Jewish Leaders of the Education Debate

Four Key Players Who Can Change Our Nation's Schools


By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 11, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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2. Michael Bloomberg: The Billionaire

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg compares an organization to the National Rifle Association, he’s not paying it a compliment. Bloomberg spent $10 million opposing NRA-backed candidates in the last election. So New York City’s teachers union knew to be offended when the mayor compared the organization’s internal dynamics to the NRA’s on his weekly radio show in the days after the Newtown shooting.

The tossed-off diss hints at the depths of the distaste the Jewish billionaire mayor has for the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teachers union.

Early in Bloomberg’s first term, the mayor centralized control of the school system in his own office, giving him massive leverage to make broad changes to the city’s schools. It was a plan that earned him a reputation as a reform-minded mayor, but it also drew him onto a crash course with the UFT.

Now, toward the end of Bloomberg’s last term, the mayor is taking aim at the UFT’s sacred cows in an apparent effort to further shore up his education reform credentials. In a recent address, Bloomberg announced plans to offer bonuses to top-performing teachers, a form of merit pay that the unions will probably oppose. He also said he would open more charter schools, which generally are non-union workplaces. And, perhaps most controversially, he vowed to find ways to fire bad teachers based on their performance, something barred by union contracts.

Bloomberg lost the first round of this fight in mid-January, when he failed to force the union to agree to accept some form of teacher evaluations in time to qualify for state aid.

If Bloomberg has more luck in overpowering the unions over the next year, he will begin his post-mayoral political career with a reputation as a mayor who took on the teachers union and won. If he fails, it’s hard to imagine a successor picking the same fight any time soon.


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