The following is a guest post by Harris Lirtzman, former Director of Risk Management for the New York City Retirement Systems in the NYC Comptroller's Office from 1996-2002 and former Deputy State Comptroller for Administration from 2003-2007.
The NY Post is having a case of the vapors bad by even Postian
standards (here, here and here). Chalkbeat is in a tizzy. The only
reason that the Daily News isn’t apoplectic is that the Post “owns” the story
about the young woman who claims to have earned a high school degree
without having done anything to “deserve” it. Carmen Farina must be
summarily thrown to the wolves or, better yet, into the nearest volcano,
for presiding over the scandalous practices in her very own schools
that led teachers and administrators to begin “cheating” and “failing”
their students. Thanks to the Post we even know the very minute when
all this nefarious stuff began: 12:00:01 a.m., January 1, 2014—the
millisecond after a Mr. William de Blasio became mayor of New York City
and took control of the City’s school system.
We all have been
told that education reformistas don’t do anything unless it is “data
driven” and informed by “evidence-based practice.” Sadly, the media
outlets that reformistas use to make their case to the public about the
failures of public education, the “monopoly power” of teachers unions
and the awfulness of bad, vampire teachers (“bad” because they belong to
unions and “vampires” because they get health care and pensions) prefer
to panic the public by telling stories using the old propaganda
technique of the “Big Lie.” The “Big Lie” is something so astoundingly
audacious that people believe it when they would dismiss a smaller lie
as foolishness. We teachers, trained to value “facts” and “critical
thinking,” try to refute reformista propaganda with evidence and reason
and are surprised when the “Big Lie” sweeps away everything that stands
before it. Our best bloggers are doing what they can but reformista
propaganda is well-funded and tenacious. Public school teachers need to
find an effective way to tell a counter-narrative that resonates with
the public but which is true to our professional and personal values.
We all have “stories” to tell and it is only by weaving them together
persuasively into a counter-narrative that we have any hope of
countering the flood of “Big Lie” propaganda that washes over us each
day. Here is my “story,” simply one of thousands that we can frame
fully and quickly if we are going to defend public education and protect
I was a special education teacher in a high school in the Bronx from
2009-2012. During my tenure "conversation" with my principal in
December 2011, which was an irregular one to say he least, I expected to
be denied tenure because I had been raising serious questions within my
school about widespread violations of student IEPs. I’m certain that
my advocacy on behalf of my students was what precipitated the “tenure
conversation” five months before anyone else in my school had the
“conversation” that year but here’s what I was actually told:
Grismaldy Laboy: "Mr. Lirtzman, your passing rates are low and are not
consistent with the memo that I sent around to teachers last year that
our school would have a 70% pass rate for each class."
Teacher Harris Lirtzman: "I have only failed two students for academic
reasons in the last year. I have failed students who never attended my
class. If a student came to class, made any reasonable effort to do the
work and turned in anything that indicated some grasp of the basic
elements of algebra, the student got at least a 65. Any student I
failed was for attendance reasons."
Principal Laboy: "I don't, and the DOE doesn't, distinguish between absentee and academic failures."
Teacher Harris Lirtzman:
"You are aware that I have a first period integrated algebra class.
Several students never attended my class after the first week or
appeared erratically during the term. They were "Long Term Absent." I
worked closely with the attendance teacher here to get the kids to
school on time. What else should I have done? Stand in front of their
homes at 6:00 every morning and kidnap them?”
Principal Laboy: "Mr. Lirtzman, if you'd been able to make your classes more engaging they would have come."
Of course, conversations like this have been going on all around the
City for the last ten years. My chapter leader sent the “grade quota”
memo the principal distributed to central UFT and the district
as evidence for teacher coercion by administration to pass LTA students
and, well, just about any student. Nothing. Not a surprise.
I can think of many reasons why Carmen Farina should resign—primarily
her abject failure to sweep Tweed clean of the nest of reformistas
filling up every corner of the place. But because of her willingness to
allow some teachers in some cases to use multiple measures to evaluate
their students? Because administrators began to press teachers to pass
students without regard to attendance or academic performance only
eighteen months ago? I think not.
In a conversation I had this
morning with Geoff Decker, the reporter at Chalkbeat writing the
stories about Farina and the “cheating scandal,” he asked me whether I
thought Farina was “lowering the stakes” in the schools. I tried to
explain to him that Farina hasn’t lowered the stakes in City schools
because she can't lower the stakes in City schools even if she wanted
to: the State sets teacher and principal evaluation standards tied to
student test scores and the Renewal and other schools on the State
"struggling" school list all use graduation rates, credit accumulation
and other accountability measures to assess performance.
stakes connected with reformista accountability—receivership, teacher
reapplication to struggling schools and the specter of being dumped into
the ATR, administrators with feudal power over professional staff—have
resulted in jumped up graduation rates and student test scores for the
last decade and forced credit-recovery miracles and minimum passing
rates stipulated in contractually illegal quotas onto reluctant teachers
since Mayor Bloomberg obtained control over the Department of
When reformistas put teachers’ careers on the line
but don't hold administrators accountable for the incentive structures
they impose inside their own schools the result is what the Post thinks
it “discovered” this week. Tweed spent ten years trying to convince the
State that "everything's OK here" because Mayor Bloomberg needed to
validate mayoral control. Tweed spent the last eighteen months trying
to convince Governor Cuomo and the State Senate that “everything’s OK
here” because Mayor de Blasio needed to keep them from taking away mayor
At least Chancellor Farina has set up a “task force” to investigate the
nonsense that passes for accountability in our schools—though Farina
might have written one more “Chancellor’s Regulation” giving Richard
Condon and his crew of investigators at OSI even more authority for all
the good a task force will do. No one demanded a "task force" at any
time during the twelve years that Michael Bloomberg controlled the
schools because it served no reformista purpose to do so. My friend,
James Eterno, has been calling for a "truth commission" which would
expose the institutional corruption and fraud that has infested
reformista accountability measures in the City since 2002. Don’t expect
to have the “facts” about the Bloomberg administration’s management of
the schools revealed any more honestly than the “facts” are being told
now about the de Blasio administration’s management of the schools.
media will continue to tell the “Big Lie” in all its forms to the
public. We teachers will try to refute the “Big Lie” with facts and
counter-arguments. The audacity and power of the “Big Lie” is a
ferocious thing to behold. We must tell ourselves and the public the
truth and we must tell the public our stories.
But we always
need to understand that our reformista adversaries do and say the things
they want to do and say because they can—evidence, facts,
truth, fairness and data be damned. Mayoral control of the schools was
blissfully wonderful for the NY Post for twelve years. Mayoral control of
the schools became a satanic plot that allowed New York City teachers to stop
educating their students on January 1, 2014. It is useful for our
adversaries to make it so.
The “Big Lie” is powerful and
reformistas will continue to use the “Big Lie” against us until we
teachers can create a story—a deep and coherent counter-narrative—that
the public is willing and able to hear. I don’t yet know how we do that
but I do know that if we don’t do it quickly we will become spectators
spouting “facts” that no one wants to hear while our schools and our
profession are swept away by the “Big Lie” before our very eyes.
Great post Harris. Thank you for writing it and thank you Perdido for posting it. Needs to be shared widely and I will do my best to help in that effort.ReplyDelete
Because 70% is or is not an arbitrary number?ReplyDelete
Well said Harris! The Post plays to the lowest denominator. Sadly, we are not in the age of free thinkers so the "people" now are stupid enough to fall for whatever the Post spews forth.ReplyDelete
“There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics.”ReplyDelete
― Benjamin Disraeli
The above quote is found in the DoE training manual for all administrators who plan to juke the data.
Great post Harry!
There must be follow through with a massive class action law suit by all teachers who have been discontinued, fired, force into early retirement to show collective standing against systemic institutionalized fraud. The school system is an organization. The systemic fraud has had enormous economic harm to thousands of innocent folks. As such the corrupt practices fit the definition of racketeering and this class action lawsuit fits the RICO statute definition of racketeering. Do not rely on the UFT. The UFT has been in collusion with the DOE. The racketeering originated with the autocracy of Bloomberg / Klein.ReplyDelete
This untenured teacher should have asked this principal-'what is the attendance data for the PTA meetings during the school year'?.ReplyDelete
And Mr. Laboy- as principal and leader of this school-if you make your PTA's more engaging-maybe more parents will come.
The big story, teachers are people who stand for social equality. Teachers want a society where everyone eats has clothes and shelter and billionaires be damned if they disagree. Teachers are the nucleus of a nonmarket society. Their work depends on nonmarket social relations of mutual respect and support etc etc.ReplyDelete
Nevertheless de Blasio and Farina have done very little to improve learning conditions in these schools --which include very large class sizes in most cases; and have ignored the complaints of teachers about the substandard and fraudulent credit recovery practices.ReplyDelete
When BdB won, and appointed Farina as his Chancellor, I remember how elated so many people were. finally, there would be change from the Bloomberg years for educators.Delete
Then, nothing.... BdB wants Mayoral control, Farina has kept most of the Tweedies from the Bloomberg years. And as you have mentioned, class sizes are still large, and nothing has been done about credit recovery practices.
Both have been a very big disappointment, indeed. For me, I did expect more from this pair.
NYT posted this: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/nyregion/new-york-city-task-force-targets-cheating-by-teachers-and-principals.html?ref=education&_r=0ReplyDelete
At least they mention cheating has tripled since Bloomberg was in office.
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