Commentary

Bloomberg: Black Parents Fail Their Kids

With his usual glowing self-assurance, multi-term mayor Michael Bloomberg continually proclaims that his administration will be judged by his performance as our Education Mayor. But here is the people’s judgment in a recent Quinnipiac poll reported by Michael Goodwin (New York Post, June 1): “By a whopping 64 to 25 percent, voters don’t like Bloomy’s management of the schools. Among parents, only 20 percent approve, while 78 percent disapprove.”

This is a largely racially segregated school system in all five boroughs. In certain neighborhoods where Ray Kelly’s stop-and-frisk police are all too familiar, parents would not have been surprised to hear from the Education Mayor himself what he thinks of them on his weekly WOR interview: “Unfortunately, there are some parents who…never had a formal education, and they don’t understand the value of an education. Many of our kids come from [such] families — the old Norman Rockwell family is gone” (New York Times, May 21).

I waited for a stinging response to that old-fashioned racial stereotyping that would have outraged integrationist artist Norman Rockwell. None came from faithful Bloomberg schools chancellor Dennis Walcott or from the lordly panjandrum, Reverend Sharpton. But a considerable number of black parents responded angrily.

Zakiyah Ansari, an organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education, whose members are outside the mayor’s social circle, let him have it: “How dare he, and how disrespectful of him to think we don’t have the brain power — whether we have a PhD or an eighth-grade education — to know what we want for our children?” (Daily News, May 21).

Bloomberg’s icy ignorance reminded me of a New York City Board of Education meeting I covered for the Voice in the early 1960s. After listening to a parade of education experts, a black parent rose from the audience. I learned from him later that he’d been a school dropout in the South and after coming North, following a string of menial jobs, he was earning about $90 a week in a dead-end factory job.

As I wrote in Does Anybody Give a Damn? Nat Hentoff on Education (Knopf, 1977), this father, so focused on his child — who was falling farther back every year in our school system — roared at the members of the Board of Education: “You people operate a goddamn monopoly, like the telephone company. I got no choice where I send my child to school. I can only send her where it’s free. And she’s not learning. When you fail, when everybody fails my child, what happens? Nothing.”

But now, there is choice. Not all charter schools would have satisfied this father and his child, but some do enable kids to learn that they can learn — and want to learn more.

The Education mayor should visit the homes of some of these black and Latino parents in Harlem and East Harlem who are so fiercely intent on getting their kids into certain charter schools. They may or may not have had a formal education, but they sure as hell know the value of an education and they rage at an Education Mayor bragging about a school system where — as they read in newspapers more often in the tabloids: “The city’s graduation rate continues to improve, but a woeful number of students finishing high school are not adequately prepared for college… At City of New York community colleges, 74 percent of students last fall required extra help before starting college-level work” (Daily News, June 14).

You don’t have to be a black or Latino parent to be repelled by a mayor who believes — he said it himself — that low-income parents who never had a formal education don’t understand the lifelong value of an education that enlarges and deepens a child’s whole life.

I don’t know any billionaires, but I doubt that any could match the chutzpah of the one we have at City Hall when we said of the “improved” graduation rates: “No one could have predicted in their wildest dreams that we would be this successful” (New York Times, June 15).

The nightmare for many parents (“Got My Dumb-Ploma,” Daily News, June 15) is that while “the city’s graduation rate rose slightly, only one of five kids in the Class of 2010 was ready for college, state Education Department officials said yesterday.”

Bloomberg never mentions that he presides over a racially segregated school system and that “the racial gap” in achievement is glaringly evident “in the college-ready graduation rate… with just 12 percent of black students graduating ready for the next step compared with 41 percent of white” (emphasis added).

Returning to confront the celebrating mayor is Zakiyah Ansari of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice: “It’s like watching a bad accident coming in slow motion, but instead of preparing for the accident, the city is turning their eyes” (Daily News, June 15).

Do you dare, Chancellor Walcott, to demand that Bloomberg open his eyes? New York State Chancellor Merryl Tisch does see clearly that this mayor’s control of education will diminish the lives of many of our new generation in his schools: “Today’s data makes clear that we have tremendous work to do to reduce the drop-out rate, close a stubbornly persistent racial gap and ensure that more of our graduates are prepared for college and the work force” (Daily News, June 15). As long as Bloomberg is in charge?

Dig this investigative truth-telling by the New York Post’s Yoav Gonen on June 15: “Shamefully few city high schools are graduating students with Regents scores high enough to be considered ready for college. Only 27 of the 347 public schools had at least half their students in 2010 score a 75 on the English exam and 80 in math — which the state considers the minimum score for kids to succeed at the next level… that’s an abysmal 8 percent of all city high schools” (emphasis added).

Not a word from Bloomberg about this “wild dream” of success that “no one could have predicted.” And, Gonen adds, nine of those 27 high schools in the 8 percent of successful schools “are high-performing, specialized facilities such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.”

Only a tiny percentage of black students are admitted to these “specialized facilities.” Here is Tom Allon, president of Manhattan Media — and a 1980 graduate of Stuyvesant High School: “At Stuyvesant, only 12 African-American students were admitted to the freshman class this year. Latinos fared only slightly better. They comprise about 3 percent of Stuyvesant. By comparison, of the 1.1 million students in the city’s public schools, 39.9 percent are Lation and 30.1 percent are black… Schools like Stuyvesant have long been the means for immigrants and working class families to hoist their children up the ladder of American society” (Daily News, April 10).

Not under Michael Bloomberg. As of now, his likely leading successors are Ray “Stop-and-Frisk” Kelly and Christine Quinn. I haven’t heard anything from either of them on how they rate this Education Mayor and how they would begin to undo the grim future he has made for so many of our public school students. Are there other mayoral candidates who give a damn about them?

Hold the presses! This morning, just hours before this issue was uploaded to our website, the Education Mayor appeared on WNYC and gave himself this latest report card: “The school results are better than they’ve ever been.” Well, that’s certainly reassuring.

Nat Hentoff writes on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.