to do with the boe?
of the hot topics in the upcoming mayoral election is the governance
of the New York City school system—should control of it be turned
over to City Hall? A recent panel discussion about this question
brought to light some of the key ideas and arguments, including
the buzzword ‘accountability’, along with issues of politicization,
efficiency and fundamentally, how best to make sure children in
the city get a good public education.
The four-person panel discussion did not convince anyone in the
audience—about 75 educators and others interested in education—to
change his or her mind on the issue, but it was a way to bring
the arguments together in one place. The panel, moderated by WNBC’s
Carol Anne Riddell, will be aired on NBC later this fall.
The debate is over whether or not to abolish the Board of Education
and turn it into a mayor-controlled department of education.
Randy Mastro, Deputy Mayor under Mayor Rudy Giuliani from 1994-8,
insisted that there is a direct correlation between mayoral control
of a school system and the rise of test scores in that system.
Citing mayor-controlled school districts such as Chicago, Cleveland
and Oakland as examples that have seen “extraordinary” rises in
test scores, he supports creating a department of education in
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City
Schools, an association, urban school districts across the country,
questioned Mastro’s use of statistics. “The track record really
has been mixed,” he said about Mastro’s statements on the success
of mayoral control. “I wouldn’t call the improvements in Chicago
remarkable, but they have improved.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers,
who has changed her position dramatically on this issue over the
past few months, agreed with Mastro on the need for more mayoral
control. “The only people who are accountable in the schools now
are teachers,” she said. She favors an expanded board with more
mayoral control. This would establish “mayoral accountability”
while ensuring that “parents still have a voice” through a board.
With Casserly saying that he is “generally agnostic” about mayoral
control, Jill Levy, president of the Council of Supervisors and
Administrators, was the voice of dissent on the panel. She proposed
a “fiscally and governmentally independent school board,” with
one member per borough and two or three citywide members, all
generally elected. This board would “truly represent the taxpayers,”
and would “make us more like our suburban neighbors,” she said.
Riddell questioned if the school system would become politicized
if it were controlled by the Mayor. “There will always be politics
in education,” countered Weingarten. “The trick is how to align
politics with the needs of children.”
According to Casserly, what really matters is not how the system
is run, but who does it. “It’s really an issue about leadership,
not control,” he said. But whether the issue is about politics,
control or leadership, the education of children is at the center
of it all, and everyone agrees this is lacking. “We do children
a disservice if we think just changing the governance will solve
everything,” said Weingarten, echoing Levy who said earlier, “School
reform comes from inside the schools.”
Although panel members could and would not ever agree, one thing
was clear: the current system needs to change. And ultimately
what matters is what happens in the schools. “This discussion
doesn’t mean much to children. Children are educated in schools,”
concluded Levy. Indeed, as Casserly put it, “Parents continue
to send their children to schools, not to 110 Livingston Street
or City Hall.”
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