File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_2001/bourdieu.0102, message 11

Subject: making a "Bourdieu model" for what's happening in New York City public schools (warning: long)
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 23:49:55 -0500

Hi - I have some ideas about writing a paper using some of Bourdieu's
categories (habitus, field, cultural capital, doxa, etc.) to
illuminate (I hope) what has been going on for the past few years in
public education in New York City.  I've written up a little case
study and would like to hear if anyone has any insights about how the
work that PB has done might be brought to bear on the facts of this
particular situation so as to better understand what's happening.

[By the way, the various citations here are all to newspaper stories -
please don't bother trying to find them in journals or technical

Any suggestions for additions or deletions by those of you who may be
more familiar with the situation would be welcomed.

Here beginneth the narrative:

The remarkable events of the recent past in the New York City school
system vividly demonstrate the interlocking nature of the public and
private mechanisms of the movement for "educational reform," and may
serve as a case study.

Our story begins in May of 1998 when Mayor Giuliani appointed a task
force to review the mission and performance of City University of New
York (CUNY), and to draw up a blueprint to dramatically re-draw its
course.  The task force was chaired and directed by Benno Schmidt, a
constitutional scholar and former president of Yale University who had
left that post in 1992 to become the CEO for Edison Schools, a
for-profit educational venture.  The task force included six other
members, including Jacqueline V. Brady (Vice President of Nomura
Securities International Inc.), Richard Schwartz (President of
Opportunity America, a consulting company that runs workfare
programs), Heather MacDonald (John M. Olin fellow at the conservative
Manhattan Institute), Herman Badillo (former Congressman, Deputy Mayor
and vice chairman of the CUNY board), Manfred Ohrenstein (former
minority leader in the New York State Senate and member of the CUNY
Commission on Open Admissions) and Richard T. Roberts (commissioner of
the Department of Housing Preservation and Development).  Public
hearings were held, many met by protests from students and professors.

On June 7, 1999 The Mayor's Advisory Task Force on City University of
New York (CUNY) released its report, The City University of New York:
An Institution Adrift.  The report made several telling connections
between CUNY and the New York City public schools system.

* 60% of CUNY students are graduates of the New York public schools
system; the report claimed that "CUNY is inundated by New York City
public school graduates who lack basic skills."
* 87% of CUNY's community college incoming students fail one or more
placement tests, and 55% of CUNY incoming student fail at least two.
* 25-30% of all New York City public school teachers are CUNY
graduates, and these teachers are concentrated in New York City's
worst schools.

Benno Schmidt himself claimed that many of CUNY's problems were
directly attributable to the NYC public schools' failure to ensure
that student achieve minimal standards of literacy and math
proficiency.  The report further claimed that "being Asian or white
was often associated with strong performance, while being black or
Hispanic was often associated with weak performance" and disparaged
"Policy by Riot" referring to pressure by blacks and Latinos that led
CUNY to approve open admissions in 1970 (Finnegan 1999:4).  Largely on
the basis of this work, Benno Schmidt was offered the job of
Chancellor of the CUNY system by CUNY Chairman Badillo and Mayor
Giuliani (Finnegan and Gendar 1999:22).

In spite of pressure from the City Council in May of 2000, CUNY bowed
to pressure from Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki and agreed to ban
remedial education at its senior colleges..  At the same time, CUNY
ended open admissions and for the first time began to require
standardized test scores from its prospective students.

On July 26, 2000, Schools Chancellor Harold Levy requested proposals
to privatize about 50 elementary, middle, and high schools that had
repeatedly failed standardized tests - so-called SURR schools, Schools
Under Registration Review, almost all of which are located in African
American and Latino neighborhoods.  Mr. Levy's proposed process would
culminate in the conversion of conventional public schools to charter
status, at which point union contracts would have to be renegotiated.

In response, fourteen separate for-profit and non-profit organizations
submitted proposals to take over one or more of the SURR schools by
the August 18 deadline.  Benno Schmidt's Edison Schools presented by
far the most sweeping proposal, offering to take over 45 elementary
and middle schools by the fall of 2003.  Edison offered to invest $80
million in these schools, to recruit one thousand state-certified
teachers, hand out about 25,000 new IBM computers to teachers and
students, begin a $50 million charitable endowment campaign, and found
a proposed Teachers College in New York City (Wyatt 2000:B2).  On
October 18, 2000, the field of fourteen was narrowed to four, all
for-profit firms.  On December 20, Chancellor Levy announced that
Edison Schools Inc. would take over up to five of the worst performing
schools beginning with the fall term of 2001.

Only a few days later, in his State of the City address of January 8,
2001, Mayor Giuliani made a number of proposals in the field of
education, including the elimination of teacher tenure, the
implementation of "merit pay," the abolition of an elected Board of
Education in favor of one appointed by the mayor, the institution of
federal vouchers and tax credits, and, perhaps most significantly, the
wholesale privatization of up to twenty public schools.

These proposals were at least temporarily bumped off the public radar
screen when, two days later, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Leland
DeGrasse surprised lawmakers by ruling that the state's method of
distributing state public school aid unconstitutionally deprived the
children of New York City of a "sound, basic education." The opinion
noted that the state provided $4,546 per student in New York City,
compared with an average of $7,199 in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and
Yonkers (Goodnough 2001:B7).  DeGrasse demanded that the state devise
a new financing formula, citing crumbling school buildings,
overcrowded classrooms, chronic shortages of supplies and textbooks, a
dearth of qualified teachers, and, most of all, the fact that only 12%
of students who enter the New York City school system in the ninth
grade ever manage to obtain a Regents' diploma.

Governor Pataki immediately vowed to appeal, putting him in the
position of demanding higher educational standards while refusing to
provide the constitutionally mandated funds that might allow students
and teachers to meet them.  Indeed, in his defense of the lawsuit,
Pataki contended that the state of New York was only obligated to
provide an eighth-grade education for its students (Beattie and Hughes

In the meantime (January 15), New York City Schools Chancellor Harold
Levy hired a top deputy who had been recently fired from a similar
position in Yonkers for accepting improper gratuities from the Xerox
corporation, which was bidding for a copier services contract with the
school system (Shin 2001:16).
Only two weeks after the DeGrasse decision, the trustees of NYU
approved seven new charter schools.  Four of these were in New York
City, and two of these four were underwritten by financiers:  the
Icahn Charter School sponsored by an organization created by financier
Carl C. Icahn (the 1980s corporate raider noted for union-busting
campaigns at TWA and PanAm), and RiverView Academy, founded by
Benjamin V. Lambert of a local realty firm (Arenson 2001:B6).



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