The mayoral candidates
discussed education at an April 14 forum at St. Francis College in
Brooklyn sponsored by the Council of School Supervisors and
Administrators, the union that represents
principals and other administrators. Participating were Democratic
candidates Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president;
Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields; City Council Speaker
Gifford Miller and U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, who arrived late
because of a vote in Congress. Republican candidates Thomas Ognibene,
the former City Council Republican leader, and Steve Shaw, an investment
banker, also participated.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was invited but, according to the forum's
organizers, could not attend and asked to send a representative. The
organizers rejected this idea.
Dominic Carter of NY1 and Brian Lehrer of WNYC moderated the discussion.
This is an edited transcript.
GRADING THE MAYOR
Question: Mayoral control of the school system is
something that many mayors sought and Mayor Bloomberg finally won from
the state legislature. He says that voters should hold him accountable
for education above all else. So, what grade would you give him on
education from A to F? And if you think you can do better, please be
specific as to how.
Gifford Miller: Education is the most important issue
we're facing as a city. It's not just critical to our city for
preserving our tax base; it's our moral responsibility to make sure that
our children have a chance at a better life. I think we have a unique
opportunity right now because of mayoral control, which is the best
thing this mayor has done, but unfortunately he squandered that control.
If we were to use that control to focus on the fundamentals, on the
things that we know work in education, we have an opportunity to move
our schools forward. It's not as confusing or as difficult as this mayor
suggests. We know what works: smaller class sizes, more quality teachers
and principals, safer schools and stronger after-school programs. I'm
afraid this mayor has chosen to focus on almost everything but those
fundamentals and the results aren't good. Test scores are off,
attendance is down, teachers are leaving the system in droves, violence
is an increasing problem in our schools, and parents feel more
disconnected than ever.
So I have to say that he's failed in his responsibility and a failure in
responsibility is an F.
Thomas Ognibene: I would give the mayor an A for
attempting to change education, but probably a D for implementation. I
think he was well intentioned when he took control of the school system
because it needed political control. But the problem was that instead of
using his greatest assets -- the administrators, the principals, and the
teachers -- to make sure there was quality education in the schools, he
decided to centralize the school system again and run the school system
from the Tweed building. Instead of allowing teachers, administrators,
and principals to use their discretion and creativity to teach the
children in the classrooms, they've mandated that education must take
place at a certain pace and according to a certain schedule. That
schedule isn't necessarily what the children need in order to learn.
If you're telling an administrator or a teacher that they have to teach
a certain subject from 10:00 to 10:15 and they have to stop, even though
the children are showing an interest in the subject matter and they want
to learn more, you're going to lose the interest of the child.
Eventually they're going to be turned off of education.
There are many things that [[Bloomberg]] could have done to make
education better. One is that he could have evaluated the children, made
sure that they were all tested so that they could learn at a pace that
was suitable to them to acquire the educational skills that they need.
He started a social promotion program. I think that was well
intentioned, but the problem is that you may have children that can't
acquire those skills by the third grade; they may need to go to the
fourth grade or the fifth grade before they can acquire those skills.
That's why you have to test them, you have to be much more flexible.
I want to stress: an A for trying, a C for implementation.
C. Virginia Fields: I would approach it similarly in
that I would give the mayor an A for gaining control for of the school
system because I do support mayoral control, but I would give a D for
implementation. I think the mayor has missed opportunities in terms of
doing the real work where it is needed.
Instead of focusing one of his major first initiatives on elimination of
social promotion, I believe the mayor should have invested in the early
childhood area, making sure that we are doing early assessment, making
sure that we are making the interventions at the early level and
monitoring those children, making sure they are receiving eye exams, ear
exams so that, if they have problems with seeing or hearing, we don't
have to wait until they reach the third grade to fail them. So he had a
real opportunity to make some real investments in the interests of
helping children move forward and he literally failed to do that.
I also think that he has been very dismissive of principals and other
administrators in terms of involving principals and those who have the
responsibility and should have the responsibilities of running our
school. And that has affected morale, it has affected relationships, and
it has a direct impact on the learning that takes place in the schools.
So there have been real opportunities here to make some changes other
than just reorganization after accepting mayoral control. We have a long
ways to go and that's why I'm running because I would govern very
differently in all of those areas.
Fernando Ferrer: It's one thing to gain control of our
New York City school system, it's quite another to take responsibility
for the 1.1 million children who parents send to our schools. The mayor
gets high grades for taking control, the lowest possible grade for
We essentially have two different visions about where our school system
should be and where it should go. The mayor believes that it's
sufficient to move around boxes on a table of organization, to build up
the bureaucracy of the Tweed courthouse, to regulate the amount of
minutes that educators may educate, and to bury educational leaders in
mountains of reports and emails.
I view life differently. I believe that the magic either happens or
doesn't happen in the classroom and that's the base upon which we must
build. Creating excellent classroom environments with consistent, not
uniform, curricula, with great teaching and learning in safe and secure
and uncrowded environments, with after-school programs and giving
troubled kids another alternative to their school buildings and giving
struggling kids more time on tests.
I believe this mayor has succeeded brilliantly in gaining control, for
that I give him an A. For vision and performance, for delivering on the
promise of improving education, he's been an abysmal failure.
Steve Shaw: In terms of how I would grade Mayor
Bloomberg, I would give him a C. He has made a strong effort, but in
terms of what he's actually done, that's how we get down to the C.
But rather than focus on his failures, I want to focus specifically on
what I would do differently and there are three specific areas. The
first is governance, the next is curriculum, and the third is parental
With regard to governance, if you look at what happened, Mayor Bloomberg
has put into place a rubber stamp type of advisory panel, which really
doesn't engage the true stakeholders, the principals, the teachers, the
parents. What I would do is have a panel, which would include the mayor,
the chancellor, someone from the Council of School Supervisors and
Administrators, someone from the United Federation of Teachers and five
parental representatives from all five boroughs.
The next is with regard to curriculum. Rather than focus on what Mayor
Bloomberg has, which are reading programs which have lost federal
funding for reading, what I would focus on is strong dose of phonics.
What I would seek to do is to end bilingual education because I believe
English immersion is what works. And I would seek to actively engage
teachers, parents, and principals in any reforms that were made. Reforms
don't get made from the top-down; they get made from the bottom-up.
And with parental involvement, I don't think the solution was to create
another layer of bureaucracy I believe the way that you increase
parental involvement is by doing things like eliminating school busing,
which makes it very difficult for parents who want their kids to be in a
neighborhood school to actually get involved in those schools. Those
three areas are three specific things that I would do much differently
than Mayor Bloomberg.
Question: Recently some parents groups expressed their
disinterest in taking positions on the community district education
councils because of the perception that these councils have been given
no real power by the current mayor. In addition, the Panel for
Educational Policy, which replaced the Board of Education, appears to
many to be a rubber stamp of the mayor without the raucous, public
involvement of times past. So, as mayor, how would you address the
concerns of the public and specifically the interests of parents as
Virginia Fields: One of the key elements in terms of
making our schools work is parental involvement. Over the years, I have
been very actively involved in sponsoring parental conferences. Every
year in those conferences, in terms of attendance it's grown so I know
the value of that.
I would reach out in terms of strengthening the roles of the parent
councils at the local level, making sure that they have the appropriate
resources, the training and access to the decision-making as part of the
work that they are asked to do. I would also ensure that the [Panel on
Educational Policy] is able to function. They are indeed a rubber stamp,
and it is regrettable because the level of people we have on that
council include some parents but also educators. They simply are not
asked or included in decision-making.
So, I would strengthen the role of each one of these entities to ensure
that their voices are heard, that I listen to them and make sure that
they too interact with parents. Setting the right climate, setting the
right tone, so that parents know that they are not excluded and that
their voices are also going to be listened to.
So it is a process of governance for me. Making sure that the
appropriate voices are heard, with respect to parents, strengthening the
structure that is in existence to create those kinds of engagements and
as the mayor indicating and making it known that this is what I want to
Fernando Ferrer: It should surprise no one that
parents are voting with their feet against this model of school
governance. In droves not showing up for parents councils because they
know what everybody else knows: The belief from City Hall and the Tweed
Courthouse is they have no role in the education of their kids, no role
in the governing of their schools. That's fundamentally wrong.
But the problem is magnified by the fact that we have the Panel for
Educational Policy that is not only toothless, it barely has gums. When
you see them walk down the center aisle of any school auditorium getting
ready for their meeting, you see them walk in single file. The agenda
has already been predetermined, confirming my worst fear of a board that
does not legitimately decide out in the open important matters of public
policy and budget making, where parents, community and city leaders can
and should have an opportunity to get at it, to effect decision making
and to effect a choice.
That's the biggest failure of this school governance plan. It has
excluded parents. It's made decision in back rooms. and it really has
forgotten what it's there for, making magic in the classrooms, bringing
parents into the process and creating viable and sustainable communities
of learners in every one of our schools.
Gifford Miller: First of all, parental involvement in
a child's education is the most important variable in that child's
educational success. And so we have to build a school system in which
parents are welcomed, parents are embraced, and parents are given
positive opportunities to affect their child's education.
My colleague here have talked a bunch about the Panel for Educational
Policy, the education councils and the failure of this administration to
embrace any kind of involvement of not just parents but anybody's
opinion is not welcome at Tweed. Certainly as mayor I would strengthen
both of those entities but more importantly I would focus on making sure
that parents are involved in their child's classrooms, in their child's
One tremendously successful program that I've supported in the City
Council is the HIP program. This is an Internet based program to allow
teachers to communicate directly with parents. By just typing in a few
keys they can reach all the parents in their class. What's interesting
about this program is that it reaches not just parents who have Internet
access but also gives parents who don't have Internet access an 800
number so that they can call in from any phone and receive a message
from the teacher. This gives teachers a real opportunity to say, "Why
was it that this child wasn't in class today? Here's the homework
assignment. Here's something that we should be working on."
It meaningfully involves parents in the day-to-day education of their
kids, and that where our focus should be. That's where any mayor's focus
should be because that's where we make real change in the classroom that
makes a difference to children.
Thomas Ognibene: Parents aren't involved because
they've been deliberately excluded. But it's not just parents that have
been deliberately excluded. Administrators, principals, and teachers
have virtually been excluded from education because this mayor and his
Department of Education choose to direct education from the Tweed
building. If you want involved parents, you have to return education to
where it belongs -- to each individual school. The principal is the lead
educator, and the principal should decide policy in that school with the
advice and understanding and consent of the teachers in that school.
When you return education to the school level, parents will become
involved because the parents and their input are important to
principals, administrators and teachers. And that's how you get the
parents involved. Children will not learn if their sole point of
education is in the school system. Children have to do homework. Their
parents have to be involved.
Learning is a 24-hour event. I know this from my own family where my
mother was a principal. If you stress education at home, the children
will learn to love education, be proud of it and will hold the schools
in reverence, and their teachers in reverence, and learn. If you exclude
parents from the school system, the children are not going to learn.
We have to change the form of governance that we have and go back to a
system where the Department of Education is minimized and the
responsibility for education is with those who understand education:
principals, administrators, and teachers. They deal with the children
every day. They know what the children need. They can deal with the
parents on a one-to-one level and really enhance the quality of
education for children.
Steve Shaw: I think one of the first things we have to
realize when we're talking about parental involvement is that there are
a wide variety of parents out there. Many of the parents have the
capability of getting involved in their kid's education, but many do
not. And that's why I think adult education is a very important part of
getting parents involved -- to make sure that parents know English, to
make sure they know how to write and they know how to read. Under Mayor
Bloomberg you would practically need a bloodhound to find an adult ed
program. That would be different under my administration.
As I mentioned before, I would greatly restructure the educational
advisory panel where five parental representatives would be on that
panel. They would be elected by the general public. The elections would
take place every two years. One person would represent every borough. I
think that would be another way to engage the parents.
And the next thing is with regard to zoning. Now kids are zoned to go to
a particular school. But what will happen is that all the kids with the
really involved parents will try to go to one school. I used to live in
Park Slope in Brooklyn, and everybody had to go to PS 321 because that
was the very well-known school. And so what happens is that you have all
the involved parents in one school and then you have a dearth of
involved parents at the other schools.
What I think we need to have is strict enforcement of the zoning so that
we have a wide variety of schools that have strong parental involvement
from a wide variety of parents. Adult education, changing the panel and
how it's constructed and changing the zoning, I think those are three
things that will get the parents engaged in our schools.
CHANCELLOR KLEIN'S PERFORMANCE
Question: [[NORMNAL]]Now that the chancellor is selected
directly by the mayor, what is your view of the proper relationship
between the mayor and the chancellor? What criteria would you use to
choose your chancellor? Would you remove Joel Klein?
Thomas Ognibene: I don't know if I have enough
information to make a value judgment about Mr. Klein, but from what I
can tell so far is he isn't running education the way I think education
should be run.
My idea of the chancellor is someone who is steeped in the education
process of the City of New York, someone who would come out of the New
York City schools system, the kind of person who has taught in our
schools, the kind of person who has been an administrator in our
schools, the kind of person who's been a principal in our schools.
They're the only ones who understand what is going on in our schools,
what the teachers need, what the principals and administrators need to
run the schools. You can't bring in a lawyer from Washington D.C. and
give him a mandate.
[Klein] doesn't understand what our children need in order to be
educated. He doesn't understand what teachers need and principals need
to make a creative environment for the kids in their school. So if you
bring in somebody without that educational history in New York, it
simply isn't going to work.
We have to look for somebody who is an educator who is steeped in the
traditions of New York City to be our next chancellor. So, yes, if I had
the opportunity and I were mayor, Mr. Klein would be replaced by
somebody who would be picked by a panel of educators, principals,
administrators and teachers who would then interview and pick somebody
who was a principal or administrator in our school system.
Question: But Mr. Klein did attend the New York City
public school system.
Thomas Ognibene: He moved on to become a lawyer. He's
distanced himself for many years from the needs of our schools and our
system of education. It has to be someone who currently understands.
Steve Shaw: Yes, I would remove Joe Klein as schools
chancellor. I believe one of the things he did which was absolutely
inappropriate was ,when he fired the 45 principals, he released those
names to the public. There needs to be a huge amount of respect between
the administration and the principals and the teachers. If someone has
to get fired, that's an unfortunate event and it can't be done as some
sort of publicity stunt. The way he treats principals and teachers has
been unacceptable and as a result I would not select him for my
In terms of other reasons, I believe the type of top-down command of
control system that he's put in place is inappropriate.
In terms of the type of person that I would look for I think it would be
much like what Tom said. I don't think it's necessarily correct to say
that just because someone is a lawyer doesn't mean he can't do a good
job, but I think it's imperative that someone has a significant
involvement in education in one form or another.
Virginia Fields: I certainly would not continue with
Chancellor Klein. I do believe it is important to have an educator
leading the largest urban public school system in the country - one who
is steeped in terms of reform, making a difference, having come up
through the system. And I know here in New York City we have so many who
can fit that bill and I'm looking at a few of them now
I was very opposed to having to do a waiver [of professional education
experience] for this chancellor at a time when we are looking to make
the most major reforms. And when we look at others who have been brought
into the system, they are of similar background. That has led to the
disconnect, the disrespect, the lack of support, the lack of engagement,
the lack of inclusion, the lack of following a system that would allow
all of us, including elected officials, to be involved.
It has slowed down reforms that could have taken place for the past
three years and it is unacceptable for the mayor of the chancellor to
simply say it takes so much time. We know things take time, but they
have been dismissive of educators and that is unacceptable.
So I would not continue with him and I would put in place, as I said, an
educator and would look within the system because I think people who
have been a part of the system start at a position much different than
bringing in others from the outside.
Fernando Ferrer: This is April, and I hope you'll
excuse me if I believe that, before one vote has even been cast in the
primary or the general election, we shouldn't start hiring and firing
high-ranking city officials at any debate.
But let me tell you what kind of chancellor of schools Mayor Ferrer
would appoint. One who is, first and foremost, an educator. One who
understands not merely what an organization is but what has to go on in
the classroom and how to make that happen. Who has an appreciation for
the fact that one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter curriculum approaches
don't work in a city as diverse and complex as New York City. Who values
the input and the contribution of every educator and every parent. Who
honors the voices of children but who, above all, shares my vision that
magic should happen in every classroom in this city. And to make that
magic happen, the chancellor has to be not a flunkie of any elected
official. A chancellor has to be a champion for children, a champion of
their parents and a champion of education in this city.
Question: Are you describing Mr. Klein as a quote
"flunkie of the mayor?"
Fernando Ferrer: I know you need a story for 6 o'clock
tonight, but that's not it.
Gifford Miller: Let me just say this, I am a huge fan
of mayoral control, and I think the best thing that this mayor did was
to get control of our school system because it creates the opportunity
for real change, for really moving our schools forward. It puts,
finally, the days of finger pointing and blame shifting behind us.
We now have not only the right, but also the responsibility, to hold the
mayor and this chancellor accountable for the results of the last three
and a half years. And, as I said earlier, the results of the last three
and a half years have been very poor for our city's kids. Test scores
are off. Attendance is down. Teachers are leaving the system in droves.
Violence is an increasing problem. Parents feel more disconnected than
So absolutely, I would replace this chancellor because he's the person
who's been putting into place the wrong kinds of programs and the wrong
sort of focus that is leading to these bad results. And I would choose a
chancellor, certainly one with tremendous educational experience, an
educator, someone with management experience. Someone who along with his
or her top leadership represents the diversity of this entire city and
somebody who's going to focus on the fundamentals that we know work in
education, and that is the best possible teachers and principals in
every school and classroom in the city. Instead of running them down, we
have to build them up. Smaller classes sizes. Safer schools. And
stronger after-school programs.
Question: Do you care that the current chancellor is a
lawyer and had to get a waiver?
Gifford Miller: Just because the chancellor is a
lawyer doesn't mean he wasn't going to succeed. In my opinion, he hasn't
succeeded. Unfortunately it was a big gamble, and it hasn't played out.
THE ROLE OF PRINCIPALS
Question: This forum is being sponsored by the Council
of Supervisors and Administrators, which represent principals, assistant
principals and other supervisors. This question deals with their roles
and their issues. The union believes that the new system has given
principals more responsibilities for managing the budget and instruction
in their schools and holds them more accountable for the success or
failure of their schools, but that it provides them with less support to
do this harder job. Do you believe the current system provides too
little support to principals and if so what would you specifically
change in their behalf?
Steve Shaw: I believe there are a couple of issues
surrounding that question. One of the things, which I was speaking to a
woman in the audience about, was the decision to remove the supervisors
of special education and to put that straight in the lap of the
principal. Oftentimes, the principal doesn't have a huge amount of
experience in the area of special education and that's on top of all the
other things that a principal needs to do. Special education is too
important, too difficult, and too complex to treat in such a cavalier
type of way. .
When you look at things such as the budget, currently from reading [[CSA
President]] Jill Levy's testimony to the City Council, about 90 percent
of the principals' budget is fixed, yet this administration keeps saying
there's more autonomy -- even though they had to create special autonomy
zones in order to give people the autonomy. I would seek to make the
budget as discretionary as possible - I understand that. Obviously. a
huge part of the expense is fixed with teacher salaries and staff
salaries. but I would seek to move the number down from 90 percent to 70
In terms of accountability, it's very difficult when you are the CEO of
a school and you don't have hiring and firing authority. And that's one
thing that I would seek to address. I would put that into the hands of
principals. They are the ones who are responsible. That's where the
decision needs to be made. It can't be made through all sorts of appeals
processes and the like. It can't be made from the Department of
Education. It needs to be in the principals' hands, and that what I'll
do as mayor.
Virginia Fields: I would certainly look to create
support systems within the school starting with assistant principals. I
would also work with the principals in terms of making decisions around
staff development and the time at which that occurs. I've talked with a
number of principals and they have informed me that staff development
occurs twice a month at three o'clock after school and they are expected
to be there to be a part of it. Yet they're not being compensated, and
it's additional responsibility being given to them.
We need to look at what other additional responsibilities are being
given to the principal, provide the needed support systems starting with
assistant principals; provide the relevant staffing that is needed,
including qualified teachers who are able to teach in the areas in which
the needs exist; and to make sure that the other support systems are
Fernando Ferrer: There is much made in the past few
years about the recent fad in treating our school systems and other
government institutions like somebody's wholly owned subsidiary on a
corporate model. And that might be fine for anything else, but not for
public education. Not in New York City.
I don't view our school system as General Electric. Our principals,
assistant principals, and teachers don't make refrigerators, stoves, and
dishwashers. They educate. Elementary and high school principals are not
CEOs in any remote sense. Let's get off that right away. They're
principal teachers. Their job is to nurture, create, and sustain a
viable community of learners that includes not only students but
teachers and parents as well. That's their job.
They can't do their job because they have no support from district
offices or regional offices. They're spending too much of their time
leaving voice mails that are never answered, answering emails that are
unnecessary -- and you all know what I mean. That is an enormous waste
of enormous talent in our system, an enormous diversion of resources.
It's an enormous perversion of what we should be doing to educate every
child in every community in every borough of this city.
Gifford Miller: Let me first say that one of the most
critical things that we can do in this school system to move it forward
is to make sure that we support top quality principals and assistant
principals in every single school in this city. Leadership really flows
from the top, and parents know what difference a great principal can
make in the life of their child.
I think it is absolutely true that this chancellor and the Department of
Education have given a great deal more accountability in words and terms
to principals but none of the actual responsibility, the ability to get
things done. I'll give you an example of what I mean: School violence.
It's a huge problem. This mayor and this chancellor have announced two
separate zero tolerance policies since taking office. And we still don't
have zero tolerance.
The simple reason is that the same time that they're telling principals,
"You've got to have zero tolerance." They're also telling them that, if
you suspend too many children, we'll fire you. And then they don't even
give the principals the responsibility to crease safe environments. The
school safety agents work for the local police supervisor instead of the
principal of that school. So the principal says, "I need you on the
second floor during third period because there's a disturbance between
Class A and Class B." The safety agent says, "My supervisor told me to
stare at this door and I can't move."
We have to change that. That is a problem of management and we have to
change that by making sure that if we're going to give principals and
assistant principals the accountability, as we should, to give them the
responsibility and the ability to get the job done.
Thomas Ognibene: I come from both a public school
background as a student and as someone whose wife is a school teacher
and mother was a principal, and so from a private and parochial school
background where I serve as a trustee of a large Catholic high school in
New York. What I see is that there are certain benefits in the way that
we run the [private] school that I think would be very beneficial to the
people in the public school system.
First of all, we turn over control of the school to the principal and we
provide the assistance so the principal can get the job done. The
non-educational aspects of the school, there are personnel in the school
who can handle that but they answer to the principal. The principal
controls the safety and security personnel, and the principal is the
integral component of negotiating a contract with the teachers in that
The principals in the schools have to have control of the budget. Most
of all they have to have a contract that makes it conducive for them to
administer and direct the person in the school so that they can get the
best results. We don't have that. We want the principal to be
responsible for the education of the children in the school, but we
don't give them the options or the authority to administer the school
FUROR AT P.S. 34
Question: Do you think the New York City Department
of Education has been quick enough to act in the case of P.S. 34 in
Queens [where an administrator allegedly insulted Haitian students, and
forced them to sit on the floor and eat with their hands]? How would you
balance the concerns of parents against the rights of principals?
Virginia Fields: As I read about the incident and have
been hearing over the past couple of days it certainly is something that
I find very disturbing, as I know all of you do. I think that everyone
expects their child to be able to go to school, be treated with respect,
with dignity and not be subjected to the kinds of allegations the
reports as we heard them.
Having said that, I think it is incumbent upon the chancellor and the
school to immediately get involved in terms of an investigation. You do
not allow this to continue and allow it to be played out in the papers.
As a mayor, I would have instructed the chancellor to immediately get
involved with the situation and based on the reports, if necessary, to
remove the principal and/or teacher if the facts warrant it while the
review took place. I think the emotions behind this as it is continuing
to escalate is causing tremendous difficulties in that community. If the
report is not substantiated, bring the community together so that the
issue can be dealt with out front.
I would expect that over the next couple of days more specific steps
will have to be taken, and I think that the chancellor and the mayor
should be at the forefront of making sure that actions are taken.
Fernando Ferrer: The events in that school were
troubling and rise to a level of seriousness that demands the chancellor
and the office of the special schools investigator be on site. Be on
site to investigate, be on site to make a report, not only to the
parents, but to the school community as well. And that's something that
should have been going on right now. In fact, with the passage of a few
days, why isn't that report already made to the community? Why isn't
that report already made to school officials? Why isn't that report
already made to the mayor and the schools chancellor?
Gifford Miller: First of all, the chancellor is
responsible for the conduct of everything that goes o in the schools.
And so the authority there stops at the top. He in this case needs to
take responsibility for what's occurred and make sure the children in
that school and their rights are being adequately protected.
To answer your question directly, I would balance the concerns by
placing the highest priority on the children of that school, which is
not to say that the principal or any of the other associated school
personnel don't have due process rights. They do, but we need to have a
system where the chancellor and the mayor can intervene to protect
children and to protect the school community. Clearly, a very swift
investigation needs to be concluded so that everybody's rights can be
protected and so that the children in that school can go back to
learning, the teachers back to teaching, and the principal back to
directing the school.
HOW MUCH MAYORAL CONTROL?
Question: Let me follow up briefly on a pattern that I
think I've heard here tonight. You all are for mayoral control of
schools but you all seem to want to give some of that control away,
including to the education advisory panel, which replaced the old Board
of Education. So I'd like to know from each of you just how much power
to you would you give to the education advisory council.
Steve Shaw: I think it should still be an advisory
panel in nature. The buck needs to stop with the mayor. However, it
can't be a rubber stamp as it currently is. New York City schools are
too important to give to just one person's opinion -- or two people's
opinion, which is really what the case is now. There needs to be
significant engagement among a variety of constituencies, not only our
administrators but parents and students as well. What I mentioned before
was reforming the panel -- keeping it advisory in nature but what we
would do is to make sure that we have meetings every month, which
everyone would have to attendâ€¦
Question: Could they overrule you on anything if you
were mayor? Mr. Ognibene, could they overrule you?
Thomas Ognibene: If I were mayor, nobody would
overrule me. That's the whole point of being mayor, isn't it? I don't
want to give any control back to the education panel. My control flows
down directly to the principals and the schools. I may be the CEO, but I
know that the people that are operating out in the field are the ones
that are going to get the job done and get education done. I want to
empower them, and they could answer to me through the chancellor.
Question: Borough President Fields, you specifically
said the education panel is a rubber stamp. Do you want something more
checking your power as mayor?
Virginia Fields: It was not about giving control to
them but being inclusive, making sure that they were able to function in
the roles in which they have been appointed, making sure that they are a
part of making decisions. It also means communicating with them prior to
meetings so you don't go to a meeting not knowing the outcome of votes,
because you have engaged them and you have been having those
conversations. So, it is about listening, it is about opening up a
process so that their roles are fully implemented and that they are a
part of a system. As mayor, I would make the decisions.
Question: There was one well-known incident where the
mayor dismissed a number of the members who were going to vote with the
majority to overrule him a key decision [on not promoting third graders
who failed a standardized test]. Would you have acted differently?
Virginia Fields: I would not have had to act
differently because I would have been involved in having discussions
with those board members. The issues that they raised are the same
results that came out of that process. That was not looking to evaluate
students just on the bass of standardized tests, but making sure that
other things were looked at. How has the student done in the class up
until that point? What input can the parent make? What additional advice
can teachers and principals make?
Question: You said you wouldn't have had to dismiss
them. I guess you would have convinced them? But what if they still
disagreed with you? Would you have let them vote you down?
Virginia Fields: I think that working on those issues
the important thing is to include, to engage, to listen. Through that
process, I am confident that we can reach common ground.
Gifford Miller: If I can't get a panel of people that
I appoint to agree with something that I'm proposing then I have a
serious problem and I ought to evaluate my policy. In this case, the
mayor should have reevaluated his policy.
The problem here is that what he was proposing has absolutely no support
in any of the research, any of the data, and by any independent
researchers throughout the country. In fact, in the places where people
have experimented directly with third grade retention through a single
high-stakes test it's been a failure.
What independence [the panel members] have - and they have very little
independence, and I'm not suggesting that they should have more - I'm
just suggesting that what independence they have they should preserve
and you should strengthen that panel by appointing people who are
independent people, who are thoughtful people, who you have respect for
and who have respect for you.
There were much better ways for us to deal with third grade social
promotion or social promotion anywhere else. And the most important way
is actually by getting kids to learn in those classrooms instead of
waiting until third grade and then flunking them with a single
Fernando Ferrer: Let's be really clear about what
happened that night in the firing of those three women [on the panel].
They were not expressing fundamental disagreement with the mayor's
policy direction. They asked for another month to evaluate the research
and the data. That's why they were fired. That's the antithesis of
leadership. That's the antithesis of good management of our city public
Look, we had to be guided by the data and the research, but as mayor,
yes, I would want full accessible discussion by parents, by educators
and by the community at large, including the free press, on important
decisions of educational policy and how we spend public money on public
schools. Not too much to ask.
POLITICS AND PRIORITIES
Question: We have been joined by Congressman Anthony
Weiner who rushed up from Washington. Let me ask you one question that
they have already answered. If you are elected mayor, IS it time for
Chancellor Klein to go? And for everyone, as mayor, what will be your
priorities for the school system?
Anthony Weiner: Chancellor Klein, I think, has too
much of the mindset of his boss that the way that you govern is top
down, closed-loop decision-making, not bringing in stakeholders. It's
basically management by fiat. And I don't believe that when Chancellor
Klein looks out at the school system he sees the individual relationship
between a teacher and a student. He doesn't see the complex relationship
between the supervisor and the teachers. He sees 1.1 million kids in
1,000 school buildings and frankly fails to grasp the subtleties of the
job. So no, Joel Klein will not be the chancellor in the Weiner
Perhaps the most important thing we can do once the Weiner
administration begins is to restore a sense in the school system among
all of the participants that we understand that not every cookie fits
the same cutter. There are going to be times when a teacher looks out at
the classroom -- and does not rely on a test - but looks out in the
first grade and says this child needs more help, this child needs more
challenge, this child needs to be strapped into his seat everyday. That
type of a nuanced relationship needs to be encouraged and fostered. The
Bloomberg administration has not issued a curriculum as much as a
teaching style guide. They have taken the creativity away and are
driving the best teachers and supervisors out of the system.
Question: I am quoting the chancellor. Referring to
the Democrats in this race, he said; "So now what you are seeing is
we've got a race for mayor where people are just going to whack away
when they don't know what the facts are." He said, "I mean Weiner said
publicly we only teach Spanish, no other languages in our school. I had
to crack up, you know, his own mother corrected him and said, 'oh no
that's not right.'" And referring to Mr. Ferrer, he said, "As far as I
can tell, I haven't heard him say anything about education, but my sense
is what is happening right now is that people are trying to politicize
the issue; Mr. Ferrer was in office for many many years, what did he
Anthony Weiner: I should get to respond to the comment
about my mother first. Here in Brooklyn, when you talk about someone's
mother, you better be ready to back it up.
First of all, the chancellor is in full campaign mode and wants to
engage the debate, which is a good thing. I wish he had done that at the
outset of this process because it would have been healthy. My mother,
who, by the way, is a 33-year retired teacher and made me everything
that I am, can challenge me or correct me anytime she wants. But what
the chancellor is saying is absolutely wrong. He is saying he is immune
to criticism. That when you raise the point that $43 million is paid for
parent coordinators in the schools, that $75 million has gone into this
leadership academy, when we have a wealth of qualified assistant
principals in the system. The idea that those proposals are immune to
criticism, not just by elected officials or those who want to be mayor,
but citizens all around the city are asking these questions.
You don't see Mike Bloomberg at forums like this with parents. You know
why? Because he doesn't really care all that much about what parents,
what supervisors, what teachers have to say. And it's not just a matter
of process. Democracy with a small "d" gets you better outcomes as well.
You wouldn't be wasting that money on leadership academies if you
spoke to the true leaders in our community. You wouldn't be wasting the
money on parent coordinators if you spoke to the actual parents in our
community. And if he thinks he's not going to be criticized for those
things, he has another thing coming. And when Mike Bloomberg says the
single defining issue is going to be education, and he'd like that to be
on the debate, I have three words: Bring it on.
Gifford Miller: First of all, I do not believe that
any chancellor should be in campaign mode. The school system's not
supposed to be a place for politics, which does not mean that we in
government cannot disagree about what's the right way to approach
education and what's the wrong way to approach education. But a
chancellor of a school system should not be attacking Democratic
candidates or commenting on mayoral elections as a general matter. I
read in the New York Post the other day that Jack Welch got together
with a group of leaders of the top schools and asked everybody to raise
their hand about how many of them were going to be voting for Mike
Bloomberg and that their top goal should be to make sure that Michael
Bloomberg is re-elected this year. That's completely wrong.
We have no place for that kind of politics in our school system. That's
the old school system. Chancellors of our school system should not get
involved in campaigns.
Question: So what's your number one priority?
Gifford Miller: Earlier today I proposed that we
extend the personal income tax surcharge on those making more than
$500,000 a year and use the money - we're extending that tax, we're not
raising taxes - toward reducing class size in kindergarten through
eighth grade. Every parent knows the quality of the education that their
child receives is invariably affected by the number of kids in that
class. That would be my number one priority. It's already been my number
Fernando Ferrer: It's obvious that Joel Klein spent a
lot of time out of town because, in the nearly 15 years that I was
borough president of the Bronx, we probably saw in the Bronx and
throughout the city more increases in reading and math scores that we've
seen in his three years at the helm as chancellor.
But more fundamentally, it's high time we had a chancellor who took his
nose out of politics and stuck his nose in every classroom in this city,
who stuck his nose in every school building in this city and saw the
things that I saw. Schools without libraries. Schools without
functioning bathrooms and leaking roofs. Overcrowded school buildings
and classrooms. Parents who were locked out of the system. Teachers and
administrators who've been shuffled around and pushed around to the
point of distraction. If Joel Klein had paid as much attention to that
as he has to politics and to having Jack Welch do a plebiscite on Mike
Bloomberg, we'd probably have a more independent and more successful
public school system.
Question: Speaker Miller just mentioned his proposal
to reinstate the income tax surcharge to reduce class size. Mr. Ferrer,
you're the only person who ran for mayor in 2001. At that time, you made
the centerpieces of your campaign restoration of the income tax
surcharge to create after-school programs in every middle school and
also a teacher salary hike of 30 percent in exchange for having them
work one month in the summer. Are those the centerpieces of your
campaign his year and what's your reaction to Mr. Miller's proposal?
Fernando Ferrer: I'll be talking with greater detail
not only about the important things we need to do in public schools in
this city but, more fundamentally, how we pay for them. The elephant in
the room, is how this city will step up and pay for its 25 percent of
the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision. Bear in mind that the Court of
Appeals has already made a decision. Our New York City public school
system has been shortchanged for over two decades. We can see the
results of it in nearly every public school and classroom in this city
and it's not right.
The CFE decision, the city's piece of that over four years is $3.2
billion, with a b - requires anyone who aspires to leadership of this
city to propose to New Yorkers how we pay for that because paying for
that will give you after-school programs, pre-k programs, teacher and
administrator raises, better classrooms and better school buildings.
Question: Congressman Weiner, what would be your
number one priority?
Anthony Weiner: I would completely revisit the idea
that this new curriculum is a success. And I would try to create one
that would bring in the stakeholders - teachers, administrators and
Earlier this week, I rolled out my budget proposal, which is to create a
new, tax bracket for those making a million dollars and above. In
exchange, we're going to give a middle class tax cut for anyone making
$150,000 and less. And we're also really going to pay for it by
reassessing the bottom five percent of programs in the city every single
year and either reprogram if we can fix them or eliminate them if we
And one of the things that we have, since we have so much money left
over from that proposal including a buffer to pay down deficits in the
future, would be to increase teacher salaries. I think that when you ask
most New Yorkers the way that we stay competitive with communities
around New York is that we have to make sure that a teacher in Riverdale
does not cross over and teach in Scarsdale.
Question: Was the mayor wrong to implement a standard
curriculum for most of the schools?
Weiner: To a large extent a standard curriculum existed. Where the mayor
was wrong was to do it without the consultation of teachers and
professionals and others politicians. He was wrong when he substituted a
style guide for a curriculum that focuses more on things like how chairs
are positioned and bulletin boards and the like. I think returning a
sense of authority to teachers and accountability to principals is
something we have to do. The present curriculum, all it does is have
teachers teach toward tests and teach toward a rigid schedule. I don't
believe it's serving students well.
DAY CARE AND PRE-K
Question: This is about day care and what are your
plans to protect child-care workers. But let me generalize it to the
topic of pre-K. Many have advocated universal pre-K for New York City's
public pre-K. I wonder if you each think that is financially prohibitive
Virginia Fields: I wanted to come in one the previous
question because my number one priority as mayor would be to fight
aggressively for those CFE funds. Until we get more dollars into New
York, we will not be able to do the massive changes that I envision --
that is creating smaller classes trough high school. That will require
some capital dollars for additional space, as well as more personnel. To
be able to make the massive intervention at the earlier grades so that
we can help to prepare students earlier and as they move through the
first, second, third grade better prepare them. To be able to hire the
assistant principals that I think are critically. To be able to expand
our technical and vocational training in programs because all students
by choice or by chance will not go on to college. We need to be able to
connect them to jobs as well as through meaningful job training
programs. So fighting aggressively, very publicly to make sure that the
state responds to our needs and gives New York the money that we are due
through Campaign for Fiscal Equity is extremely important.
In addition to that, we talked a lot about reorganization and this top
down approach to education that has been created. I would bring the
complete school community starting with the principals into the process
of decision-making. With respect to day care, I certainly would bring
the union to the table and negotiate a contract. They have been without
a contract for far too long. And day-care workers enable us to keep the
city moving because they provide care to over 300,000 or so parents to
be able to go to work while providing care for their children.
THE STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Question: Congressman Weiner
took exception with the fact that the mayor is not here.
Fernando Ferrer: There was no doubt in my mind that the mayor
would not be here tonight. How could he be? There is little to take
credit for. He has moved some boxes around in the table of organization,
but he has not fixed the fundament problems of the school system. Yes,
they announce with great fanfare, with elaborate press releases, and
press conferences the opening of a new school. And then they abandon it.
Abandon it in a building with large problems.
This mayor really does need to understand that New York City and this
school district is not a subsidiary of Bloomberg Incorporated. We are a
city of 8.1 million people, where every parent has the right to send his
or her child to excellent public school that is not overcrowded, that is
safe, that has all the things they need right in their own neighborhood.
Thomas Ognibene: I wanted to specifically address the
Campaign for Fiscal Equity. I would like to see us get away from that.
You are never going to see any money come from the Campaign for Fiscal
Equity. If it goes to the higher courts, there are serious issues about
separations of power in government. So when talk about restoring sanity
and education to the city of New York. We have to be able to do it with
the resources we have today.
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.