Today the NY Times, in an article entitled "Student Scores Climb Strongly Across City" by David M. Herszenhorn, trumpets a rise in New York City reading and math tests, which is certain to give current Republican mayor Mike Bloomberg a boost in his upcoming reelection bid, since improving the City's public education has been one of his major platform points. The article actually even attributes the sharp rise among fifth graders' scores to Bloomberg's threat to force fifth graders to repeat the grade (i.e., tough love). Some of his opponents, like Democrats Manhattan Borough President and mayoral candidate C. Virginia Fields and City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, as well as educational specialists, have unsurprisingly and rightly asked that before anyone declares success, there needs to be more study and contextualization of the results. According the Times, there are questions about whether the tests were easier this year, and also about the excessive emphasis on preparation i testing in these subjects to the detriment of others. But what do New York City teachers think?
I'm not sure--I know a few, and intend to ask them--but I did participate briefly in a United Federation of Teachers protest march westward on 14th Street and then up 6th Avenue. The union, a local of the New York State United Teachers, is seeking a new and fair contract from the Schools Commissioner Joel Klein and the mayor, and have taken out subway ads and TV commercials to bolster their cause. They've gone without a contract for over two years. Although I haven't taught in a New York City public school since 1996, my heart lies with the teachers, who do a yeoman's job, often working long hours, dealing with an inflexible bureaucracy and unsympathetic administrators, and usually with minimal support and respect (cf. Ms. Soucouyant's blog and Mrs. Treasure's Feeding the Devil, for example). My participation was impromptu; I was coming out of 24/7 Gym after renewing for the summer when I noticed the vanguard of the marchers, placards and banners in hand, their chants filling the air like incense. A cordon of policepersons on foot and bikes bordered them on the roadway side of the pavement. I stood for a moment considering whether I wanted to go straight to the PATH or join them, and decided to walk with them in solidarity. Workers--and teachers of the world--unite! (I'm a faculty member at a private institution that doesn't have a teachers' union.) I walked part of the way up 6th Avenue with them, then turned around and doubled back to my underground shuttle to New Jersey.
When I got home, I checked the online papers; no mention of the march whatsoever. I saw nothing on the local news either. And even on the New York State teachers Website and on the United Federation of Teachers Website, there's no information about the march. But I did witness and photograph (two blurry snapshots, with my cellphone, above and below) and join the marchers, so I know they weren't a phantasm. Even if the possibility of a new and decent contract for them remains one.