11/24/2010 03:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Educating for Democracy: If Mayor Bloomberg Could Say What He Believes

I have been considering for several years what Mayor Bloomberg really believes when it comes to public education since he seems to ignore the valid criticisms of educators, many of whom feel his approach is not bringing the results he insists they are: educating an increasing number of New York City children. I feel that he regards the New York City school system as a hopeless disaster that can only be dealt with through giving the appearance though test scores, particularly to minority parents, that he is addressing the needs of all their children. I do believe, however, that he is trying to address the needs of some of the children, and, perhaps, that, given the resources and circumstances available, he feels that this is the best he can do.

Here is what I think he'd say if he could publically reveal what he really believes:

"Ladies and gentlemen, educators, parents, and entrepreneurs: I have come to tell you my view of education in New York City. When I first became Mayor and decided to undertake the restructuring of the school system, I saw disarray, dysfunction, political in-fighting, and the resulting neglect of many potentially outstanding students who could benefit from a system more responsive to their needs.

My first task was to assess the most cost-effective way of delivering the best education to the most students who could profit from it while still maintaining some semblance of an orderly system of evaluating student progress for all students. I soon realized that in order to be cost-effective, I had to regard the schools the way in which hospitals deal with an overwhelming number of casualties in a national disaster: triage.

I divided the students in the system into three groups:

Students who would thrive in an environment in which they have orderly classrooms with adequate resources;

Students in the middle group who might either become reluctant learners or willing ones if only they could be removed from the negative environment that could thwart or retard their learning experiences;

Students who are the most difficult to teach because of behavioral problems, lack of fluency in English and learning disabilities. The amount of time and resources that might be devoted to them are simply not cost-effective and take away too much needed support from the other two groups.

I am aware that there will be and have been gross injustices in this method of determining which students can be 'saved' and which are beyond that point, and I concede that there will be many casualties in this system. But I firmly believe as well that if we tried to distribute equally the resources we have to educate all students, especially those in the third group, we would end up with having fewer resources for those who would definitely benefit the most from them.

That is why I am an advocate of charter schools that, unlike the district schools, are able to 'counsel out' the unwilling or un-ready learners from those who will be able to fulfill the stricter and higher expectations, both in academics and conduct, that these schools require. That is why I am also insisting, despite great resistance from the teachers union, that standardized tests be heavily relied on to gauge the progress of students and evaluate the performances of the schools. I believe that students who do well on these meaningless tests are generally the more adept learners since they can apply their intellectual abilities effectively to other tasks as well.

The elite public schools that have used rigorous tests to select their student body are largely unaffected by these standardized tests so they can give their charges a well-rounded education. These students as well as those in 'gifted and talented' programs are more generously provided resources than in the standard classrooms; they receive an excellent education, equal to that of the best public schools in the country. But these are, out of necessity, a relatively few students in a system of 1,000,000, what W.E.B. DuBois described as 'the talented tenth.' Still that would mean over 100,000 well-educated students rather than maybe a fraction of their numbers under the old system.

You might wonder what will happen to the 'discarded' students, some of whom might otherwise, with heroic efforts, be able to get to a minimal level of learning to equip them for a decent job. I can only say that 'life is not fair' and that whatever futures they might have, one could only hope that they would not interfere in the futures of others.

So as long as I can maintain the illusion of providing some semblance of education for all children, I will be able to do what I feel is the most good for the most teachable students under the most difficult circumstances. If anyone has a viable alternative, I will be willing to consider it, after I relinquish Mayoral control of the New York City schools."

I am hopeful that there is a viable alternative, but it is not going to be easy to find one, even when mayoral control is finally over.