Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Education
Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Education" refers to the organization and performance of the public schools and public support institutions established for teaching children from pre-K-12th.
The Context
NYC's public education system is the nation's largest. Over a million pre-Kindergarten through 12th-grade students attend its 1,100-plus schools. The seven-member Board of Education and the Chancellor share custody. Thirty-two separate school districts manage their elementary and middle schools. Run by the superintendents, each district elects its own community school board to set educational policy. High schools report directly to the Board of Ed. There is extraordinary variety across the system: schools of every size and stripe, and at every echelon from first-rate to failing. Less than half of each high school class graduates in four years--and, even with extra time, only 70% of NYC kids can count on a diploma.
The Reporter
Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.

by Jessica Wolff

Mayoral Control

There has been much speculation this month about whether the state legislature is finally ready to hand control of the New York City school system over to the mayor, by either abolishing the seven-member Board of Education that currently governs the schools, or in some way altering it. Many expect the legislature to act on this issue in the next few weeks, but exactly how much control the mayor will get is still uncertain. What impact this governance change will have on the troubled school system also remains to be seen.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not let up in his push for direct and complete mayoral control over the city's 1,100 public schools. Most recently, he made his case in front of the city council's education committee on the last of four days of hearings devoted to this issue. In his March 1st testimony, he argued that the public schools' high level of failure was evidence of the need to scrap the current governance system. He told city council member Robert Jackson that, with the governance change, he could make the necessary improvements to the schools without any additional funding.

Bloomberg flatly rejected a compromise plan, put forward by the United Federation of Teachers, to expand the current school board to eleven members, giving the mayor four additional appointments, and therefore a majority on the board. (On the current board, whose terms expire at the end of June, the borough presidents each get one appointment and the mayor gets two.) Bloomberg is insisting on sole authority to appoint the chancellor and run the schools; he would abolish the seven-member board as well as the 32 community school boards. In their place, he has proposed parent advisory boards for each school district and in each borough, though he has not described what their duties or powers would be.

The Republican-controlled state senate has long supported direct mayoral control of the schools, which Mayor Guiliani sought ardently but without success. The Democratic-controlled state assembly, which steadfastly opposed the idea, now appears to have come around to the belief that the mayor should have greater control. Though assembly Democrats have not announced what new governance structure they would support, assembly education committee chair Steven Sanders has acknowledged a willingness to give the mayor more responsibility and accountability in the running of the schools. Sanders, who leads an assembly panel researching the issue, has indicated, however, that the assembly will insist on maintaining some sort of school board to balance the mayor's authority.

According to one poll, New York City public school parents agree with the position that the mayor's power over their children's schools should not be absolute. This poll, conducted by the United Parents Associations, showed that over 85 percent of nearly 4,000 parents surveyed opposed total mayoral control of the schools.

Steve Sanders has also said that assembly Democrats would like to link greater mayoral control with a new law that would more effectively force the city to maintain its financial commitment to the schools, even when the state increases school aid to the city. The current "maintenance of effort" law, referred to as Stavisky-Goodman, has long been inadequate to protect the schools' budget from mayoral cuts. Last year, the state increased education aid to the city by only $150 million; Mayor Guiliani then added injury to insult by cutting some $400 million. As Sanders put it, it doesn't matter how you configure the engine, "if there's no fuel to run the system, it's not going to go very far."

For all his zeal about taking over the schools, Mayor Bloomberg has offered little insight into how his command of the system would improve it. In fact, at a recent meeting called by Dennis Walcott, Bloomberg's deputy mayor of policy, city education advocates were asked to "go around the table" and each make two suggestions about how to improve the schools, leaving participants to wonder how far Mayor Bloomberg's education policy has progressed.

One of the most important decisions will be whether to appoint a new chancellor. Current chancellor Harold O. Levy's contract expires at the end of June. At the request of the mayor, Levy and the Board of Education have recently agreed to postpone from April 1st to June 1st the board's decision on whether to extend that contract by a year. This move suggests that no one is yet waiting in the wings for Levy's job. It gives credence to reports that Bloomberg intends to keep Levy on for the extra year, and then replace him after a national search. If this scenario unfolds, however, some long-time city education watchers are already speculating about the negative impact on Bloomberg's 2005 reelection campaign should he gain significant control of the schools, leave Levy as chancellor until June 2003, and have no real progress to report. These observers expect Bloomberg to work hard and fast to get his own person in the job and to move Levy to the long list of short-tenured former chancellors who've struggled to manage the country's largest school system and its equally large power struggles and bureaucratic headaches. Stay tuned . . .

A note about last month's column: Independent Budget Office senior analyst Robert Weiner set me straight about one of the finer points of the NYC pre-K funding controversy. Unused pre-K funds last year did not have to be returned to the state but were used to make up some of the budget cuts forced on the Board of Education.

Sites For Beginners:

  • NYC Board of Education - By far the easiest way to get information from the Board of Education. Check out this site for NYC public education facts and figures, policy details, and "school report cards" -- annual reports on the performance of each NYC school. Also available are the results of the Board of Ed.'s 2000-2001 survey of parent satisfaction.
  • NY State Department of Education - Lots of info here about state policies that now drive city reform efforts -- learning standards, assessment requirements and results, universal pre-K, charter schools, registration review and more. The Office of NYC School and Community Services page posts city-specific info. Also available: curriculum resource guides to help teachers and families ensure class work is aligned with state learning standards.
  • NY State School Boards Association - A good place to check for the status of the state budget and up-to-date information on legislation and legal issues important for public education. Also culls newspapers statewide for school-related articles.
  • Education Week on the Web - Great site for national coverage of education issues. Includes daily digest of education articles from newspapers around the country. "In Context" section decodes jargon and provides background for the week's education news.

Other Recommendations:

  • Campaign for Fiscal Equity - Learn about the coalition that successfully filed suit against the New York State to secure adequate resources for a quality education for all NYC public school kids. Skim Justice DeGrasse's decision, read editorials from around the state urging Governor Pataki to bring fairness to school funding, and learn about CFE's upcoming public engagement programs.
  • TeachNet - A resource-filled website from Impact II: The Teachers' Network, which works to help teachers become policymakers in their schools.
  • NYU Institute for Education and Social Policy - The Institute studies and is working to improve public education in NYC and other US urban areas. Its current projects include policy studies, evaluations of school reform initiatives, and community involvement programs. Its website provides details of its work and links to important local, state and national education data.
  • Educational Priorities Panel - The current mission of this 26-year-old organization is to improve the quality of public education for New York City's children so that there is no longer a performance gap between city schools and those in the rest of the state. EPP's website is a gold mine of research and information on the New York City public school system. Want to know who was chancellor in 1901? It's here under historical facts. Can't figure out the difference between a CPT and an IEP, there's a useful "Lingo Translation." Plus, there's a whole library of EPP and other important reports and publications, including up-to-date and easy-to-understand education budget information.
  • National Center for Education Statistics - Comparing schools in different areas around the country is difficult, but NCES can help. Download "The Condition of Education, 2001" for performance trends, educational attainment data, and stats on school quality around the United States. If you're a believer in standardized tests, check out the Nation's Report Card at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) website.
  • United Federation of Teachers - The teacher's union, never shy about its opinions on current policy issues, maintains a wide-ranging site.
  • Least Restrictive Environment Coalition (LREC) - This group of organizations advocates for New York City students with disabilities; its website offers important resources for parents, educators, and advocates.

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