Friday, May 13, 2011
Myron Miner on the Chicago Public Schools and Producerism
To understand the Bialystock Method, you must do yourself a favor and go see the original 1968 version of Mel Brooks' classic movie The Producers. I love the original version of the movie and the play that spun off of it, but was less impressed with he 2005 movie version of the play.
In The Producers, Gene Wilder plays a mild-mannered accountant named Leo Bloom and Zero Mostel plays a washed up old theatrical producer named Max Bialystock. In doing Max's books, Leo discovers that you could actually make more money by making a flop than a hit. If you sold, for example, 1500% of a show and it closed in one night, none of those share holders would expect any kind of payment. The trick was finding a play so horrible it was sure to be a huge bomb.
In The Chicago Public Schools the mayor has total control and he appoints his own rubber stamp school board. The result is that the board is almost entirely made up of people who donate heavily to the Mayor. What's interesting is that much of the leadership that Rahm Emanuel has used for guidance have been the operators of Chicago's charter schools. These people offer alternatives to the Chicago Public Schools and the worse the schools do the more they thrive. The more they thrive, the more money they can direct to Mayor Rahm. The Key is how to make sure the public schools bomb.
Bialystock and Bloom begin an exhaustive search that finally nets them a play called Springtime for Hitler, which is possibly the worst play ever. The play is a Busby Berkeley style singing and dancing romp through Nazi Germany. The showstopper is a musical number called Springtime for Hitler. Surely, this play would flop.
Rahm Emanuel and his team begain an exhaustive search that finally nets them Rochester Superintendent Jean Claude Brizard, who is possibly the worst Superintendent ever. In a district 1/10 the size of Chicago Brizard managed to get sued 3 times, have a 95% no confidence vote from the teachers, and newspaper poll found 60% of the district's administrator's thought they were on the wrong track. The only accomplishment he could point to were graduation rates which was actually data from before his tenure. Surely, these schools would flop.
In the Producers, the final touch was finding a director who could make the horrible play even more unbearable and drive theatre goers from their seats. In the 1968 version, the actor's name escapes me, but I recognized him as television's Mr. Belvedere.
In Chicago, the final touch was HB7 which prevents teachers from doing things like complaining if the school district cuts funding and puts 45 students in every room. As a bonus the mayor could mandate that teachers work the equivalent of 3 additional months of school time without a penny of compensation. This will give Chicago the longest school day in the country, at the exact time that data from Hawaii is showing no real benefit to more classroom time.
Will the Chicago Public Schools flop? It's too early to tell. In the movies, Bialystock and Bloom left the play early to go celebrate only to find the audience had decided it was a comedy and loved it. They went to prison for their duplicity. I hope that Mayor Emanuel is more clever than that, because moves like this make him a powerful force in the education reform movement.