores and are now publicly demanding layoffs according to “merit” (meaning whoever the principal likes), firing “excessed” teachers if after four months they haven’t gotten a new position, suspending without pay any teacher brought up on charges, and a host of other demands that taken together would spell the end of the union. Teachers would then have no protection against the arbitrary, capricious and corrupt actions of the masters of the city school system.
Meanwhile, the capitalist education “reformers” are pushing their plans to privatize public education via “charter schools” funded by tax dollars, many of them for-profit businesses and quite a few controlled by hedge fund billionaires. What’s left is to be corporatized, with vendors milking the $750 billion education “industry” like a cash cow. The rulers would like to end secondary education for most students at the tenth grade, after which they would be shunted into stripped-down vocational programs or pushed out altogether, while a minority would be allowed to finish high school and enter college. This is the explicit program put forward by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, one of whose members is Joel Klein, sponsored by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a Clinton-era think tank. Who would be excluded? Just look at the figures and do the math. While three quarters of city school students are presently black or Latino, only 15 percent in the elite high schools are.
Ruling Class Ed “Reform” = Educational Colonialism and Union-Busting
Earlier this month, the Amsterdam News (4 February), New York’s premier black newspaper, headlined starkly: “EDUCATION WAR.” That is what’s posed, and not just in NYC. Locally the UFT, along with the NAACP, the Alliance for Quality Education, the Manhattan Borough president, several city councilmen and state legislators, parents and members of the community have filed a joint lawsuit against the school closings, charging that the DOE “studiously ignored” the school governance law requiring it to analyze the impact on the 13,000 students affected, on special needs students and on the already overcrowded nearby schools. It calls on the courts to overturn the ruling of the PEP which “unlawfully rubber-stamped” the closings. Councilman Robert Jackson (Democrat) said that “DOE did not play by the rules in this game.” When does it ever? In the off chance a judge agrees with the plaintiffs, it could perhaps gain a little time until Klein’s minions produce the required analysis. But remember that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity actually won a suit requiring the city to spend millions to lower class sizes in high needs schools, yet the DOE has simply ignored the law and used the money for other purposes while class sizes soar. The issue here is not technicalities or legalities but raw class power.
Last year the UFT and parents went to court to stop the closing of PS 241 and PS 194 in Harlem (to make room for Eva Moskowitz’ Harlem Success Academy charter) and PS 150 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. In the face of the court suit – and because teachers, students and parents mobilized – the DOE backed down. (Despite the claim they were “failing” schools, all three got an “A” rating on the rigged progress reports for 2009.) But Klein & Co. continued to phase out the middle school at 241, and left Moskowitz’ HSA inside PS 123, where this yuppie capitalist politician and edubusiness profiteer grabbed more space last summer. The on-going saga of the struggle by parents and teachers at PS 15 in Red Hook against the PAVE Academy funded by billionaire hedge fund scion Spencer Robertson is another case where the DOE keeps pushing. Fighting on a school-by-school basis cannot win in the ongoing space wars between public schools and private charters.
Relying on the capitalist courts is no program – much less a strategy – to defeat the bourgeois education “reformers” who enjoy the bipartisan support of the partner parties of capital. But you can fight City Hall – with an independent citywide mobilization of union power, led by the UFT, together with the black, Latino and working-class white students and parents who are being victimized by the billionaire mayor’s school closing craze.
The hundreds of students, parents and teachers from the affected schools who attended the January 26 PEP meeting were eager to fight back. Yet the sellout leadership of the United Federation of Teachers, which reluctantly called a demo on January 26 and didn’t even call to stop school closings (saying only that they are “not the answer”), hasn’t lifted a finger since then to bring the overwhelming opposition to school closings in the NYC into the streets to shut down DOE headquarters at Boss Tweed Courthouse and to surround City Hall. Nor has the reformist opposition (ICE, TJC, GEM) done anything of the sort. After a successful protest outside Bloomberg’s Upper East Side mansion, it has at most joined in localized protests and instead is concentrating on the upcoming union election. There may be a showdown with Bloomberg/Klein’s pro-charter school rent-a-crowd at the PEP meeting February 24. But where is the effort to bring out hundreds from Jamaica, Maxwell, Columbus, Norman Thomas, Paul Robeson and other affected schools? The labor fakers and would-be militant opposition have let the energy shown on January 26 dissipate.
At bottom, the reason for this passivity is political. Listening to UFT officialdom and the official opposition, you would think that the push for charter schools and closing schools was all the handiwork of Bloomberg/Klein. Yet they all know, although they barely mention it as an aside, that this drive comes right from the top, from leading capitalists like Bill Gates, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and from Democratic president Barack Obama. Obama is the product of elite private schools, and as for his education secretary: “Arne Duncan was a favorite of the business elite during his seven-year tenure heading the Chicago Public Schools” (Chicago Tribune, 6 July 2009). This is the guy who outrageously says that “The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina” (ABC News, 29 January), because it let them close public schools and replace them with charters.
The pro-capitalist union tops (both of the UFT’s American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association) went all out for Obama, and most teacher union oppositionists around the country either openly or tacitly supported the Democratic candidate against Republican John McCain. But while McCain used the unions as a punching bag and Obama posed as the teachers’ friend, they had virtually identical education programs: charter schools, school closings, high stakes testing, “merit pay,” getting rid of teacher tenure. Union leaders and dissidents all knew it, yet they went with the flow. The fact is, Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” scam is no less a capitalist attack on public education than the infamous “No Child Left Behind” law of George W. Bush (and liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy). But teachers unionists have trouble fighting it – because the attack is coming from “their guy” who was really Wall Street’s guy.
Class Struggle Education workers told the truth (see “No to Teacher-Basher McCain and Education-for-War Obama,” The Internationalist special supplement, November 2009). While the election of a black president marked a significant social change in this country founded on chattel slavery, followed by three-quarters of a century of Jim Crow segregation, politically Obama was just an attempt to improve the image of U.S. imperialism. The CSEW called for opposition to both capitalist parties of imperialist war, who shoveled trillions into the Wall Street vaults to prop up the tottering banks and investment houses, and that are now claiming that they will “have no choice” but to lay off tens of thousands of teachers next school year (on top of the 60,000 fired this year). We called for a class-struggle workers party to fight the privatization drive – rather than corporate fake “reform,” the CSEW said what’s needed is an education revolution, carried out by a workers government. And today we say that the fight to defeat school closings can be won, by an independent class mobilization that doesn’t hesitate to take on the forces behind the war on public education, from the White House to the State House to City Hall.