Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


A Course Outline for the City's New Schools Chancellor

Mark Weprin

Council Member Mark Weprin

Amazingly, Carmen Fariña is the first schools chancellor since Rudy Crew in 1995 who does not require a waiver from the state for lack of educational credentials as a school administrator. Ms. Fariña’s forty years of experience in education fulfill a promise made by Mayor Bill de Blasio to appoint leaders in his administration who will deliver progressive change and re-examine some of the troubling changes implemented by the former administration.

I am confident that Ms. Fariña will lead our city’s 1.1 million children, 1,800 public schools, 75,00 teachers, and 6,100 school administrators to the best of her abilities. As a public school parent of three and an elected representative of the most diverse Council district in New York City, I would like to offer some suggestions for the Chancellor to consider during her tenure.

  • Establishing high standards in New York State with the Common Core Curriculum is a positive step. However, the new state tests crowd out all meaningful instruction when they become tools to evaluate teachers, principals, chancellors, and mayors. Incessant test preparation has deadened instruction and made the standardized test a ceiling rather than a floor in too many classrooms. Parents have serious concerns about how constant test preparation detracts from art, music, and physical education.
  • Let’s put parents back in public education. Unfortunately, the disconnect between the Department of Education (DOE) and the families at local schools has developed into an abyss. Parent involvement and input at all levels of the system should be valued.
  • We must treat teachers as true partners.  Our teachers need to be held to high standards. Teachers should be evaluated with a broad-based accountability system that does not give undue emphasis to students’ test scores. Instead, we need comprehensive tools to assess our schools and the professionals who work in them. Teachers can be evaluated based on classroom observations and schools can be judged on a combination of visits by education experts, surveys from parents and frequent engagement by the superintendent. Educators at each level also need high-caliber professional development so that they can raise student achievement and help every child to thrive.
  • We need to re-empower superintendents and re-establish Community Schools Districts to function as the state legislature intended when it secured their role in statute. The role of the superintendent was created to provide principals with resources, support, and guidance.
  • Cities like Cincinnati have transformed schools into community learning centers that provide not only typical after-school activities like homework help, but also on-site health clinics. Establishing similar centers in troubled schools in New York City would represent a long-needed step away from piecemeal programs and toward serious, comprehensive reform. 
  • Shuttering schools should be the last resort, not the first. Instead, let’s provide extra resources to struggling schools.
  • New York City has 160,000 pupils classified as students with disabilities. Students with disabilities graduate at a rate of 31 percent, less than half the overall 66 percent high school graduation rate in New York City. Special education students must never be allowed to fall through the cracks. The DOE must implement effective special education reform to improve the academic performance and life prospects of students with disabilities.
  • Lastly, our schools must fully integrate 21st-century technology into every classroom. In today’s global economy, failure to do so would constitute educational malpractice. Furthermore, using technology to engage parents will go a long way toward improving schools.  Directing funding to technology for schools is an investment in the strength of our local economy in the years ahead.

Establishing mayoral control twelve years ago was important for establishing accountability, but its implementation under the former administration too often failed to lift up students and usually just berated teachers.  In addition, parents were cut out of the education system at every turn. Now that we, as a city, are considering the path our school system will take in the years to come, let us make sure our actions match the sage advice we often give to our children: learn from mistakes and make tomorrow better than today. 

Mark S. Weprin is a member of the New York City Council; he serves the 23rd Council District in Queens. He serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchise, and is a member of the Education, Technology, Economic Development and Transportation committees.