To the Editor:
In his Commentary from late spring (“Avoiding Education’s Political Pitfall,” June 7, 2017), Jonathan Zimmerman asserts that politics have become a minefield in many American schools. We concur. However, his characterization of one public school is based on gross inaccuracies.
Through our work in New York City schools, we have direct knowledge of the issues facing that school, Park Slope Collegiate—which serves primarily low-income children of color—and its principal, Jill Bloomberg. In his Commentary, Zimmerman mischaracterized a selective public school that opened in Bloomberg’s building as a charter school. He then made the inflammatory claim that Bloomberg called charter schools racist and organized rallies against them.
The details of the charges against Bloomberg, who is being investigated by New York City’s department of education for alleged “communist activities,” are easily found in news reports and public documents. However, Education Week issued a correction only after we alerted the publication to these errors. Because Education Week did not identify the original error, readers may not be aware that Zimmerman’s arguments were based on false evidence. Zimmerman also mischaracterized the content of school assemblies, which focused primarily on historical events.
Misrepresentations like these have real consequences. A member of the school staff told us directly that they have fielded calls from neo-Nazis. Earlier this month, the New York Civil Liberties Union asked the New York City’s education department to put an end to the “considerable distress, distraction, and concern” that the investigation has caused.
Zimmerman might claim that he had no way of knowing what happened at Park Slope Collegiate, based on the news articles he read. However, as a historian, Zimmerman surely knows the importance of looking to multiple primary sources before drawing conclusions about an event.
Bloomberg’s advocacy for her students has, as Zimmerman writes, a “sharp political edge,” but there is no evidence that she has imposed her beliefs on them. It is misleading to equate advocacy for equitable school funding and greater racial integration among New York City schools with debates over the Trump presidency. Sadly, distortions such as these are increasingly common in debates over American education. As scholars, we have the privilege of studying schools from the sidelines. It is critical that we be objective and accurate in illuminating critical educational issues. Zimmerman failed to do so.
New York University
New York, N.Y.
Center for the Study of School Transformation
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the August 23, 2017 edition of Education Week as False Evidence’ Against Principal