DOE Promotes Nelson (While We Watch)

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, Chancellor Banks, perhaps suffering from geranium in cranium syndrome, finds one of the very worst principals in NYC (that’s saying something), and promotes her. That would be Namita Dwarka of Bryant High School. Dwarka has been repeatedly accused of grade-fraud, social promotion, and other Big Fun things that, if you were accused, you’d find yourself facing dismissal charges. 

For years Dwarka has lingered about, like a stench you just can’t wash or spray away. I’ve gotten messages and emails, heard stories, but nothing seemed to happen. Now something has, and if you didn’t think Mayor Eric Swagger was Bloomberg 2.0, let this be your wakeup call. He took six million dollars from the charter lobby, and you can consider Dwarka’s promotion a small down payment on what he owes back. 

I’m told that Dwarka managed to raise test scores via whatever methods. I’m also told that teachers there are rated lower than anywhere else, and that they’re regularly terrorized. The Bryant chapter leader is quoted in the Post article:

Teachers were “intimidated by the tone” of emails they received from supervisors. When asked to “provide support,” Lignou wrote, “what they hear is ‘We want you to pass this student.’” In a common practice citywide, teachers would give failing students a few last-ditch assignments to pass them “with much less work than what they required in class.”

Certainly this is one way to bring scores up. Of course, fudging the data doesn’t ultimately change much, and doesn’t always work well. Teachers who participate have often faced awful repercussions, and prosecutors actually used RICO statutes to go after 11 teachers in Atlanta. So when your insane principal asks you to do whatever you have to in order to pass kids, you have to weigh the inconvenience of the principal harassing you against the real possibility of that racketeering conviction. Oh, and principals can be charged too (though less likely under Mayor Swagger).

We share the guilt here. UFT has never fully embraced the discriminatory, unreliable nature and miserable quality of standardized testing. There is the assumption, among reformies like Bloomberg, Swagger, and Soaring High, that teachers are all lying crooks who will simply pass everyone if there are not tools like Regents exams standing in their path. Therefore, we must use only those tests only to judge them. The irony is that those same reformies, when placed in leadership positions, will use every means at their disposal to juke the stats. This is Campbell’s Law at work.

I recall distinctly when Mike Bloomberg was crowing about increased test scores, and how his unique genius made that possible. Diane Ravitch compared them to unchanging NAEP scores and determined the tests were dumbed down. Bloombergians ridiculed her. Until, of course, a few years later, when overwhelming evidence proved Ravitch correct. Then, the tests were, ridiculously, aligned to the NAEP. Of course, the results were twisted to indicate that UFT teachers were some sort of collective antichrist. I don’t recall who it was who said that standardized testing measures nothing better than zip code or home size, but I certainly agree. 

And, giving credit where credit is due, let’s face it–It was an egregious error for us to endorse Mayor Eric Swagger. Sure, he was a shoo-in once he won the Democratic primary. Sure, it was possible, on some astral plane, that he would ignore the suitcases of cash that came pouring in from Eva’s BFFs during the primary. But it was highly unlikely, and a bad bet at best. 

This mayor has said no city worker gets raises without production increases. Evidently, inflation doesn’t affect his world, what with that free mansion and all those gala luncheons. In a time of unprecedented prosperity, he’s cut public school budgets. And he’s fought tooth and nail against any measure to lower class sizes. Now he can talk all day about test scores, and promote those who finagle them by hook or by crook. We all know that our kids need more role models, more attention, and that the only way to give it is to lower class sizes. Just how bad is this mayor? He would happily fire us all, sell all the school properties, and have kids learn on Zoom in classes of 400.  Even Bloomberg only advocated for classes of 70. 

What can we do about this? For one thing, we have to be more visible. Why on earth was it not the United Federation of Teachers bringing the lawsuit to reverse budget cuts? And why, once it appeared, did we not join it? Could we have been worried that Swagger would be mad at us? Given the promotion of Dwarka, one can only conclude that he already hates us and everything we stand for. What, exactly, have we got to lose? His offer of zero-percent raises? Every teacher and UFT member in the city can tell him exactly what he can do with that. 

It should be us out there asking the mayor questions as he walks our streets, hiding behind all those men in suits. It should be us forcing him to answer questions. So far, I’ve seen him walk away in full Donald Trump mode, ask those who bother him to pray, and calling them, us, again in Trump mode, clowns. 

So be it. We are many, and we should make this mayor see clown cars everywhere. They should, in fact, haunt him right up to the crack of dawn each and every morning when he crawls into his coffin to sleep.

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