Monday, June 28, 2010

Schomburg's Future Is In Doubt

One of Harlem's most treasured institutions, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is facing a crossroads, and its very existence appears to be at risk.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black History

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a Puerto Rican born Afro-Latino who devoted his life to the study of the contributions of African Americans and Afro-Latino Americans. He wrote about African American and Caribbean culture and collected the art, literature, slave narratives, and other creations of the Caribbean and African American communities.

In 1926, after Schomburg's collection had become well respected around the globe, the New York Public Library purchased his collection for $10,000. Schomburg continued to build the collection after the purchase, and he was appointed as the curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art, which, of course, was named after him.

The New York Public Library combined the Schomburg Collection with its 135th Street Harlem branch, and the entire collection was named the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1972. The Center now has more than 10 million items and continues to set the standard for Black cultural collections.

Future In Doubt

Now, the future of the Schomburg Center is in doubt.

Howard Dodson has led the Schomburg Center expertly since 1984. Of the 10 million items in the Center, half of them were acquired during the Dodson years. Now, after nearly 30 years, Howard Dodson is retiring, and the Schomburg Center must find a new leader.

Portions of the Harlem Community have become concerned about the potential for the Schomburg Center's collection to be broken into pieces and spread around New York City. For a collection that has been housed in Harlem for more than 80 years, concern about a potential move out of Harlem is understandable. The Schomburg Center and its collection have helped to define the 21st Century Harlem as the on-going and irreplaceable capital of African American culture.

The Amsterdam News wrote an editorial that capture the Harlem Community's concern about the future of the Schomburg Center.

It is not the New York Public Library that has made the Schomburg what it is today. It has been the Black people of the community.
From the mouth of Congressman Charlie Rangel: "It's all we've got. They've taken so much of our history and culture, but this is ours and we must fight to keep it."

Save the Schomburg! Save our history!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Microstamping Needed in New York

We need microstamping for firearms in New York State (especially in New York City), but the Republican Party is thoroughly opposed to using new technology to catch criminal who use guns. Mayor Bloomberg is helping to lead the charge in favor of using microstamping, but he may now regret his earlier support of the Republican Party in New York State Senate races.


Firearm microstamping involves placing microscopic markings inside of a firearm such that the markings are transferred to the cartridges that law enforcement officers typically recover at a crime scene involving the firing of a weapon. Law enforcement professionals are then able to connect the markings of the cartridges to their records of firearms, and a crime solving is enhanced.

As we have noted, a much larger number of murders are going unsolved in New York City, lately. Microstamping would be a key ingredient in the recipe we need in New York City to reverse the trend of criminals literally getting away with murder.

California has already passed a microstamping law; it was signed into law in October 2007. New York would be an excellent place to continue the trend begun by California. Our two large trend-setting states could create enough momentum to result in a national microstamping requirement, which should be the long term goal.

New York's Political Push

New York City's Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Chief Ray Kelly, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance led a coalition of Mayors, law enforcement organizations, and District Attorneys from all over New York State who lobbied in Albany last week for the passage of a microstamping law. Their logic was undeniable. Microstamping would reduce crime, enhance crime solving, and would not undermine the lawful use of firearms for hunting. In fact, microstamping is expected to add only $12 to the cost of the average firearm, which has a total cost of $450.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party in New York State is focused on maintaining its relationships with the gun manufacturers who do not want their products to cost $12 more. The Republicans are willing to trade lives for the support of the gun manufacturers. The Republicans in the State Senate voted against the legislation and killed it. Only one Republican supported the legislation, and even a former law enforcement officer who is now a Republican State Senator failed to support the legislation and disappeared from the floor of the State Senate during a key moment in the effort to enact this life-saving measure.

Mayor Bloomberg has invested heavily in the Republican State Senate. He has provided them with enormous financial support and been a loyal and consistent opponent of the Democratic Party's efforts to consolidate its influence in Albany. One wonders if Bloomberg now regrets his steadfast support of the Republicans in the State Senate. Without flinching, those Republicans turned against the Mayor and against the Democrats' efforts to make our streets safer. Let's hope that Mayor Bloomberg spends his money more wisely going forward; perhaps he will support the election of individuals who will seek to do what is best for our city and our state rather than continually throwing in weight behind the Republican Party.

Passage Still Possible

The microstamping legislation that was killed last week by a unified Republican Party is likely to be brought back to the floor and voted upon in the coming weeks. The possibility of passage still exists. Your support may make the difference.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Manhattan DA Vance Unintimidated by Bloomberg

Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney, is starting to establish himself as the independent legal officer we hoped he'd be. He has demonstrated a willingness to investigate the $1 million gift that Mayor Bloomberg made to the Independence Party in 2009 as part of Bloomberg's campaign for a third term as Mayor of New York City.

Bloomberg's Missing Million Dollars

As Mayor Bloomberg sought the endorsement of the Independence Party in 2009, he gave the party a $1 million gift. Three quarters of the Bloomberg gift went to pay a former Bloomberg advisor to run election day operations for the Independence Party. $750,000 for one day?

As one might expect, the payment brought scrutiny. But, the Independence Party has been unable to explain what happen to the Bloomberg gift. We expressed our frustration with the lack of answers in February of this year, and we are still awaiting answers.

Cy Vance Unintimidated

Manhattan's District Attorney has launched an investigation and empanelled a grand jury to attempt to determine what happened to the missing $750,000 that Bloomberg contributed to the Independence Party in 2009.

The Independence Party has been less than forthcoming. They have thus far responded to only 4 of the 23 items requested by the Manhattan District Attorney.

The Independence Party likely believed that their association with Mayor Bloomberg would make them immune from investigation. The Mayor has been able to avoid prosecution for the killing of firefighters in a building near the site of the former World Trade Towers. He has been able to engage in long periods of racial discrimination in hiring within the fire department and harass Black and Latino New Yorkers through record numbers of stop-and-frisk incidents without being held accountable. But, Cyrus Vance is not an ordinary prosecutor. He is not intimidated by Mayor Bloomberg, and he is already living up to the promises he made when he sought the Manhattan District Attorney position in 2009. We endorsed his candidacy, and we are happy to see him moving forward without fear.

Monday, June 7, 2010

100th Blog Posting - NYS Fails Testing

Thank you for reading Manhattan Viewpoint. After nearly two years of postings each week and the addition of several "emergency" postings reflecting urgent updates, we have come to our 100th posting. With gratitude, the 100th posting is below.

New York State Fails Its Own Test

New York State's math test for grades 3 through 8 was exposed last week as a poor indicator of the quality of the math knowledge of our state's students.

The scoring guidelines provide partial credit for wrong answers and even for a complete lack of an attempted answer. The result is a lack of credibility for the results.

The NY Post gave examples of how the partial credit for wrong answers is explained to the scorers.

A fourth-grade child who answers that two feet is 48 inches instead of 24 inches gets half credit.
A child who divides 28 by 14 and gets 4 receives partial credit.
A child who sets up a division problem but does not attempt to answer the problem gets partial credit.
A child who subtracts 57 from 75 and gets 15 gets half credit.
A child who multiplies 35 by 10 and gets 150 gets half credit.

As one might imagine, there is considerable concern within our state about the meaningful credit that children are receiving for wrong answers. Given that the level of achievement on the test necessary to "pass" the test continues to decline over time, one wonders if simply providing wrong answers for partial credit can actually be enough to be considered "proficient" in math.

State Test Score Controversy

In May 2009, we examined the controversy regarding the NYC test scores on the state examination. The recent "partial credit" revelation combines with the already known lowering of the proficiency standard to explain the previously mystifying simultaneous rise in the performance of every major city in New York State.

This new information adds to the scrutiny that NYC's test scores will receive going forward. The artificial improvement in NYC test scores that has resulted from the idiosyncrasies of the NYS exam must be eliminated from the numbers in order to compare true educational progress from year to year.

New York State should work to reduce the extent to which its exam's scoring approach and proficiency standards convince students who are not prepared academically that they are indeed well prepared.