The year was 2011 and Mayor Michael Bloomberg was speaking at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology conference when he explained his magic wand solution for public education. CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported that the billionaire thought cutting teaching staff in half and paying that half more would be ideal.
“Education is very much, I’ve always thought, just like the real estate business. Real estate business, there are three things that matter: location, location, location is the old joke,” Bloomberg said. “Well in education, it is: quality of teacher, quality of teacher, quality of teacher. And I would, if I had the ability – which nobody does really – to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.”
As the United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew pointed out, this would increase class sizes to around 70 kids in a New York City public school. Bloomberg also reportedly boasted of giving New York teachers a 105% raise since he took office—something that isn’t a real thing and did not happen.
But, not unlike his stop-and-frisk policy, Bloomberg continued to double down, and continued doubling down year after year declaring that New York public school teachers were getting almost 4% raises every year. As Chalkbeat explained, that “raise” was actually the increased annual costs New York City paid into teachers’ pensions and healthcare benefits. So, it’s not the kind of “raise” you see in your paycheck … because it isn’t a raise. Teachers in New York do see increases in their salary based on hard-fought union contracts with the city—something Bloomberg had nothing to do with.
Now, Bloomberg’s position is one held by many charter school supporters as well as other business leaders. The idea is that teachers should be paid a lot more in order to attract the “best teachers,” and in order to do that, you need to get rid of most of the teachers because the reason our underfunded public school systems aren’t working as well as we want is because there are too many low-quality teachers.
This is the worldview of people like Michael Bloomberg and Betsy DeVos. Scapegoating educators for systemic issues of inequality is a lot easier on their personal bottom lines than fixing real problems. To that end, Bloomberg famously stuck former publishing executive Cathie Black, who had zero background in education, into the top position at the New York Board of Education. Black was known for running a “tight ship.” That’s business talk for getting a lot done with less money, which in turn is business talk for exploiting the people that work for you even more than usual. Black lasted about three months before her disaster of tenure came to a close. Surprising, considering that famous education magazine Forbes said that if you read Black’s book Basic Black: Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), you would know that she was perfect for the job.
Turns out, Forbes and Bloomberg understand how to run a school about as well as they understand the concept of living wages.