Question Was Selected By Outside Contractor, DOE Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some parents and teachers are upset that New York City public school students are being asked to answer an essay question about Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As CBS 2’s Tamara Leitner reported, seventh-graders were asked to read a commencement speech Bloomberg gave at Stanford University earlier this year. In the speech, Bloomberg discussed how getting fired from a Wall Street job led to the opportunity to start his own business, making him a billionaire. Students were asked to write about whether the mayor’s career has been defined by his successes or failures.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, blasted the question as “completely inappropriate,” adding, “It reeks of propaganda.”

Some parents agreed.

“It is a bit pointed,” said Leandro Antonio Goicuria, a parent of a child at PS 111. “It does sound like there is a bit of an agenda.”

“You’re loathed to put down someone in power, particularly when you’re beneath them, so to speak,” said Jen Wening, a NYC Lab Middle School parent. “I think they probably could have found a better question that didn’t include someone currently in office.”

The exams were developed by a private company, Scholastic, which said in a statement it believes “students should be given the opportunity to read speeches by elected officials at the local and national level and write an essay in response.”

The city’s Department of Education said the question allows students to “incorporate two cornerstones of the common core standards by asking students to read nonfiction texts and write essays that defend their ideas.”

The agency said teachers approved the text this past summer, but Mulgrew said the teachers’ union was never consulted.

City schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he did not understand why the question was causing such a stir.

“You’re asking our students to think critically about individuals and to write an essay,” he said. “I mean, I’m not sure what the issue is. The mayor’s not grading the test.”

The feelings about the question were mixed among public school students.

“I think that they might not really say what they want to say,” said Iliana Gerber, a senior at NYC Museum School.

“I think that it’s a good idea,” another student told Leitner. “It’s good for them to learn early that you don’t have to be afraid of the government. You can speak your mind and not be afraid.”

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