Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

Education

The Mayor's Plan For The Schools


Thirty years ago, having teetered on the brink of a civil war over schools, New York emerged with a new system of community school districts. In a speech last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the end of that system. What had been "decentralized" is now going to be centralized once again.

That alone would have been revolutionary enough. But the mayor's plan is far more sweeping, presenting "clearly the biggest changes in 30 years, arguably in 100," says Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children. It would:

  • set up a standardized curriculum for the vast majority of schools
  • eliminate community school district offices
  • establish a parental liaison person in every school
  • replace community school boards
Issue At A Glance
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed the most sweeping changes in education in at least 30 years.

• Uniform curriculum

• End of community school districts

• A more centralized structure

• Parent Engagement Boards, not school boards

• Increased parental involvement

• Emphasis on reading, writing and math

• Phonics for young students

Questions Remaining
The plan resembles an outline with the details yet to be filled in.

• What will the uniform curriculum actually be?

• How will the plan meet the needs of special education students and youngsters who do not speak English?

• Who will lose their jobs?

• Will such a centralized system be able to respond to parents and students?

• Which students will be able to attend what schools where?

• What, if any role, will the community have in education?

• Will the state legislature, and U.S. Dept. of Justice, approve "the Parent Engagement Boards"?

What will be put in place of community school boards, though, remains unclear. The mayor's plan thus does little to quell the concern over getting parents involved in their children's education. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott set out City Hall's idea to accomplish this, which involves the creation of something called "Parent Engagement Boards, " while the City Council came up with its own recommendation. But in "Making Parents Partners," former Bronx borough president and mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer writes: "No mere change in structure will repair the problem that parents feel that schools are not open to." He presents his own ideas for getting parents more involved in the schools.

As ambitious as Bloomberg's plan is, it has not sparked the vitriol and turmoil that greeted the changes of 30 years ago -- at least not yet. The real difficulties may still lie ahead. The mayor's plan leaves out many specifics. At a public hearing the day after the mayor's speech, Walcott and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein repeatedly answered questions about the plan by saying only that details still had to be worked out.

There are many such details to be worked out before the plan goes into effect by September. While the plan calls for a standardized curriculum, it does not say what that curriculum will include. Special education and bilingual education remain huge question marks. "The implementation of this is going to be very hard and bumpy and very rough," said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

The changes will have to be made at a time when the city and the state, which provides much of the school system budget, face huge financial problems. Bloomberg believes many reforms can be accomplished without spending more money, that savings will offset additional expenses. In his speech, the mayor "barely referred . .. to the gloomy fiscal outlook that has clouded his mayoralty" wrote Jennifer Steinhauser in the New York Times. "He sent the message that tough times would not prevent him from seeking and expecting big improvements in the system."

But many believe a shortage of funds lies at the root of the system's problems.

UNIFORM CURRICULUM

Bloomberg wants 1,000 of the 1,200 schools in the system to adopt a uniform curriculum. There are lots of curriculums from which the schools can select, or it can write a new one. The system reportedly now uses 75 different math curriculums and 35 for reading and writing (dubbed literacy)

One key issue will be just how rigid the curriculum should be. Some programs dictate that on a certain day all students in a given grade read the same book; others merely say students should read a book in a certain genre.

Advocates of a uniform curriculum say that this would be an advantage for poor children who tend to change schools more frequently than their more affluent counterparts. If the curriculum were the same from school to school, it would be easier for them to perform well when they change schools.

Critics say more rigid curriculums remove the creativity from teaching and ignore the differences between children. "A uniform curriculum is not a script which says, 'Today, you say hello, children,'" says Weingarten. "It creates the same general scopes and sequences."

But former schools chancellor Rudy Crew opposes the whole idea. "Not all New York City schools and not all urban schools and not all children need the same prescription," he told the New York Times. "I think it is extremely dangerous."

Whatever the curriculum, about 200 successful schools will not have to use it. "Because they're doing it right, they will enjoy discretion in choosing their curricula, training their teachers, and setting their budgets," Bloomberg said. "These principals, assistant principals and teachers have shown they know what their mission is and how to accomplish it. Stay the course--and God bless."

But the hands off approach may create problems too. Although the 200 schools have not been announced, nor have the criteria for selecting them, everyone expects they will be disproportionately white and affluent. In fact, the success of at least some of them may spring more from their having educated, involved parents than from any pedagogical brilliance. Observers worry that having 1,000 standardized and 200 exempt schools could create a new kind of educational caste system where only middle class schools have educational independence.

READING AND WRITING, PHONICS, SMALLER CLASSES

Bloomberg proposed other changes in the classroom.

Students in grades kindergarten through five would have at least 90 minutes of reading and writing instruction every day. Those in kindergarten through third would get an additional 45 minutes of phonics instruction, in which students learn what sounds letters make and combine those sounds to make words. Educators have long debated the comparative merits of a phonics approach to learning to read and the so-called whole language approach, where students learn to grasp the meaning of whole words and which relies on good stories to pique student interest. Currently phonics has gained an edge, since it has wide support in the Bush administration.

The mayor also said he would require an hour of math a day in grades kindergarten through three and more as the student gets older; cut the size of middle school English classes from their current 33 students to 28; and called for more classroom libraries

CENTRALIZED AUTHORITY

The community school district system was always a bit of a hodgepodge. The local districts controlled elementary and middle schools but high schools were centrally controlled, with an office for each borough. Some of the 32 community districts worked well, while others were racked by corruption or simply not responsive to parents and students. And each had its own staff complete with bureaucrats.

Calling the community district offices "bureaucratic dinosaurs," Bloomberg said he would replace the community districts with 10 Learning Support Centers throughout the city. Each would have a regional superintendent, who would focus only on teaching and educational issues. Those 10 educators, who would work with Klein in the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse, would each supervise 10 "instructional supervisors" who would oversee about 12 elementary, middle and high schools in a specific neighborhood or area.

Six operations centers in the city would take on the nitty-gritty work of budgeting, purchasing, personnel and the like. Employees at these centers would replace "thousands of people in duplicative and unnecessary administrative jobs," Bloomberg said, creating "a significant reduction in non-pedagogical staff." Such a cut in the bureaucracy would free up money and, Bloomberg said, an enormous amount of space for classrooms, "the equivalent of a dozen new schools."

"It is a form of recentralization. No question about it," said Joseph Viteritti, director of the Program on Education and Civil Society at New York University. "That is not necessarily bad and not necessarily good."

Of all the mayor's ideas, the elimination of the district offices probably creates the most questions and concerns among administrators and school system employees as well as parents and students. For better or worse, the community districts have formed the basis of school life in New York for 30 years, making it hard to envision life without them.

For example, Chaifetz said, districts now handle the transfer of students from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school. Who will do that now? Most students attend elementary and middle schools in their districts, but not necessarily in their immediate neighborhoods. Will they be limited to the 10 to 12 schools in their immediate vicinity? To the schools in their region? Or will they be able to go anywhere in the city? And so on.

In at least some neighborhoods, parents went to district offices when they had a problem with their child's school. The 10 regional centers, said Councilmember Bill de Blasio "are just too big" to accommodate that

The repercussions extend beyond education to another New York obsession: real estate. Apartment and house prices have depended to some extent on what community school district the home is in. If community school districts largely cease to exist, what will that do to the real estate market?

But those with the most immediate concerns are district employees. Of the 40 district superintendents, at most 10 will become regional superintendents. Others may run the smaller clusters of schools. One official, who was not named, predicted most other superintendents would get positions of some responsibility. Many other district employees will not be so lucky.

But will the community school districts really die? Perhaps not.

At the hearing in Brooklyn Thursday, Klein said he would keep District 75, which oversees some special education programs. He said that some programs currently run by district, an after-school program, say, could remain district programs. And the new Parent Engagement Boards, which the administration wants to replace the Community Schools Boards (see "Replacing Community Schools Board" below), would represent parents in the 32 existing community school districts.

This may be a political maneuver. Eliminating the community school districts entirely would require approval from Albany, and the administration probably does not want its plans to become enmeshed in the state capital gridlock. But Steven Sanders, chair of the Assembly education committee, says this gambit might not work: "Certain things fall under the purview of the legislature," he said.

PROMOTING PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

Virtually everyone involved in education at least gives lip service to the importance of involving parents in their children's education. "It's like a three-legged stool," Bloomberg said in an interview with the Times, the three legs being curriculum, structural change, and parental involvement. "If you don't have one, the whole thing falls over."

But despite all the rhetoric, and hard evidence, about the importance of parents, many New York City parents find dealing with the school system frustrating. "Educational professionals have never learned how to consider parents as their full partners in education," writes former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. (See "Making Parents Partners".) Written communications can be difficult to understand, phone calls go unanswered and, in meetings, administrators often appear to dodge key questions.

"If there is one thing that has come across in the thousands of parents that I have met, it is that we need to do a much better job of providing parents with multiple opportunities to communicate their views to decision makers in our schools," Klein said.

And so, the mayor called for a parent liaison in each school and for each of the regional offices to have a parent support office with full time, trained staff. The office would remain open some evenings and on weekends. Further, the city would open an academy for parents that would offer workshops on such issues as curriculum, strengthening the connection between home and schools, and improving parent associations. "The parent academy will be a full service resource center," Klein told the hearing Thursday.

But some observers question how sincere Bloomberg, Klein and Walcott are about the parental involvement "leg" of their plan.

Klein himself prompted some of these concerns. At the same hearing in which he set out the ideas, Klein complained about the shortcomings of parent involvement. "For every issue in which you think there is parent agreement, there are wide ranges of different views," he said. "One of the most entertaining evenings I have had is talking to a group of parents about whether to have school uniforms at their school. If I left that decision to parents, they would all have to quit work, and they would still be meeting to try to resolve that."

Responding to, de Blasio, a former community school board member said that the school administration too often confuses "conflict with paralysis."

The first five months of the Klein chancellorship does not bode well for parental involvement, said City Council Education Committee chair Eva Moskowitz. "There has been a tremendous amount of secrecy," she complained. "If we as elected officials have this problem, how is an ordinary parent who wants to know what happened to an after-school reading program in their district going to get that information?"

Parental cynicism was starkly in evidence at the Brooklyn hearing, particularly when Klein said principals would name the parent liaison at their schools. A member of the task force, Robin Brown, asked Klein whether this would be a conflict of interest. Klein disagreed, and some in the audience booed.

"Their mentality is, 'We, the mayor and the chancellor, will take care of you, don't worry,'" Cecilia Blewer, an Upper West Side parent said later. "This is daddy knows best, and it is a deep distrust of democracy."

REPLACING COMMUNITY SCHOOL BOARDS

When the state government handed control of the school system to Mayor Bloomberg last year, it left one big piece of business unfinished: The law calls for community school boards to go out of existence in June but does not say what will replace them. Today, that issue remains unresolved.

Whatever their problems, the community schools board presented the only opportunity for general democratic involvement in the city schools. The central Board of Education and its successor, the Panel for Educational Policy, have been appointed bodies.

But citizens and parents, whether they were citizens or not, could vote for members of community schools boards. Few New Yorkers, though, took advantage of this opportunity, and interest declined even further after 1996 when the state legislature took away much of the boards' responsibilities.

Now general elections for school offices could be eliminated entirely. On Thursday, the administration, in the person of Walcott and Klein, proposed replacing the boards with "Parent Engagement Boards." "Community school boards that were conceived with the intent to give a voice to the underrepresented have failed to give the voice to those with the most at stake," Walcott told a task force considering alternatives to the boards. (See "Parent Engagement Boards: Five Principles". The boards that would replace them, Walcott said, would consist entirely of parents and be chosen by parents. This would, he told the panel, "allow parents to have a more meaningful role in their children's education."

The idea met with questions and even opposition. The name Parent Engagement Boards struck de Blasio as "very 1984. It sounds like where you go to get sanitized." The City Council Education Committee has presented its own plan. It calls for Parent and Community School Councils in each district that would be appointed by council members and borough presidents. (See "The Council's Plan")

Some wondered what power the boards would have. "Who has the juice?" demanded task force member Robert deLeon. Another task force member, Gerald Levin, a former chairman of Time Warner, asked why the administration's proposed boards do not provide a role for community members who are not parents, such as businesspeople.

And while a proposal from City Hall certainly carries weight, the administration does not have the authority to dictate a plan to replace community school boards. That responsibility lies with the state legislature and governor. Final say rests with the U.S. Department of Justice which, under the federal Voting Right Act, must approve any change affecting voting in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, jurisdictions deemed to have had a history of voting discrimination.

The school governance bill passed last year called for the leadership of the state legislature to appoint a task force to hold hearings on the issue and make a recommendation to the state government. And so, for several weeks ending Thursday, the task force, chaired by Assemblymember Sanders, held hearings in all five boroughs that attracted many witnesses with a wide array of ideas.

Some witnesses wanted to preserve the current structure. "To eliminate boards is to eliminate checks and balances," said Ellen Caldwell, a Washington Heights parent. Others worried about whether the state government would really heed parental and community concerns. "I found a lot of cynicism about this process, that three men in a room are going to cede all control to the mayor," Larry Wood of Goddard Riverside Community Center said.

Many witnesses proposed their own ideas. Anne McKinnon, a member of Community School District 22 in Brooklyn, said the district boards should be modeled on the school leadership teams created by the legislature in 1996. Like those groups, which exist in each school, the panels would operate in public, have a comprehensive educational plan and include parents, faculty and administrators.

Advocates for Public Representation in Education position calls for whatever replaces the community school boards to be elected by the public and to have meaningful responsibilities, such as helping to set policy.

The big fear among parents and other concerned people in the community is that they will lose the little influence they had. After hearing the mayor's plan, Cecelia Blewer, an Upper West Side parent, said, "Their mentality is, 'We, the mayor and the chancellor, will take care of you don't worry.' But of course, we're going to worry.

Mayor Bloomberg's Education Reform


Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education address at New York Urban League's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium - January 15, 2003

I want to congratulate the New York Urban League and its president, Darwin Davis. For over a year now, I've proudly worn the Urban League pin on my lapel every day. The pin's message about marrying equality and the Big Apple is I think what New York is all about-and what I was elected to enhance.

The League has a long and proud tradition of service, especially in the area of education. And I look forward to continuing to work with the League -- on behalf of New York City's children, and our children's' parents.

And you should know, at a national level, last night I had dinner with U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige. I thanked him for President Bush's recent proposal to increase Federal investment to help schools serving our neediest children and meet high academic standards.

I also had dinner last night, and I wanted to welcome here this morning, State Education Commissioner Rick Mills to our city, welcome Rick. I know you all share with me our appreciation to him for his leadership in this State.

Let me also thank the All-City Choir. Their voices are the voices of our city's future. They are strong and clear voices, full of hope and, as the song says, "a new day begun."

They remind us that no job in our city is more important than giving all our young people the guidance, education and opportunity they need -- to realize that hope, and achieve their potential.

To give our children the education they deserve, New York City spends $12 billion annually and employs roughly 100,000 public servants. This has made some of our city's schools vibrant centers of learning, with dedicated and hard-working teachers and staffs. Unfortunately, these schools are the exception, and not the rule. In a majority of cases, the quality of public education we provide is woefully inadequate.

And, as a result, too many of our children's futures-and our city's future-are in jeopardy.

Fortunately, our Governor and State Legislature have recognized this threat, and have had the foresight to task us with fixing this disgrace.

They have given us the responsibility and extraordinary opportunity to rewrite that bleak scenario -- and to chart a new course of success for all our public schools.

Today, I will share with you a frank, and I think accurate, portrait of the current system's fundamental failings...and also outline the essential next steps we are taking to reverse them.

I can think of no more appropriate occasion to do so than the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Because it was Dr. King's remarkable gift that he could passionately and fearlessly indict what was wrong with our society... and also inspire and mobilize us to rise above our shortcomings.

Dr. King regularly reminded us that an injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere. It is one of his most oft-quoted statements.

Similarly, if Dr. King were here today to survey the current state of New York City's schools he would, in the same vein, warn us that illiteracy permitted anywhere threatens literacy and learning everywhere.

He would unflinchingly focus our attention on the yawning gap --between the unmatched cultural and academic riches of New York on the one hand -- and the failure of too many of our schools on the other. Because that gap is the deepest shame of the greatest city in the world.

He would remind us, for example, that while the Schomburg Center is justly renowned as a resource for research, learning and attracting scholars from around the world to its incomparable library and archives--unless we make immediate and fundamental changes in our schools, the treasures of the Schomburg, or of any other center of higher learning, may forever be utterly beyond the grasp of children who are, even now, sitting in classrooms not ten minutes walk from this very auditorium.

This morning we are in Community School District Five. Central and West Harlem lie within its boundaries. The most recent State and City standardized tests tell us that more than three-fourths of the students in elementary and middle school in District Five cannot read, write, or perform math at grade level.

I mention District Five simply because that's where we are today. I could just as easily have cited the dismal performance record of many other local districts.

In some middle schools, ninety- five percent or more of the students don't meet the basic standards of competence expected at their grade levels.

In ten other districts-districts incidentally in which African American and Latino children make up 88 to 99 percent of enrollment-more than two-thirds of students fail to meet standards in reading, writing and math.

Who's at fault? We hold students and teachers accountable for their performance in school-and we should. Setting high academic standards is the right thing to do.

But when entire schools are failing, accountability cannot stop with them. There the problem is systemic. When we look to those responsible for this disgraceful state of affairs, we need go no further than our own mirrors. We are all responsible-and we are all part of the solution.

Education is an area in which there is a tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses, and hearken back sentimentally to an era when "things were better."

But in our schools, as many educational experts have written, there is no Golden Age to reclaim. The "good old days," sadly were never anything but the old days.

True, just as it does today, the public schools in years gone by had examples of excellent schools, inspiring teachers and exceptional students.

At their best, they produced Secretary of State Colin Powell and opera diva Beverly Sills... polio conqueror Jonas Salk and impresario Joseph Papp...actress Lorraine Bracco and former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan... Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Surgeon General Richard Carmona, and our own Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

But it was also a school system that mirrored the requirements of an industrial age economy-one in which, for every single exceptional student tracked and groomed for academic achievement, scores dropped out to take jobs in sweatshops and on loading docks. Others graduated to take clerical or factory jobs that no longer exist, or that have now radically higher educational requirements.

The old system arguably served its time. But that time has passed.

In an information age global economy as we have today, all of our students must learn to read proficiently and critically...write fluently and persuasively...understand and employ mathematical concepts and analytical reasoning...and perform effectively in the collaborative settings that have become the new workplace norm.

Today, the specific, testable, and measurable ability to meet these requirements must be a condition of student promotion and graduation. Anything less cheats our students. For that reason, we will not tolerate social promotion in our schools.

Speaking at a college commencement some 42 years ago, Dr. King told the graduates that "We are tied together in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly... If we are to realize the American dream, we must cultivate this perspective."

It is in that spirit that I ask all of us to recognize that we are one city, with one common future-and that the fulcrum on which that future will turn is our public school system.

Over the last five months, Chancellor Klein and his team at the Department of Education have made a good beginning.

They have, for example, instituted a system to identify, measure, train and support the excellent school principals we urgently need.

They've made our schools safer for students and teachers, so that learning can go on in an orderly atmosphere free of fear, with Ben Tucker, Chief Executive of the Office of School Safety, focusing on serious offenses, and a new zero-tolerance for disruptive children in the classroom currently being implemented.

They've made a makeover of the scandalously expensive and time-consuming process of school construction and repair. Combined now, on a functional basis, are the Division of School Facilities and the School Construction Authority. This structural change alone will save hundreds of millions of dollars and years of planning.

They've supported the development of charter schools that foster educational creativity and provide broader public school choice. Our dream is to see many new charter schools formed in the years ahead.

To meet the challenge President Bush and Secretary Paige have given us to "leave no child behind"... they've instituted a centralized, patronage-free transfer system giving parents the fair and solely merit-based ability to move their children from failing schools.

And perhaps most importantly, under the banner of "Children First," Chancellor Klein's team has made an extraordinary outreach effort soliciting the views of parents throughout this city. They've heard from some 50,000 parents and community residents in face-to-face encounters, or via e-mails throughout New York City's many diverse neighborhoods.

Today, we take crucial steps on the road to creating a school system that is new in form and spirit-one in which educational excellence will flourish. To effect that change, we will immediately focus on three core elements:

First, ending the bureaucratic sclerosis that prevents resources and attention from going where they are needed: the classrooms.

Second, ensuring that every student acquires the skills in reading, writing and math that are the foundations of all learning.

And third, giving parents the tools, and the charge, to become full and active partners in the education of their children.

The school governance reform legislation enacted last year cleared the way for us to undertake these next steps.

It put an end to decades of diffused and confused educational administration, in which the buck stopped nowhere.

It gave us the opportunity to begin with something very close to a blank slate, freeing us to think anew and act anew.

Now we are preparing to build on what was done, and what was learned. As the first of these three core elements, we are finishing clearing out the Byzantine administrative fiefdoms that multiplied under the old Board of Ed.

Today, we are ending the remaining burden of a two-tier, "Alice In Wonderland" structure, one governing elementary and middle schools, and another separate one responsible for the high schools-both tiers diverted from education by operational as opposed to instructional responsibilities.

And both divided by more than 40 separate bureaucracies at the citywide and community school district levels, with budgets totaling millions of dollars, employing thousands of people in duplicative and unnecessary administrative jobs.

Chancellor Klein is eliminating this system. By the beginning of the next school year, these notorious bureaucratic dinosaurs will be extinct.

In their place -- will be one, unified, focused, streamlined chain of command. The Chancellor and his team will organize the individual schools into this new education management structure, one dedicated to instruction, and instruction alone. It combines k-12 in one seamless system. It gives operational duties to non-pedagogical staff. It streamlines the accountability chain.

At the heart of this new structure, under the supervision of Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Diana Lam, will be ten instructional leadership divisions, called Learning Support Centers.

Each Learning Support Center will be guided by one of our top ten best educators, selected by Chancellor Klein and his staff on the basis of extraordinary past achievement. These Regional Superintendents will sit together at the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Building -- where they can coordinate policy and provide direct accountability from the top on down.

These Learning Support Centers, physically spread throughout the city in city-owned or already-leased buildings, will each in turn house ten Local Instructional Supervisors, who will in turn directly oversee no more than a dozen close-by elementary, middle and high schools through the on-site school principals.

In other words -- on the instructional side, accountability and responsibility goes directly from one Deputy Chancellor to ten Regional Superintendents...to 100 Local Instructional Supervisors...to 1200 principals...to 80,000 teachers...to one million, one hundred thousand students...who we are here to serve!

Those chosen to be Regional Superintendents or Local Instructional Supervisors are among the cadre of Superintendents, Deputy Superintendents and Principals currently employed in our system. They are our pedagogical experts, and will focus on instruction, and instruction alone.

To shoulder the operations burden and keep the educators focused on education, this defined instructional accountability configuration will be served by a handful of specialized, well-managed back-office support centers under Deputy Chancellor for Administration Kathleen Grimm, performing budgeting, information technology, human resources and other administrative functions.

These roughly half a dozen "off-line" Support Centers will each have responsibility for separate geographic areas of the city and be housed in Learning Support Centers. Each will be run by a single Regional Operations Manager and populated by some of our current operational staff. They will function more efficiently -- and at a fraction of the sums now wasted in redundant administrative wheel-spinning.

In other words, on the operations side, accountability and responsibility goes from one Deputy Chancellor to six Regional Operation Managers instead of the current 40 or so. We expect a significant reduction in non-pedagogical staff over the next few months as this centralized structure is implemented.

Unclogging these administrative arteries will also permit us to reorganize the individual schools around their core mission: classroom instruction for students, not jobs for bureaucrats.

Freed from the dead hand of bureaucracy, principals will become instructional leaders-a sea-change on the front lines of the system: the individual schools.

To those who object to these reforms, my answer is simply this: Children and parents are not concerned about protecting bureaucrats; they want quality schools, and that's what we're going to deliver.

The savings we accrue in this process of centralization of operational services will go to the students. For example, by moving operations employees out of classrooms currently used as offices and conference facilities, we will free up at least 8,000 classroom seats in space now occupied by local bureaucracies. This is the equivalent of a dozen new schools.

In other words, simply by bringing the school system's administrative functions into the 21st century, we can gain nearly as much classroom space as will be built in the City's current five-year capital program.

Going in the other direction, on the instructional side, by this reorganization, we can take our best specialists in reading and math, and move them out of their district offices and put them full time where they should be: with the students, in the schools, teaching.

This reformed management structure will be the engine for achieving educational excellence in all 1200 of our schools. A new, coherent, systemwide curriculum for teaching reading, writing and math will be the fuel that drives this engine-and that is the second core element we are instituting today.

One of the consequences of decentralization has been a baffling profusion of approaches to teaching the three "R's" throughout the city.

In some instances, innovative programs have taken root and worked-and they will be allowed to continue to work. Pardon me you English teachers, but if the school "ain't broke," we're not going to make the mistake of trying to fix it.

That is why the roughly 200 "successful schools" will be allowed to operate with less bureaucratic influence than they currently receive.

Because they're doing it right, they will enjoy discretion in choosing their curricula, training their teachers, and setting their budgets.

These principals, assistant principals and teachers have shown they know what their mission is and how to accomplish it. Their student bodies are getting what they have a right to-a great education. Stay the course-and God Bless!

Our goal is to have 1200 such schools. But now, unfortunately, the vast majority of schools lack high-quality instruction and professional development, frustrating teachers and shortchanging students.

And too often, students and teachers who move from school to school are distracted and discouraged by having to adapt to entirely new teaching methods and curricula-frequently, in mid-school year.

The experience of other urban school districts shows that a standardized approach to reading, writing and math is the best way to raise student performance across the board, in all subjects. And beginning with the next school year, that is what we are going to implement citywide.

It's time to have a unified way of teaching our children.

In September, we will bring coherence to the way the majority of our schools teach reading and writing, so that citywide, our teachers will all employ strategies proven to work. For these schools, the Chancellor's office will dictate the curriculum and pedagogical methods.

Beginning in September, there will be libraries in all classrooms in all schools for students in grades 4 - 9. Many elementary and middle schools have classroom libraries-and such libraries must become the standard in all our schools.

Bottom line: Starting in September, every day, every elementary and middle school student will be surrounded with books that challenge and motivate them.

We will also provide support for struggling readers.

>From kindergarten through 3rd grade, we will have a reading and writing program that takes a comprehensive approach, and includes a daily focus on phonics.

Every young student will receive a minimum of 135 minutes of daily literacy instruction, and an hour of math. As the student gets older, in grades 3 through 8, the emphasis on math will increase relative to learning to read.

And what about children with special needs? They require special programs. The re-structuring we are announcing today must include the reform of the vast special education program created over 25 years ago.

In addition, as we develop a new curriculum for our students, the special needs of children who do not speak English must be addressed as well.

The panoply of programs in places across the schools needs to be more effective. Given the interlocking effects of Federal and State law, however, as well as the extensive litigation involved, I have asked the Chancellor to provide me with a separate plan on how we can better support these special populations within the next 60 days. Given Joel Klein's legal background, no one is better qualified to navigate the legal labyrinth that constantly frustrates change.

Cutting class size-especially in all our middle schools-is another critical key element. Beginning in September, the size of all middle school classes in English will be reduced from the current standard of 33 students to no more than 28 students.

Next, we've made the commitment to provide our teachers with the best teaching materials available-and we will. No teacher, no matter how competent, can teach without books and supplies... safe and clean classrooms... and adequate security.

Our schools spend almost three billion dollars a year on goods and services. Let me repeat that for understanding. Apart from paying the salaries of teachers, aides, principals and administrators, there is another three billion dollars spent on things like books, supplies, food and transportation, in support of classroom activities.

Yet we don't always purchase wisely, making sure we get the most value for the school system's dollar. We've also heard terrible stories about children sitting in classrooms without basic supplies and textbooks, or about books and other classroom materials that arrive weeks or months after the start of the school term. Those days have ended. Change can and will happen.

Already, we've instituted and continue to implement purchasing policy and system changes that are saving the schools millions of dollars on commodities. At the same time, we are focusing on ways to use electronic commerce to speed up the process of sourcing and delivering basic supplies to the schools, so that our children have the books and materials they need to learn when the classroom bell rings each September.

We do not have to wait for a consultant study or a report to be developed to make these changes. We are doing this now, and next September will be different from the past years. We already are making high-quality professional development become more part of the working culture of every school. This too will pay enormous dividends. The better trained we are -- the more our children will learn.

Our intent is to create a system of 1.1 million students who are great readers and writers. Nothing could be more important. It is the school system's top priority.

The third and perhaps most critical core element in the new school system is to make the roles and responsibilities of parents greater. Parents must be equal partners in education.

The clear message Chancellor Klein and his team have heard from the public school parents of New York is that parents of New York, is that parents want more access to, and information about, their children's schools. They want regular communication. And they want to be treated with respect.

The new school system will achieve those goals. The entire school system, from principals up to the Chancellor, will be held accountable for effectiveness in engaging parents, and responding to their concerns. Every school will become parent-friendly. Administrators and teachers will be expected to exhaust every avenue in making parents part of the school environment.

In each school there will be a "parent coordinator," whose sole job will be to engage parents in their children's education, and be the ombudsperson in the school.

Parent engagement also will be a significant factor in principal performance reviews. This will ensure that it is viewed as a core responsibility, not as an "add-on" or optional activity.

Many parents' schedules incidentally, make it difficult for them to come to their children's' schools during the workday. Therefore in all of the Learning support Centers throughout the city, we will set up community-focused parent service offices, each open at least two nights a week and on weekends, and each with the ability to work on the issues of any school in the city.

The governance structure of the entire school system also must become parent-oriented. That's why tomorrow, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Chancellor Klein will testify to the Joint State Legislative Task Force on Education that our current ineffective and politically driven community school board system must be abolished.

They will urge that district boards be replaced by new "Parent Engagement Boards," on which only parents of children attending that local school may serve-and protected from being compromised by local politicians as has happened every time in the past.

We not only want parents to become more involved in the education of their children... we challenge them to accept this role.

War, it has been said, is too important to be left to the generals. That's also true of education. Fixing our schools is too important to be left solely to the teachers and school administrators.

You elected me to do a tough job and make difficult choices. Being a parent is a tough job, too, especially in today's society. There's no ducking it.

At home, the buck stops with the parents. And it's up to the parents to get their children to school on time... to make sure that homework gets done... and to speak up when their child needs extra attention at school.

We can do more to help parents and students shoulder their responsibilities. And they'll get that help, in the form of a citywide system of school-linked youth, family and health services... counseling... and opportunities for after-school and extracurricular activities for their youngsters, as much as we can afford.

Guided by a new citywide system that the Chancellor will announce, there'll be new partnerships between the schools and the community organizations that deliver these services. They'll be part of a new social compact in New York-a compact devoted to creating 1200 great public schools.

But before the parents earn the right to complain about "the system," they must first do their part. After all, it's their child!

Then, there's students. They also face tough responsibilities. We need to challenge them to make the right choices and hold them to high expectations.

As they get old enough to know better, they must assume greater responsibility for their own success. After all, in the end, it's their lives.

Our Department of Education employees must do better. By and large, they are well-qualified, hard-working and dedicated to our youth. But the results are not what we want-and together we must do a better job.

Lastly, we, the people of New York, must do our part. We must have the courage to stand up to the apologists, to the entrenched self-serving special interests, to the self-promoters and doubters and the apathetic. We must make the commitment-financial, moral and political. After all, it's our future too!

The movement of freedom that Dr. King led and that we will forever honor him for, was, at bottom, just such a compact.

It was also a movement of individual actions. When we celebrate the civil rights era, we pay tribute to the personal decisions of thousands of ordinary men and women to take control of their lives and, by doing so, change society.

Today, we are at the dawn of a new movement-one that will liberate the next generation of New Yorkers from the devastating consequences of continued educational failure.

I challenge all New Yorkers to join me in embracing and nurturing that movement with the same kind of social compact, and daily individual acts of dedication and decency that made the civil rights movement one of the finest chapters in the American story.

The right to a quality education is just as much a God-given and American right as the right to vote or be treated equally. This movement to fix our public school system is another link on the civil rights railroad to equality.

Let me leave you with one last thought- we've outlined the next administrative and policy reforms the City will take to support that movement. Now, in the words of the song that began this morning's program, let us march on-together-until victory is won.

 

Major Changes For City Schools


 

Every individual I meet on the street says, "I wish you good luck." When they have had a drink or two they say, "Do you realize what you have gotten yourself into?"

The answer is, yes, I realize it.

This is not a job for someone who wan

Chancellor Klein So Far


When Mayor Michael Bloomberg exercised his hard-won right to appoint the city schools chancellor and selected Joel I. Klein, a former Justice Department antitrust attorney, Klein took over the school system with unprecedented powers and protection from public scrutiny. He reports only to the mayor. The seven-member Board of Education, which formerly had the power to remove the chancellor and oversaw many aspects of the school system, was sent home, and an advisory group, the Panel for Educational Policy, installed in its place.

This panel, chaired by the chancellor, is made up of five public-school parents appointed by the borough presidents, and seven other members appointed by the mayor. The borough presidents' appointees range from seasoned parent activists to a former city superintendent. The mayor's appointees include a number of educators, a museum director, and representatives of the private sector.

When announcing his appointees, the mayor spoke plainly about his expectations for the group, "In terms of the panel members, their job is to give advice to the chancellor, not advice to the press. I do not expect to see their names ever in the press answering a question either on the record or off the record.... I would not tolerate it for 30 seconds."

The policy panel convened for the first time on September 23rd and adopted its own by-laws. The 4:30 p.m. meeting at a high school in the Bronx scheduled no time for public comment and seemed, to some parents, to be designed to minimize public participation. The lack of discussion among panel members also left parents worrying about whether the parent representatives would voice parents' needs and concerns.

Chancellor Klein was also granted exclusive authority to hire and fire the city's district superintendents. He made quick use of this power to make permanent three interim acting superintendents, in Districts 1, 6, and 24, whose appointments had been opposed by those districts' community school boards-a problem that had vexed former chancellor Harold O. Levy.

Other major announcements from the chancellor's office recently include:

  • a program to use privately raised monies to award large bonuses to superintendents who increase student performance as shown by test scores;
  • the appointment of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to raise private monies for the city's schools;
  • an agreement with the teachers union to use the extra work time teachers exchanged for raises to increase the length of the school day for students, rather than to provide professional development to teachers.

The chancellor has not yet tackled the problem of how to provide students in the city's failing schools with the educational alternatives they are entitled to under the new federal "No Child Left Behind" Act. Some 331 of the city's schools were last month identified as failing to meet state performance standards. The new law gives parents of students in these schools the right to transfer their children into successful schools or get them free tutoring. With nearly a third of the city's schools identified as failing, however, many parents have been unable to secure a place for their child in a better school. Mayor Bloomberg has asked parents to be patient while he and Chancellor Klein fix the schools.

Klein has announced a thoroughgoing study of the school system, which will be conducted by paid consultants with nearly $4 million of private funding from two foundations. To build support for needed changes, he plans to seek input from a wide range of stakeholders in the public schools, including parents, educators, community groups, and business. He expects to announce some major changes within 100 days.

Help for Parents: Insideschools.org

Advocates for Children of New York has launched a new website, Insideschools.org, that should be useful to parents and others seeking to be well informed about public school issues-especially if the new educational regime turns out to be as tight-lipped as many now suspect. Spearheaded by Clara Hemphill, author of a series of books on the best public schools in the city, the site offers parents important advice and resources for choosing schools; getting children the services they need (including the free tutoring to which they may be entitled), understanding students' and parents' rights, and pursuing complaints effectively. The site is free, easy to navigate, and also offers parents the opportunity to sign up for twice-monthly email alerts on timely or critical school topics like testing dates, school-related events, recent research studies, and advocacy opportunities. The site is also accessible, school by school, under individual City Council districts in Gotham Gazette's Searchlight.

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.

NYC Schools as Hi-Tech Hubs


New York's public schools and universities may be emerging as hi-tech hubs. Recently, there have been a number of federal, state and private sector initiatives that will improve Internet resources, wireless access and technological innovation at city schools and universities.

Internet Resources

Mayor Bloomberg's focus on improving NYC schools and his background as a technology-savvy chief executive officer may be an ideal combination. Last month, he and NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced Power to Learn, an online learning community for parents, students and educators. The Power to Learn Web site connects users to over 1,300 schools and libraries.

However, while the Power to Learn site is commercial free, it is sponsored by Cablevision. This may raise concern among those opposed to private sector funding for public education. "Corporate partnerships provide additional resources to help our students in school," said Chancellor Klein.

Expanding educational resources sounds like a benign goal, but one worries that it may be the sign of a growing trend. This could be particularly problematic if private-sector money is substituted for government funding for public schools, and even justify additional cuts.

The federal government also supports public-private partnerships. Recently, Samuel Gompers Vocational and Technical High School in the Bronx was the last stop on U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige's 25-city tour across the country to promote several federal programs, including one about technology.

"Technology is connecting parents to teachers," Secretary Paige said. "And, it is helping connect parents to assessments so we can measure the progress of every student. Partnerships among schools, businesses, parents and entire communities are equally important if we're to make sure no child is left behind."

However, private sector funding does not rectify the problem that schools are still funded primarily through local property taxes. This structure cripples low-income schools while suburban schools in wealthy neighborhoods thrive.

But, despite a rash of corporate scandal, 'social entrepreneurship' is starting to get more attention.

Wireless Access

The No Child Left Behind Act (one of the programs the education secretary was promoting) provides some three billion dollars to schools this year, and also allows states and local districts more control over federal funds.

Recently, IBM has agreed to "unwire" New York City schools under the E-rate program (another program the secretary was promoting), which subsidizes technology for schools by up to 90 percent. In other words, a wireless access point will only cost schools $75 under the plan rather than $1000. The E-rate program has already provided $500 million in technology funding to New York City schools since its establishment in 1997.

IBM will upgrade all 12,000 NYC public schools with wireless Internet access, which will allow more computers to be connected and more students to get online. While educators debate over the value of using technology in the classroom, it is vital that all students learn to use technology for common everyday tasks such as e-mail and research. Those who do not may find themselves unable to access jobs, which require familiarity with technology.

Schools outfitted with wireless access could also become wireless hubs for their surrounding communities. This would provide the basis for a free, public wireless network such as NYCwireless. Since schools are found throughout New York City, they are ideal centers for expanding the city's information infrastructure.

Technological Innovation

At the higher education level, the City University of New York has just received $7.5 million from the State Assembly to create a network of high-tech incubators. Incubators are hubs that provide office space along with administrative, legal and financial support for small start-up businesses. Over the next five years, the incubators are expected to support 200 businesses and create 5,000 jobs in low-income communities.

Currently, three community colleges are planning to open incubators that target the needs of small businesses in different industries. La Guardia in Long Island City will focus on design, Hostos in the Bronx will target health care, and Borough of Manhattan with sites in Lower Manhattan and Harlem will be a hub for entertainment and video game start-ups.

Four additional incubators are planned pending an extra $7.5 million from the state. Specifically, Hunter College is planning to house a biotechnology incubator Experts have long bemoaned the lack of connection between New York City's hospitals, which are the best in the country, and biotechnology companies in and around the city.

In addition, New York City College of Technology is well-suited to become an information services and communications hub. Despite the recent problems of the information technology and telecommunications sector, the industry has the potential to contribute to the city's economy in the long-run.

Thus far, NYC has done a relatively poor job at moving university research from the laboratory into the boardroom when compared to Boston or Silicon Valley. Perhaps this is because science takes second place in this town to finance, fashion, law, media and entertainment.

In contrast, Boston and Silicon Valley have succeeded in capitalizing on their university links and creating clusters of high-tech firms grown directly out of university innovations. It is hoped that New York City will focus on building links between both private and public universities and private companies so that new core competencies can emerge to boost the city's economy.

The City's Information Infrastructure Improved Internet resources, wireless access and technological innovation are all important to our public schools and universities and to the city's information infrastructure.

Private sector funding for these initiatives may have a role to play, but it must be clear that corporate sponsorship of city schools can only supplement government funding in this area. It is not a solution to the problem of under-funded schools and under-paid teachers and faculty members.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

Chancellor Klein's Right-Hand Woman: Who is Diana Lam?


In another time, 54-year-old Diana Lam would probably have been a prime candidate for the job of chancellor in the New York City's public schools. However, in a city that today values corporate experience over an education background, Lam recently accepted a job as second-in-command. Lam will serve under Joel Klein, the newly appointed chancellor and former Justice Department official, whose only previous education experience was a several-month teaching stint three decades ago.

She will be the only educator among Klein's recently appointed senior-level advisors. As New York City's first deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in the newly-formed Department of Education, Lam will be the city's chief instructional leader and will undoubtedly be charged with providing the experience, knowledge, and energy that will drive reform across the city. Her efforts will be the yardstick by which Michael Bloomberg, the self-proclaimed "education mayor," will be judged.

So who is Diana Lam?

She is an experienced educator with a record of raising student achievement results in urban districts across the country, and her no-nonsense style has made her a widely sought-after reformer and popular with the business community. Lam's national reputation is due to the fact that she has, in the last 15 years, been at the helm of urban school districts in virtually every region of the United States.

Other city districts have wooed Lam both for her record of turning around dismal student achievement and for her firm belief in the ability of low-income and minority students to learn. "Your life should not be determined by your zip code," Lam once told the Christian Science Monitor, "Sometimes I'd hear from my staff that we can't do any better with these kids. I'd say, 'Wait...I was one of these kids.'"

Through the years, Lam's style has remained constant. She shakes up school systems with entrenched patterns of failure, implementing multiple large-scale systemic reforms at once, and criticizing those who prefer smaller, incremental changes. As she once remarked during her time as San Antonio's schools superintendent, "Change is messy. You can't have change without controversy."

Lam is certainly familiar with controversy. Her term as superintendent in Providence was overshadowed by long-term, bitter contract negotiations with the teachers' union. Her four-year tenure at the helm of San Antonio's public schools was cut short after "philosophical disagreements" with school board members there that resulted in an $800,000 buy-out of the remainder of her contract. Despite promising Providence in late July that she was in for the long-haul, her abrupt departure from that district to accept the New York post is surely linked, at least in part, to still-tender relations with the community and teachers there.

In the late 1980's Boston University, which took over control of the failing Chelsea, Massachusetts school system, chose Lam to be the first superintendent in this unusual public-private partnership. She was described by colleagues in the Boston schools as "a young star" who was "very savvy at motivating people and bringing reform." However, she also earned a reputation, with some, of "driving too hard and being too outspoken."

In Chelsea, Lam actively promoted school restructuring as a major reform tool. She also worked to expand teacher and public engagement in school decision-making. Her reforms, fueled by grant money she attracted to the district, included breaking up the city's high school into smaller schools within a school, instituting school-based health services and individual coaching programs for failing students, and cutting both teachers and programs she found ineffective.

While the scope of the reforms rattled some, Lam was named state superintendent of the year in 1991, and test scores and attendance rates both rose during her time there.

Shaking things up and moving on quickly became Lam's style.

Lam then moved on to Dubuque, a medium-sized, largely white city in Iowa that, demographically speaking, was in stark contrast to the other mostly low-income and minority cities in which she had worked. Two years later, Lam moved to San Antonio, regarded at the time as the worst district in Texas. She stayed in San Antonio for four years and for most of that time she had the support of the community, the local business community, and the majority of the school board.

During her four years in San Antonio, Lam accomplished a great deal. In 1994, 42 of the city's 95 schools were labeled "low-performing" by the state; in 1998, the number was down to six. As before, she promoted the "small school" philosophy, and in a controversial move split a large high school into four smaller schools. She instituted a district-wide school uniform requirement for students, and extended the school year to a year-round schedule. Basing her reform agenda on curricular reform, she mandated that every school in San Antonio adopt instructional reform plans from a range of options that fostered teacher collaboration.

Lam's self-described "sense of urgency" achieved results, but with a critical sacrifice: the trust of the city's teachers. The San Antonio teachers' union president said in 1998 that "teachers are overwhelmed with all the changes" and that "we can't dance any faster." Another union official described her management as "a totally top-down style of leadership."

Lam then moved on to Providence, where she was again widely praised for her work. However, similar run-ins with teachers and board members haunted her throughout her time as superintendent, and the Providence teachers' union vilified Lam during contract negotiations last year.

With funding from the Carnegie Corporation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Providence is massively restructuring its secondary schools. Lam also implemented a principal development program, a comprehensive professional development program for teachers, and a major literacy initiative in the city's elementary schools. The high school redesign efforts, in addition to major foundation support, attracted the support of the local business community -- so much so, that when Portland offered Lam its job as superintendent earlier this summer, Providence business leaders came together to fund a pension package for her to keep her in the city.

Last summer, Lam wrote in an op-ed piece that she wanted to stay in Providence to see the fruits of her work. That was, of course, until New York City Chancellor Joel Klein offered Lam, in her words, "the chance of a lifetime."

Lam clearly has her work cut out for her in New York City. Her record of success has been achieved in small city school districts, the largest of which, San Antonio, had 60,000 students. In New York, Lam will face a school system with over a million students.

But, if anything, the conditions in New York City are well aligned to draw the best out of Lam and avoid some of the downfalls she faced in other places.

First, as the handpicked choice of Chancellor Klein, with the full support of Mayor Bloomberg, Lam has the political support necessary for big changes. Her work in restructuring high schools into smaller schools also played a likely role in her consideration for the post. Finally, as the city's chief instruction officer and not its chancellor, Lam can focus on curricular reform -- considered her "genius" -- without the burden of other management and contractual issues that earned her the most enemies elsewhere.

In other locations, resistance to change stymied Lam's efforts at education reform. In New York -- with a new mayor, a new school governance system, and a new chancellor -- change is already here.

Joseph Wardenski, Senior Research Analyst at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc., is currently researching and co-editing a book on the national education adequacy movement. The views expressed are his own.

The New Chancellor


Having won control over the city school system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed that his success in improving the city schools should be the measure of his mayoralty. When asked what specific policies would be employed to produce such improvement, Bloomberg had so far deferred to his then-unnamed schools chancellor. A new chancellor has now been appointed, but answers to that question will have to wait a little longer.

On July 29th, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would entrust his top-priority mission to Joel I. Klein, chairman and chief executive of Bertelsmann Inc., part of one of the world's largest media companies. The first city schools chancellor appointed directly by the mayor is a New York City native, and a graduate of the city's public schools, who even did a brief, long-ago teaching stint in the city school system. But Joel Klein is best known as the tough, savvy federal prosecutor who went head to head with Microsoft and other corporate interests as chief of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division during the Clinton administration--a Beltway insider well connected on both sides of the aisle.

Klein says he feels a great debt to the city schools for the preparation he received there. He was born in the Bronx, attended PS 205 in Brooklyn, and graduated from William C. Bryant High School in Queens. He currently lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In accepting the chancellor's appointment, Klein said, "I am a product of these schools and I love what my public education did for me...for me, the opportunity to work in this endeavor is really the most exciting opportunity."

Klein's selection to run the nation's largest school system came as a surprise to everyone. His name was not among the many that circulated, a list that included high-profile corporate CEOs, school system heads from other large cities, and former city officials. Since the announcement, parents, educators, advocates and others have been scouring newspaper accounts, press releases, and biographies of Mr. Klein for clues as to how and how well he will manage the 1,200 schools, 80,000 teachers, and 1.1 million students that make up the city public school system. Klein's experience is impressive but sheds little light on what his appointment means for our schools.

By all accounts, Klein is a very smart guy. Equally often, he's said to be a scrapper, someone who doesn't back off from a fight. He is known for his ability to forge alliances to get the job done, as well as for marshalling public opinion when it serves the cause. These talents will surely be put to the test in his new job.

Klein is said to enjoy the limelight and to handle the press well. We'll see. It'll be an uphill battle to keep the press in his corner in this job; the New York media has been notoriously ill disposed toward city schools chancellors. Besides, Mayor Bloomberg has expressed a strong preference that his appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member advisory panel that replaced the Board of Education, stay out of the papers, and he may ask the same of his chancellor.

Opinions about Klein's qualifications for the chancellor's job are predictably mixed. Many believe Klein is an excellent choice thanks to his intellect, his team-building, managerial, and problem-solving skills, and his experience understanding large, complex organizations. Others worry about his lack of any significant background in education. Klein also has been described by some who know him well as "liberal to the core." This sets off warning bells for those who interpret this to mean that Klein will not have the stomach to take on the unions, nor to make the systemic changes the school system needs to work. For everyone, the next weeks will be telling.

Educators, advocates, policymakers, and parents will be looking for signs of real change in the team Klein assembles. They will be looking to see what sort of educational expertise he brings in, and how much he relies on the education experts in the mayor's office. They will also be watching the relationships he develops with the school system's traditional seats of power to see to what extent he is comfortable with the status quo. As one teacher said, "Since he's not an educator, everyone will be fighting for his ear to control his educational pronouncements."

Because Klein is not an educator, the state education commissioner, Richard Mills, and the Board of Regents must grant him a waiver from the education administration credentials required for the chancellor's job before he can take office. As chancellor, Klein will have unprecedented power to run the system. Under the new state legislation, he assumes the powers of the Board of Education and has direct authority over the district superintendents and 32 community school districts.

With the new structure in place, it should become clear that management and accountability issues matter, but so do educational ones: The city needs experienced, well-supported teachers and talented principals throughout the school system, not just clustered in the schools that already work. It needs schools with the power and the means to employ the proven practices and programs that their own students need -- not one-size-fits-all mandates from above. It needs to allow meaningful roles for parents in the schools -- not just the chance for us to vent. It needs a functional process by which to create new schools and close dysfunctional ones. And it needs sufficient funding to do all these things.

The public education landscape in the city has changed, but, so far, only superficially. Yes, 110 Livingston Street will soon be just another address. But when the Tweed Courthouse becomes the seat of city education policy, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have a lot of work to do there to create substantial change to ensure that the city schools provide the city's children with the education they deserve and on which their futures depend.

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.

Improving The Schools


In 1842, New York City created its first board of education. In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it abolished. He then appointed seven members to a new educational policy panel, which replaces the board, and in an effort to stamp out the politics that has pervaded education in New York, declared, "I do not expect to see their names -- ever -- in the press answering a question either on the record or off the record."

In seven months in office, Bloomberg already has succeeded in doing what his three predecessors tried and failed to do: He gained control of the school system. He did the same thing with the School Construction Authority and also negotiated a new contract with the city's teachers. The ride has seemed so smooth that a member of his administration, Alan Gartner, could crow about it at a forum in June on education, joking that maybe we could "declare victory and go home."

Several hours after he made that quip, a New York State appeals court overturned what had been considered a clear victory for New York City education. A lower court had found that the state illegally deprives city students of their right to a sound education and so should give New York City more money for its schools. Now Judge Alfred Lerner wrote that the state does not have "to guarantee some higher, largely unspecified level of education." The equivalent of an eighth-grade education is sufficient, he said, adding, "society needs workers in all levels of jobs, the majority of which may be very low level."

The court's reversal was only the most dramatic sign that it is way too early to declare victory. The others are more routine: low test scores, concern about students never graduating from high school, and a long difficult road ahead for yet another schools chancellor, Joel Klein, appointed this week. Meanwhile, the budget crunch and Albany's power limit the mayor's ability to address these issues and many others confronting the city's 1.1 million public school students. Will the mayor's accomplishments so far make a difference to city school children? And, if not, is there anything he can do that will?

THE RECORD SO FAR

The litany of failure is familiar. Although the New York City school system boasts some excellent schools and outstanding teachers, three out of four city schools do not perform adequately, according to one report by the state Education Department. Seven out of ten eighth graders failed this year's state required reading exam, indicating they will find it difficult if not impossible to do high school work. Even though math scores have improved, about two thirds of youngsters in grade 3, 5, 6 and 7 fail to meet city standards.

Only half of New York City high school students graduate in four years and, after seven years, 30 percent still have not received a diploma. And that figure could rise with the state tightening the requirements for graduation.

Currently, 17 percent of the city's 80,000 teachers are not certified. The system needs 8,000 new teachers to be on the job by September. Of those, about 4,300 have already been hired, and outgoing Schools Chancellor Harold Levy said he expects the system to fill the remaining slots before school opens.

The problem gets worse farther up the ladder. Last spring, principals at about half the city's 1,100 schools had less than three years experience at that job, and more than 260 principals were eligible to retire in June. Finding replacements could be complicated. "There are not a lot of people who want to do this job," Hunter education professor Janet Patti told Education Week.

"So much of public life in New York City has improved in the last decade, but the public schools have not participated in the improvement," said a Manhattan Institute report this spring.

"Perhaps New York City is really two cities rather than one," Joseph Viteritti of New York University wrote last year. "There is one small city populated by the fortunate, who manage to send their children to the best public and private schools available. Then there is the larger city of the unfortunate whose children are routinely assigned to failing schools, frozen into a life of low expectations and meager opportunity."

The mayor vowed to change that. He has called education "the number one focus of my administration." "There are districts in our city where only 20 percent of the children do math and English at grade level. That is so unacceptable," he said.

Some 71 percent of New Yorkers are dissatisfied with the school system, according to a recent Quinnipiac University survey. But 64 percent of voters think Bloomberg will make "substantial progress" in improving schools in the next three years.

LIMITS OF CONTROL

The mayor's chief remedy is that he be held accountable for the schools' success - or failure. "President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read: 'The Buck Stops Here," Bloomberg wrote earlier this year. "And I'll send exactly the same message by relocating the administration of the city's school system right next door to the mayor's office. Putting the city's new Department of Education close to the mayor . . . will demonstrate how important education really is to all New Yorkers.

The mayor has taken some concrete steps.

When he took office, negotiations between the city and the teachers, who had been without a contract since November, 2000, seemed acrimonious and unproductive. The new contract gives them a 16 percent pay hike, which the teachers union says will make the city more competitive with surrounding suburban districts. Chancellor Levy and the union say the contract has already helped ease the shortage of experienced, licensed teachers, making it easier for the system to fill vacancies this year than in past summers.

In return for the pay hike, the work week for teachers will increase by 100 minutes. But Bloomberg did not win other changes in work rules, including in so-called "Circular 6," which bars principals from putting teachers on lunchroom duty or performing other noninstructional tasks unless 75 percent of the teachers in the school approve. Principals believe this provision severely restricts their autonomy.

And the contract presents only a temporary respite. It expires on May 31, 2003, and Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union will want to begin negotiating prior to that.

In gaining control of the system and winning the right to appoint the chancellor, the mayor solved some problems and created new ones. First parts of the state law making the changes in governance are murky. Contrary to Bloomberg's wishes, it preserves a sort of board of education, called an educational policy panel, though it is unclear what it can do. "I don't think the legislation gives us a clear directive other than that the board should be less engaged and less engaging," Gartner said.

After the mayor, the real power lies with the chancellor. Originally Bloomberg reportedly wanted a corporate chief executive officer to fill the post. By mid July, the spotlight was on people who had run large government agencies or nonprofit organizations.

Every few days, a new name surfaced, only to be replaced by a new purported front runner a few days later. Retired AOL-Time Warner chief executive Gerald Levin. Onetime Deputy Mayor Nathan Leventhal. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, superintendent of the Cleveland schools. Stanley Brezenoff, another onetime deputy mayor. Even Yankee manager Joe Torre was floated.

In the end Bloomberg named someone who was largely absent from all the speculation: Joel Klein, who headed the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department for four years during the Clinton administration and launched the case that sought to break up Microsoft. More recently, Klein, a New York native, was in charge of U.S. operations for the German media conglomerate Bertlesmann A.G.

Klein has virtually no education experience -- he taught briefly -- but that did not appear to faze the mayor who said, ãThe real issue is can he manage people. He managed six or seven hundred lawyers. That's probably like herding cats, and if he can do that, he can certainly do this.ä

The four chancellors since 1990 all became enmeshed in political fights and unexpected controversies, ranging from the book "Heather Has Two Mommies" to school vouchers. "In order to take this job, you need fire in the belly," education consultant Beth Lief told the New York Times. "You get skewered by newspapers all over the place."

The law will eliminate the community school boards. Those who think many of the boards became "mini Tammany Halls" hail that move. But after they are gone, how can parents and community members be involved in the education system. Dennis Walcott, the deputy mayor with responsibility for education, says the administration is reviewing several ideas to make sure the voices of parents and community members are heard. No specific plan has been announced.

This worries some critics. "Parents are not going to have a say in their children's education now that Mayor Bloomberg has taken over the school board," one parent who was attending a Working Families Party demonstration to demand a parental role told the Daily News.

Despite all the debate how who control what, some experts say it does not matter much. Now-former Board of Education member Irving Hamer wrote in Gotham Gazette, that mayoral control "appears to be little more than a popular fad, with scarce evidence that putting the mayor directly in charge of the public school system will make much of a difference."

Bloomberg aide Gartner acknowledged, "Governance was a beginning and maybe a necessary condition but not the answer" to the schools‰ problems. He noted that after the mayor took control in Chicago, for example, the system saved money but saw no increase in the high school graduation rate.

WHAT NEXT?

Bloomberg and his aides have provided few clues to what he plans to do with the control he fought so hard to get. He may figure that in education, as in other areas, he has appointed someone he believes can do the job -- and will now let him do it.

Gartner said that the mayor will soon lay out a series of goals focusing on what goes on in the classroom, such as the need to have qualified teachers and the work rules affecting teachers and principals.

The key issue, says Deputy Mayor Walcott, is not administrative issues, but what goes on in the classroom, particularly in failing schools.

Some 90 percent of the schools placed on the state's Schools Under Registration Review list for failing schools have been in New York City, even though the city accounts for only about one fifth of the total schools in the state. And that ignores the many failing city schools that do not make it on to the list.

If the mayor has a magic bullet for improving those schools, he has not revealed it. Common prescriptions include hiring and retaining strong teachers, giving principals more authority, allowing parents free choice of public schools to create a constructive competition. Ironically, one the few concrete moves the mayor has made so far in improving instruction focuses not on the poorly performing students, but on the top ones. Last spring, he announced plans for three new elite high schools on City University of New York campuses.

MONEY

The system's problems can be at least partly traced to a money shortage, many school advocates argue. Although most concede the system could spend its money more wisely, they believe there simply is not enough to serve more than a million children, many of whom do not speak English or come from troubled families.

That is why, for example, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity filed suit seeking more funding for schools from the state.

Some observers think the city should come up with more money itself. "New Yorkers are going to have to look at the local share of the school budget," Ernest Tollerson of the New York City Partnership said. "Our argument for more state funding would be stronger if our local tax effort were greater."

It is on the issue of funding that Bloomberg has come in for the most criticism. In his budget, he initially called for cuts in spending on schools, although reductions in classroom programs were eventually averted partly because of state aid.

Throughout the budget debate, education advocates questioned how Bloomberg could call education his number one priority and not provide more money for it. At a June rally on school spending sponsored by the United Federation of Teachers and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, rapper Chuck D told thousands of students, "You've got a mayor who's a billionaire who wants to take the opportunity away from you to become the same kind of person."

Most members of the City Council supported a tax surcharge to preserve education programs, particularly school construction, but Bloomberg staunchly opposed it. And while Bloomberg says he supports the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit, many of its backers fault him for not trying to use his influence with Governor George Pataki to get the state to abandon its appeal of the trial court decision.

Meanwhile, the Independent Budget Office predicts that more cuts may be necessary as the year progresses.

ALBANY'S LONG ARM

Whatever plans Bloomberg has, Albany will exert powerful influence over what he can and cannot do.

The first conflict could come over Klein's appointment. The state commissioner of education must approve any candidate for chancellor who does not have a formal background in education. This derailed former Mayor Ed Koch's attempt to appoint his deputy mayor, Bobby Wagner, to run the city schools. City officials told the New York Times that Education Commissioner Richard Mills has indicated the state will respond quickly to the city's request to waive the requirement for education credentials in Klein's case.

New York state has been among the leaders in the country in setting standards for its curriculum and in testing to see how well students are learning that curriculum. City students take state mandated reading and math exams in fourth and eighth grade, as well as an array of less significant tests like a technology exam and a social studies assessment for eighth graders. For better or worse, these tests have become a high stakes game with students spending hours preparing for them, teachers altering their instruction to address them, and students, teachers and administrators worrying how scores will affect their futures.

For high school students, tests loom even larger. In 2000, the state began requiring that all students pass Regents exams in order to graduate. By 2005, students will have to pass five such tests. Since fewer than 50 percent of students now pass even one, some observers fear graduation rates will fall in the coming years - unless teaching improves or the tests get easier.

The state also oversees failing schools by identifying them and giving them special help. And it controls who can teach. In September 2003, all New York state teachers must have passed a licensing exam. Some 17 percent of city teachers are not certified, although about 90 percent of the teachers hired this summer do have their licenses.

However much the state controls education, the mayor has declared himself accountable, and it is he to whom New Yorkers will look to have improved the ailing system.

 

Albany's Sway Over City Schools


When it comes to their children's education, New Yorkers must just as often look to Albany as to City Hall to seek solutions or place blame for problems. State lawmakers hold considerable power over city public schools. State laws determine, to a large extent, how schools are governed, funded, staffed, and monitored. The state education department, led by the Board of Regents, (who are elected by the state legislature), and the state education commissioner (who is appointed by the Regents), regulates what students are expected to learn and what requirements they must fulfill in order to graduate from the public school system. So, if you have children in the public schools or care about children in the public schools, you will want to pay close attention to and vote carefully in the forthcoming State Senate, Assembly, and gubernatorial races.

GOVERNANCE

Albany says who runs the city schools. The governor and state legislature recently wielded their power over the governance of the city schools by amending education law to give substantial control of the schools to the New York City mayor. The new law reduces the authority of the Board of Education and reconfigures it, giving the mayor the authority to appoint a majority of its members. The law gives the city mayor the power to hire and fire the schools chancellor, a responsibility that used to belong to the Board of Education. It also gives the chancellor the sole authority to hire and fire superintendents, a power that used to be shared with elected community school boards. If approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, the new law abolishes the local boards as of June 30, 2003, and establishes a task force to hold public hearings to determine what should replace them.

Mayoral control of the city schools had been sought by Mayor Bloomberg's predecessors but resisted by Albany until now. Still, the alignment of political forces that led to the current law is tenuous. Perhaps as a result, state lawmakers have hedged their bets with a sunset provision that causes school governance to revert to the previous structure in seven years. At that time, Albany lawmakers will revisit the issue.

Parental involvement in school governance is also regulated by the state. A 1991 state law to ensure "participation of parents and teachers in school-based planning and shared decision-making" requires a shared decision-making plan from every district statewide. The goal of school-based planning and shared decision-making was "to improve the educational performance of all students in the school regardless of such factors as socioeconomic status, race, sex, or language." New York City did not enforce this law until 1996 when the Board of Education adopted the current plan for school leadership teams. According to the plan, these teams of parents and school personnel are responsible for educational planning and school-based budgeting. The teams have been implemented with various results in schools around the city.

FUNDING

Though the city and the state (and, to a much smaller degree, the federal government) share the costs of the public schools, Albany has a big say in how the schools are funded and how much money the schools get. To start, under state law, New York City is one of five "dependent" school districts. This means that, as in the four other biggest cities in the state, the New York City Board of Education has no power to levy taxes for the public schools. Its budget comes out of the municipal budget, and therefore it must compete for city funds with other essential services like ambulances and garbage pick-up. Elsewhere in the state, the school district budget, and any new local taxes required to fund it, must be approved by a vote of the general public. Besides having considerable control over New York City's ability to generate income through taxes, Albany also has the power to force the city to contribute a certain level of education funding. The new governance law included a "maintenance of effort" provision aimed at preventing the city from reducing its share of education funding.

Albany also determines how state education funding is distributed statewide and how much is budgeted for the schools each year. The governor and the legislature negotiate state education funds as part of the state budget battle each year. Funds are distributed to the various school districts through 40 or so different complicated aid formulas.

The state education finance system has been the target of a lawsuit that has been going on for almost a decade. The suit, brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (which is where I work), charges that the state funding formula is unconstitutional: It does not provide adequate funding to every school district in the state and, as a result, it deprives students in New York City and other underfunded districts around the state of their constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. The lawsuit alleges that the convoluted formula by which funding is distributed is a sham and that the education budget is driven each year by political deals rather than student needs. The state argues that it does provide sufficient funding and that the education that students are offered meets the constitutional minimal standard.

In January 2001, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the formula violates students' constitutional rights and ordered it to be reformed. In June, an intermediate appellate court reversed that decision. The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will ultimately decide the case. However, both Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo, have pledged to settle the suit as their first act upon taking office as governor and to undertake a study to assess the actual costs of a sound basic education statewide as the first step in creating a fair funding formula.

The state also shortchanges the city on school construction money, according to the Educational Priorities Panel, a school watchdog group. The group says Albany uses a different formula to determine whether New York City needs a school from the one it uses for districts in much of the rest of the state. As a result, New York City got about $159 per student in building aid from Albany between 1992 and 1999, while the districts in the rest of the state (minus the four other biggest cities) got $347 per student).

STANDARDS AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Albany says what requirements students must fulfill and what educational opportunity schools are required to offer. The guiding force for education throughout the state is the Regents Learning Standards. New York's Board of Regents and State Education Department spent over a decade developing this set of statewide learning standards, which were approved in 1996. They describe what students should know and be able to do at each grade level and in order to graduate from high school prepared for further education and the world of work. As standards go, New York's are supposed to be pretty good: New York was one of only two states that received an A grade from Education Week's Quality Counts 2001 for having clear and specific standards in all core academic subjects.

The state also developed a set of exams, supposedly aligned with the standards, designed to assess students' progress and hold them accountable. To ensure that all students are learning the skills that will prepare them for Regents study in high school, fourth- and eighth-grade students take exams in English Language Arts and mathematics. To graduate from high school, all students (starting with the Class of 2004) must pass Regents exams in five subjects: English Language Arts, Mathematics, Global Studies, Science, and U.S. History and Government.

The effects of standardized testing on students and schooling has become increasingly controversial (see "To Test or Not To Test"). Since the new higher graduation requirements, including the Regents exams, were instituted, graduation rates have dropped steadily. Concerned about these controversies, state lawmakers are planning a series of hearings on state education policies this fall.

What educational opportunity must the state offer? It seems reasonable to think that if the state requires schools and students to meet certain standards, the state would be required to ensure them the means to do so. This is not necessarily the case. Because of the disconnect (some say antagonism) between the state legislature and the state education department, Albany is famous for what are called unfunded mandates. That means, for example, that the state education department can require all schools to offer pre-kindergarten to all students who qualify for it or can require schools to limit class sizes in the early grades, and yet the governor and state legislature can cut the funding for these programs after the first or second year without changing the mandate -- both of which happened in recent years.

In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, the state argued that it is meeting its constitutional obligation to its public school students if all have the opportunity for an eighth- or ninth-grade education. The appellate court agreed, but many believe that a higher standard is both necessary and guaranteed by the state constitution.

Albany also says how school success is monitored. New York's current school accountability system is made up of the System of Accountability for Student Success (SASS) and the Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) Process. A school's SASS rating depends entirely on its students' score on the state-mandated standardized tests given in the fourth grade, eighth grade, and high school. Each year, SASS sets performance targets for each of its schools for the forthcoming three years. This target aims to allow a school to compete against itself in improving its scores. If a school consistently fails to meet its targets or is repeatedly performing below the state standard, SASS has the authority to step in.

The Registration Review Process is the primary method by which New York currently holds "failing" schools accountable for educational performance. Through this process, the state education department identifies a number of the state's lowest-performing schools and then tries to help those schools and the districts that operate them to implement strategies for improving the academic performance of their students. There are currently 100 schools on the SURR list; 77 are in New York City. Some of those schools have been on the list for over a decade.

Not all schools that fail to meet standards are placed on the SURR list. SURR schools are those that are furthest from meeting the state's performance standards as measured on annual standardized tests. Once identified as SURR, a school is eligible for limited extra resources and expert assistance. A corrective action plan is developed in consultation with school staff, parents, community members, and the state education department. A SURR school has up to three full school years to make acceptable progress in improving its academic performance. If the school fails to move its test scores to an acceptable level, the school's registration will be revoked, and the school will be fully redesigned before it is reopened. Only a fraction of the schools where students are performing poorly receive extra assistance, and the amount of assistance received by the 100 SURR schools does not come close to meeting their basic needs. No system exists to ensure that all teachers have been trained in the standards or that all schools are equipped to meet them.

STAFFING

Albany says what requirements prospective teachers must fulfill. The state education department sets certification requirements that spell out what academic preparation, experience, and additional requirements teachers must have to be eligible to teach in the state's public schools. It has increased teacher certification requirements in recent years. By 2004, temporary licenses will be eliminated, and all teachers will need to meet upgraded certification and on-going professional development requirements.

An Albany incumbent is almost guaranteed reelection, partly because few voters recognize the impact of legislators' jobs on their lives. Parents, students, educators, and other concerned citizens need to keep the heat on Albany -- as well as on City Hall and their local schools -- for the education the city's students deserve and on which the city's future depends.

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.

School Deals Near


A deal is reportedly in place that will give Mayor Michael Bloomberg authority over the city's public schools, and responsibility for them. A teacher's contract should soon follow. Indeed, things are suddenly moving so fast that, by the time you read this, both may already have happened.

Under the plan, the mayor will be able to select the chancellor, and will choose eight members of the Board of Education, whose membership will be expanded to 13. The five remaining members will be parents appointed by the borough presidents.

If the mayor is getting something that he long has sought, the teachers have been seeking a contract for even longer, some 19 months. Teachers have been working without a contract since November 2000 and without a raise since December 1999.

Indeed, the United Federation of Teachers, or UFT, called for a strike vote at the end of May, to express the union's frustration with the ups and downs of the negotiations.

Last year, the union found itself at an angry impasse with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who rejected its demands for raises that would make city teachers' salaries competitive with surrounding suburbs and who instead asked teachers to accept a merit-pay agreement.

When Michael Bloomberg became mayor, negotiations quickly began again. A state fact-finding panel offered recommendations that both sides agreed were reasonable. The state budget earmarked some funding for teachers' salaries. But just when a contract seemed within reach, progress stalled.

Publicly, Mayor Bloomberg said that negotiating a change in school governance was a higher priority than the teachers' contract. Teachers started to worry that the mayor was holding their contract hostage to the governance deal. Whether to appease her membership or to pressure the mayor or both, UFT president Randi Weingarten then took steps toward authorizing a strike.

Most observers thought a strike was never a likely outcome. Teachers' strikes are illegal in New York. The Taylor Law, which gives public employees the right to unionize also prevents them from striking and authorizes penalties for employees who break the law (for example, it requires employers to withhold two days' pay for each strike day. The teachers union has had only five strikes in its history, four of them in the 1960s when the union's status as a bargaining agent for educators was being established. Ten years ago, the membership, by a large majority, gave the leadership authorization to call a strike, but a contract agreement was reached over the summer before a walkout was called.

HIP PROTEST AT THE HALL

But, whether a strike was actually ever going to happen, there surely was a lot of noise about it. At a rally in front of City Hall on June 4th, organized by the UFT, the

Alliance for Quality Education, and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, tens of thousands of people, including many students, braved crowds, barricades, and police-blocked streets to protest Mayor Bloomberg's proposed education budget cuts. Teachers carried signs that read "Don't Force Me To Strike."

Celebrity speakers at the rally included Russell Simmons, LL Cool J, Erykah Badu, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Chuck D., the Lost Boyz, Wyclef Jean, and Cynthia Nixon (via videotape). The rally culminated a month's worth of smaller demonstrations and civil disobedience at City Hall by parents, teachers, advocates, and students opposed to the budget cuts.

The three organizing groups pledged that this was not a one-time alliance, but that they would continue to work together for a quality education for the city's students. Alliance for Quality Education executive director Regina Eaton said, "These young artists recognize their connection with New York youth and are willing to use it and their access to the media to work to improve education."

Protest Against UFT Honoring Governor Pataki

Last month, the UFT quietly presented Governor George Pataki with the John Dewey Award to Friends of Education, its highest honor, granted in years past to Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall, and last year awarded to President Bill Clinton. A number of teachers and advocates have registered disappointment at the UFT's choice.

In presenting the award, Randi Weingarten said that Governor Pataki "stepped into the breach to provide funds to help solve our contract dispute. . .." She also praised him for his support for teachers' pensions.

Outraged teachers and advocates remember the governor instead for his insufficient education budgets; for his insistence, in the Center for Fiscal Equity school-funding case, that New York students were entitled to no more than a 8th-grade education, and for his appeal of the court decision in that case, which holds that New York's school-funding system violates students' constitutional rights.

No organized protest was mounted against the award.

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.

School Control


 

Everybody in New York seems to be talking about mayoral control of the schools these days, as if it were one of the most pressing issues in public education. In truth, it appears to be little more than a popular fad, with scarce evidence that putting the mayor directly in charge of the public school system will make much of a difference.

Those who are advocating for mayoral control berate school boards, teachers and administrators for failing to do what no society has ever done -- educate all the children. And they expect educators to accomplish this task in a 19th century setting -- the same school year, the same funding strategies, even some of the same physical facilities as a century ago -- as well as a low status profession that does not attract the best and the brightest because of horrible working conditions and unending criticism.

Mayoral control does not address these issues. My own research into school systems that have mayoral control, including Chicago, Cleveland, Washington D.C., and Boston, confirms that it offers little to no benefit to children and schools.

There is no more notable take-over of a school district than the one that occurred in Chicago in 1995. But this move was not dictated primarily by educational concerns. When school opened in September 1995, the Chicago system was literally bankrupt. It had no money in the bank to meet payroll. Frequent pleas to the state legislature for assistance were met with a demand for mayoral control. Indeed, if the Chicago public schools expected assistance from the state legislature, they had to turn control of the system over to the mayor. The Chicago business community echoed the refrain. After some haggling, the mayor gained control, and the infamous reform of the Chicago public schools was launched.

Depending on the data examined and the starting point for the review, some would say Chicago has made progress. To be fair, the fiscal viability of the schools has improved. However, on just about every other indicator, the city's school system remains at the bottom of the barrel.

There have been other important seizures of school systems: Newark, Jersey City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, and Boston. The key assumption in each has been that accountability is synonymous with a change in governance and putting elected politicians in charge. But no elected politician has been run out of office because the public schools he or she controls have continued to languish and failed to improve achievement.

In nearly every one of the 19 school districts seized since 1988, a lack of funding has impeded progress. Money alone is not the silver bullet for educational improvement, but it is essential. Mayors in the seized school districts should have used their control to fill schools with high quality, well-paid teachers and counselors. None of the districts controlled by mayors can claim that teachers have become better qualified or better paid as a result of the shift.

In fact, none of these districts has solved the overall problem of funding. The rumble in Philadelphia's education jungle is a case in point. Inadequate funding of the public schools by city hall and the state legislature was at the center of the battle. Superintendent David Hornbeck was forced to resign. But his replacement, a corporate executive installed by the mayor, soon denounced the inadequate support for the system.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is clamoring for control of the schools, has actually cut the school operating budget by seven percent and the budget for new construction, equipment and renovations by 20 percent. If school systems do not get more resources with mayoral control what do they get?

Raising achievement occurs in the classroom, in the one-on-one intimate relationship between student and teacher. But administration does play a role. And so, a review of the Board of Education, its membership, function, responsibilities and structure should take place in this time of great debate about public education.

The history of the Board of Education in New York City dates back to the 19th century. Since then, a number of structures -large and small, appointed and elected -- have been tried and failed. The current structure of a board appointed by the borough presidents and mayor was established in the mid 1970s.

We should retain a Board of Education appointed by these officials. But the new board should be more professional, with members carefully screened to insure that they can craft educational policy and be outspoken and effective advocates for public education

From the changes to the board in the wake of the Boss Tweed scandals of the 19th century to the decentralization movement of 1969 and the retreat from that in 1996, school governance has always been reformed in a political context. Consequently, the current structure is a product of backroom politics and deals. Now the time has arrived to reform the board with a view toward what is best for children and for schools.

The people serving on the board, their qualifications and independence should be reviewed. Developing educational policy for a complex, multi-site and multi-billion dollar public education system should be considered an undertaking worthy of eminent and intelligent people. This is not the case today when many members of the part-time board have neither the time nor the expertise to craft policies for our city's schools.

The members of the Board of Education must be able to set the standard for what public education ought to be in the City of New York. They should stimulate and maintain meaningful public involvement by parents, community groups, faith-based organizations, businesses, and colleges. The board would forge alliances to help teachers and administrators improve the performance of students and schools. As part of its duties, the board would hold an annual summit, reporting on the state of education in the city.

Today's board functions all too often as a setting for resolving political disputes. The new board should serve as a professional center of educational excellence, advocacy and pedagogical, moral and intellectual leadership. The members should be respected for their educational acumen and achievements rather than for their political alliances.

To accomplish this, there must be criteria for board membership. Ideally, some of the professional educational policy makers on the Board of Education would be parents with children in the public school system. In addition, they should have at least a master's degree or equivalent experience; have experience in a large organization or as a distinguished activist; be professionally accomplished in their chosen field; and be strong advocates for public education.

A seven-member panel would screen candidates for board membership to ensure that they meet these standards. Mayoral appointees would have to be ratified by the full City Council, and borough presidents' appointments by the council members from their borough. No such process for reviewing appointee exists today. Board members would serve for a maximum of two years, instead of the current four-tear term.

There is no need for another placebo. Education is desperate for champions in City Hall, in the City Council, and in Albany who are willing to attend to the most pressing needs of school districts.

Irving Hamer, Jr. is a member of the New York City Board of Education, appointed by Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields in 1998. He is a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Elect The Board Of Education, by Jill Levy



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Gotham Gazette: What To Do When The L Train Closes What To Do When The L Train Closes Gotham Gazette: To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers Gotham Gazette: Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days


Comments
Comment(s)

The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.