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What's Good for Mayor Bloomberg's Kids Is Good Enough for Ours

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Cartoonist Al Capp added the character General Bullmoose to his Li'l Abner comic strip in 1953. Bullmoose epitomized "the ruthless capitalist." His motto was "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA!" He was supposedly based on Charles Wilson, a former head of General Motors who testified before a United States Senate subcommittee that "What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country."

Capp, who died in 1979, was being sarcastic. If he were alive and drawing his comic strip today he might rejoice in characterizing this generation's latest Bullmoose, New York City's multi-billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Recently, while a guest speaker at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, Bloomberg said that if it were up to him, he would fire half the city's teachers and double class size. He would also double teacher salaries, which would be a good idea if, as Bloomberg says, he wants to attract and hold onto the best teachers. Bloomberg, who has been in a prolonged legislative and public relations campaign to weaken the city's teachers union, branded 50% of New York City's teachers as ineffective, even though according to a new rating system that he endorses and the union disputes, the number is less than 20%.

Bloomberg's proposal was quickly and emphatically denounced by Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters. According to Haimson, the mayor ran for office on a platform calling for reducing class size, but now New York City has "the largest class sizes in 11 years." He also called for merit pay but without positive results. "We've had the experiment, we've tried and it's failed." Haimson is actually less concerned with Bloomberg's proposal, which she dismissed as "idiocy," than she is with similar proposals being floated by the Gates Foundation, the right-leaning Fordham Institution, and the supposedly more liberal Center for American Progress.

But maybe Mayor Mike is on to something? Maybe New York City should fire half the teachers and double class size in its public schools? His proposal made me curious. What kind of education did Mayor Mike choose for his daughters, now adults, before he became mayor and was only an ordinary multi-billionaire living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan? Michael Bloomberg has two daughters, Emma, now aged thirty-two, and Georgina, twenty-eight. Both girls attended the prestigious private all-girls Spence School in New York City.

The Spence School is located on ritzy East 91 Street between 5th Avenue and Madison. According to its website, for the 2011-12 academic year, tuition is $37,500 for all grades K-12, about the tuition cost of an expensive private university. By comparison, the tuition cost at the elite public Stuyvesant High School is zero. I do not know if either Bloomberg daughter took or passed the test for selective New York City public high schools, although Emma was supposed to be a top student and later attended Princeton University.

Because Spence alumnae are routinely accepted by Harvard, Princeton and Columbia universities, the school can afford to be very selective. It received 707 applications in the 2008-2009 academic year, and accepted 129 students or only 18 percent of the applicants.

Of course it does not hurt to be rich or well known when applying for a spot for your children. Among the celebrities whose children attend or have attended Spence are Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Bloomberg, Revlon's Ronald O. Perelman, Walter Cronkite, and Katie Couric.

In addition to its high tuition charge, the school has a "voluntary" annual fund, which because it is tax deductible, allows the wealthy to "contribute" even more money to the school claiming while a deduction on state and federal income taxes. According to the website, "the Annual Fund helps pay for everything from faculty salaries and professional development opportunities to new curriculum initiatives, from financial assistance programs to technology maintenance and upgrades, from the electricity needed to keep the lights on to supplies and books. It helps Spence attract and retain a talented and committed faculty and provides support for extracurricular activities, clubs, sports, arts initiatives and other programs."

The Spence school has a $25.6 million endowment and very valuable property holdings, partly because of multimillion-dollar gifts from wealthy notables such as Bloomberg and Fiona Biggs Druckenmiller, a philanthropist who attended the school as a child.

But if you can afford the tuition and the voluntary donation, there are many good reasons to have your daughters attend Spence. Its mission statement explains the school is a "diverse community of enthusiastic, scholastically motivated girls . . . taught by a devoted and passionate faculty." In a world where public school students are forced to take an array of standardized assessments and test prep classes, a program enthusiastically supported by Bloomberg for everyone else's children, Spence "students are encouraged to dig deep and ask questions, understanding that learning is a lifelong process, beyond an exam or diploma. Day-to-day, they aspire to their school motto 'Not for school, but for life we learn'." To facilitate this kind of learning, average class size at Spence is limited to approximately 16-18 students and only 14 students per class in the high school. Recent visiting artists, lecturers, and scholars have included Pulitzer-Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, playwright J.T. Rogers, Metropolitan Museum curator Joan Mertens '64, artist Barnaby Furnas, novelist Sue Monk Kidd, choreographer Doug Varone and Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor.

At Spence, the extras are not considered extra. It has six science labs, six art studios and an art history room, two music rooms, a computer lab, a photography darkroom, two gymnasiums and a fitness room, two performance spaces, two dance studios, and two libraries. Spence also offers both international and domestic study programs to Upper School students.

I kind of like what I read about Spence. I would like this kind of education for my grandchildren who attend public schools. And what is good for General Bullmoose, I mean Michael Bloomberg, should be good for all the children of New York City.

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