The Right Lesson?

To the editor:
Sol Stern’s appeal to Mayor Giuliani to take on the United Federation of Teachers in the new contract negotiations ("Let’s Seize This Chance for School Reform," Spring 1995) correctly cites Boston as a national precedent for "how a collective bargaining agreement ... can serve as a vehicle for radically transforming public school systems." But Mr. Stern misses the mark in describing what lessons Boston holds for New York City.

Mr. Stern paints the UFT not as a partner but as an obstacle to reform. But the New York City public schools, with 48 new small schools started in the past few years and 50 more in the works, has more radical school change taking place than any urban district in the country. The critical element that has facilitated the creation of these schools is the union contract provision called the School-Based Option Transfer and Staffing Plan, which allows these schools to select their incoming staffs. The Boston contract may allow for a higher degree of autonomy in all schools, but a similar dynamic change process has yet to emerge in Boston.

Two years ago Raymond Flynn, then mayor of Boston, waged a Giuliani-like daily war of words with the schools and the union, with a similar lack of results. But once he departed to become ambassador to the Vatican, his appointed school committee agreed to enter into a negotiation with the teachers’ union, facilitated by Conflict Management, Inc. It was this type of collaborative bargaining and the support of the new mayor, Thomas M. Menino, that led not only to a precedent-setting contract but also to a broad partnership of the mayor, the business community, higher-education institutions, the school committee, and the teachers’ union, through the new Boston Compact agreement. Both agreements call for the same set of reform initiatives. And when the reform partnership was completed in June 1994, the mayor put his money where his mouth was.

That’s what Mr. Stern should have told Mayor Giuliani and his advisors.

Robert Pearlman
Director of Research Boston Teachers Union
Boston , Mass.

Sol Stern responds:
I can sympathize with Mr. Pearlman’s desire to maintain solidarity with his union brothers and sisters, but he is simply wrong about the origins of education reform in New York. As I pointed out in my article, the UFT agreed to the School-Based Option provision long after the birth of the "small schools" movement in Manhattan’s District 4, and only under pressure from parents and school reformers. Even so, the current contract allows the UFT to exercise virtual veto power over the process of granting waivers from central work rules. The UFT summarily rejected the waiver applications of all of District 3’s new small schools this year.

The good news is that in its current contract talks with the city, the union seems finally to have moved toward the Boston model. In general terms it has offered to allow all schools in the system to make their own staffing decisions. If the UFT proves to be serious about this, it will have earned our applause-but there’s no need to rewrite history.

Better Treatment

To the editor:
I would like to point out some inaccuracies in Sally Satel’s article on substance abuse treatment ("Yes, Drug Treatment Can Work," Summer 1995).

The claim that "New York lacks even a certification procedure for counselors" is false. New York has certified more than 2,500 credentialed substance abuse counselors. The rigorous credentialing process requires that counselors acquire 3,360 hours of full-time work experience in the field, 220 hours of supervised practical training, and 450 hours of approved education.

In describing outpatient programs, it is also a fallacy for Dr. Satel to state that the bulk of treatment is provided "by counselors with no formal education beyond a high school diploma or two-year community college degree." In fact, approximately 55 percent of New York’s credentialed substance abuse counselors have a master’s degree or higher.

The claim that methadone "shifts rather than solves" the drug problem is inaccurate and misleading. Methadone is used only to treat addiction to heroin and other narcotics. As a pharmacological agent, it is ineffective with other, non-narcotic drugs like cocaine and alcohol. Nevertheless, methadone treatment programs employ counseling and other techniques to assist patients in overcoming dependence on other drugs.

Jean Sommers Miller
State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services
Albany, N.Y.

Sally Satel responds:
To be sure, New York State improved its standards for drug abuse counselors when it created the credentialed substance abuse counselor program in 1994. But according to a memo from Commissioner Miller’s own agency, the credentialing procedure won’t take effect until late this year: the 2,500 counselors to whom she refers were "grandparented (sic)" in 1994. Further, the same memo notes that drug treatment programs in New York are not required to employ credentialed substance abuse counselors. And while New

York deserves credit for taking steps to improve the quality of drug counselors, not all states are so cognizant of the problem. As my article noted, most outpatient programs nationwide employ counselors with no formal education beyond a high school diploma or a two-year college degree.

Methadone is indeed effective only in the treatment of narcotic use?the use, that is, of such opiates as heroin. This is why it shifts rather than solves the drug problem. Many methadone patients also abuse such non-opiates as cocaine or alcohol, and the psychological and social services some methadone clinics offer are too often inadequate to make any appreciable difference.


To the editor:
Being employed by Rockefeller Financial Services, I read David Garrard Low’s article "The Triumph of Rockefeller Center" (Summer 1995) with great enthusiasm. A colleague and I noticed, however, that the photograph on page 86 did not identify John D. Rockefeller Jr. correctly. He is the man on the right wearing glasses, not the man with the trowel.

Janice L. Shapiro
New York, N.Y.

Getting Action

To the editor:
I am an avid reader of City Journal. In particular, I find Heather Mac Donald’s articles to be refreshing, insightful, and well reasoned. It was her article in the Summer 1994 issue ("Downward Mobility: The Failure of Open Admissions at CUNY) that heightened my concerns as to the mission and purpose of CUNY. CUNY’s SEEK program has been the subject of much debate and criticism during this past year. Fortunately, CUNY’s board of trustees has decided to address the shortcomings of the program that Ms. Mac Donald detailed at length. I would like to compliment City Journal for raising the level of debate on this issue.

Vito J. Fossella
New York City Council
Staten Island, N.Y.


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next