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Gotham Gazette

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Columnist

Mayoral Control of City Schools Helps Students Succeed in a Global Economy - It Must Be Extended


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(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


In 2007, I was honored to chair the Commission on School Governance, a body appointed by then Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum to make recommendations on the future of New York City’s mayoral control law, which was about to come up for renewal.

I brought a unique perspective to the deliberations. I had served two terms as president of the New York City Board of Education during the 1970s, and had fought hard to preserve the board’s role in hiring and monitoring the performance of NYC school chancellors—as well as the independence of the board from direct political takeover.

Why? Because I believed the system worked.

As in any large, urban school system, there were some bad apples, but most of the central and community school board members impressed me as dedicated, hard-working people who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

Two decades later, I had what I like to call “an epiphany of mayoral control.”  

When it came time to made recommendations about the future of the legislation in 2008, I enthusiastically added my signature to the commission’s findings. Our overarching conclusion: “Mayoral control of the schools should be maintained so that the mayor can remain the principal public official who charts the direction of the school system and through the Chancellor is ultimately responsible for operating the schools on a day-to-day basis.”

I am more convinced than ever that a three-year renewal of mayoral accountability is the best thing we can do to move all our students to excellence and the futures they deserve.

Instead of dispersed authority and a rigid bureaucracy, we now have clear lines of accountability and responsibility. This has enabled mayors to allocate unprecedented resources to the city’s public schools and has empowered more parents to become involved in their children’s education.

Since its inception, mayoral accountability has enjoyed the robust support of business leaders like myself, for good reason. As a senior advisor to a global public relations and communications agency, I know that an educated population is essential for any company to compete in the 21st-century. An education that gives all students access to the most in-demand skills will also go a long way toward bringing equity to the workforce. Business leaders have a real interest in shrinking racial and gender gaps in fields such as computer science, where jobs are growing at twice the national average.

The Department of Education’s (DOE) Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative is an example of mayoral accountability at its best. This $81 million public-private partnership will enable all city public school students, with an emphasis on female, black, and Hispanic students, to learn computer science by 2025. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are laser-focused on empowering more young women and students of color to pursue careers in computer science, where they are currently under-represented.

Now, New York City is leading the nation in ensuring more young women and students of color have access to, and are excelling in, advanced computer science classes. In the past two years, the DOE has seen a nearly six-fold increase in the number of girls taking an Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science test—up from 379 in 2016 to 2,155 last year. I was especially impressed to learn that girls represented 42 percent of these test-takers, versus 28 percent nationwide. An increasing number of girls are also passing an AP computer-science exam: 1,266 in 2018, up from 177 in 2016. The number of black and Hispanic students taking an AP Computer Science exam has also increased by 55 percent and 46 percent, respectively, since 2017. 

CS4All and the city’s other Equity and Excellence for All initiatives would have been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve when I served on the Board of Education. Mayoral control has created and fostered major policies at a much faster pace than we ever saw previously—while keeping responsibility and accountability focused where it belongs: with the Mayor.

I believe New York State legislators understand the benefits of having a mayor at the helm of our school system. They should include a three-year extension of mayoral control in the budget due by Monday, April 1.

It is time to make our collective epiphany a reality.

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Stephen R. Aiello is a senior advisor at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in New York City, and served as president of the NYC Board of Education between 1977 and 1979.

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