The first mayor to achieve control after the Board of Education was abolished, Bloomberg set out to become "the education mayor." He pledged it would define his mayoralty, much as crime reduction defined Rudy Giuliani's.
It hasn't worked out that way. The mayor's clumsy handling of the replacement of Joel Klein merely crystallized growing public disenchantment, captured in a recent Quinnipiac poll. By a whopping 64-25 percent, voters don't like Bloomy's management of the schools. Among parents, only 20 percent approve, while 78 percent disapprove.
Overall, by 57 to 23 percent, New Yorkers say his takeover of the schools has been a failure.
Public opinion can be fickle, but it's hard to argue with such a lopsided finding, especially when it is driven by parents. There is wide disappointment and a sense of fatigue with endless churning, especially as the budget squeeze forces educrats to do with slightly less money.
But the elephant in the room is student achievement. While there have been some gains, as a whole, it remains mediocre. Only about half of students in grades 3 through 8 read or do math at grade level.
That's simply not good enough, and the numbers will drop further if state officials raise standards again, as they promised.
Yet broad statistics from 1,700 schools conceal as much as they reveal. There are pockets of true excellence, with schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science among the best in the nation. With Asians making up about 70 percent of their students, these schools are glorious proof the American dream lives.
Many neighborhood schools are fine, if not spectacular. Most teachers and principals are dedicated professionals, and parents of middle-class means and values provide the key link between home and classroom.
Then there's the bottom, a tier that one official candidly said makes up as many as a third of all schools. The children are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, most are from homes headed by single mothers, and the disorder in their lives often overwhelms the benefits of education.
These children are failing in fact, if not in official reports.
Indeed, startling accusations from high-school teachers that principals demand they pass as many as 80 percent of all students, regardless of grades and attendance, get to the heart of concealed failure. It is social promotion without end, a system that routinely passes along 95 percent of students, regardless of merit. It is a sham with lifelong consequences. These kids are unprepared to succeed in the world because they never had to confront their failure.
My friend argues for a return to vocational and commercial education for those with no academic interest or ability. "Teach them how to read, add and subtract and write a letter in English," he says. "They'll learn because the rest of the time they'll be learning something useful and interesting."
"But that's getting ahead of the story," he adds. The first step is for city leaders "to recognize that they can't do what they're trying to do now. The students can't or won't learn what they're being taught and the parents don't help."
I agree. The mayor and Chancellor Dennis Walcott need to take a timeout, one where they face the ugly facts about student achievement.
But I doubt they will. My fear is they are so invested in their claims of success that they cannot admit the truth of failure.
I'll have more on this later, but coming from former Bloomberg shill Michael Goodwin, this column is quite a shot across the Bloomberg school reform ship bow.