Which is the greater number: the total count of stars in the solar system, the sum of grains of sand on all Atlantic beaches, the dollar deficit of the U.S. economy, or the tally of useless reorganizations of the city's school system since the mayor seized it a dozen years ago?
If you picked the last choice, you're off by a whisker, but come back in a few more years and who knows? Every couple of years the Department of Education has radically transformed itself.
Not to fine-tune its operations or build positively on the lessons of research and experience, but more in the spirit of camouflaging its long-term goals. Not to develop partnerships among educators, parents and policy-makers, but more in the mode of a confidence game like three-card monte.
Not to open, but rather to block arteries of communication. And certainly not to find and deliver the most efficient resources to support educational needs.
How did the DOE under chancellors Klein, Black and Walcott fulfill its promise of accountability to parents enraged by hasty school closings, rule-busting class sizes and disclosures of sensitive information about their children? By humoring them with prattle about "empowerment" and then slamming the door in their faces.
And how have they defined the value of accountability in their dealings with teachers? By robbing them of their traditional rights, stomping on their dignity and laughing at the legacy of their profession.
The department has been run by surgeons specializing in disfigurement. Will the current "networks" be retained? Will we revert to the old district office system where people in charge of key areas such as personnel and special education were generally fairly accessible to school-based folks who needed them on the spot?
Will the new structure be a hybrid or mutation, or will it be a completely different house of cards aloft on swamp gas?
De Blasio's selection of Carmen Farina is a promising sign and a significant injection of cause for optimism. She has had a long career in many capacities, including classroom educator, and is likely to be a dramatic improvement over her immediate predecessors.
She must act with courage, humility and insight to sweep politics and corporate flirtations aside, heed the counsel of legitimate experts, and re-institutionalize a Department of Education as a defender and purveyor of quality education.