Tale of Two Obstacles
are certainly not the best of times for New York City public schools.
They may turn out to be the worst of times, but for New York City
school principals it is not “the age of wisdom.” For too many
of our children, our schools are simply a welfare state, dependent
upon the kindness of others. For some it boils down to a legal
issue. For educators it is a matter of intellect and commitment.
For NYC principals, there are two obstacles they must face–the
budget and standards. On the one hand, principals have been addressing
the challenge of educating students to ever higher standards that
have been set by the New York State Regents. On the other hand,
they have been handed a decision by the Appellate Court in the
Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit asserting that a sound basic
education including “basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills”
is sufficient for students to eventually serve on juries and vote.
As for employment, the court held that education that provided
for the “lowest level of service jobs” was sufficient. The question
is whether the NYS per pupil funding for NYC students, which is
lower than the rest of the state, will support even the abysmally
low standards endorsed by the Appellate Court ruling. In addition,
according to an independent budget report, NYC school funding
has not even kept pace with the increased cost of living.
What is clear is that, as principals and their assistant principals
lead their faculties in providing the educational opportunities
for their students to meet the higher Regents’ standards, there
are draconian cuts on the horizon. Not only are we about to lose
significant educational resources like smaller class size, libraries,
art and music but we are about to lose an incredible number of
human resources in each school. With nearly one-third of our schools
losing principals and assistant principals (many of whom will
not be replaced) and an exodus of our most accomplished teachers,
we are about to embark on a very difficult course.
With a naive sense of what the principal’s job really requires,
inexperienced teachers will jump into principal positions with
little chance of success. Our children cannot afford to be caught
in this revolving door through which principals and teachers come
In spite of the lack of adequate funding and in spite of the argument
over standards, NYC principals are committed to educational excellence.
In a recent survey they told us that their number one reason for
becoming a principal was to have a positive educational impact
on students and faculties. They are, in fact, charged with maintaining
the highest Regents’ standards. Their professional standing depends
upon how well their schools meet those standards and principals
will be evaluated accordingly. To his credit, Mayor Bloomberg
has accepted the challenge of improving public education at a
time when the political, judicial and fiscal sands are shifting.
The stakes are high for our children, our principals, and our
The truth of the matter is that the Appellate Court may not be
entirely off the mark. Justice Lerner asserts that depressed test
scores are related to demographic conditions and suggests that
we spend more on addressing underlying social conditions. But,
like education, reversing poor social conditions takes time and
resources. The children who are in our NYC public schools right
now cannot wait for us to eradicate the social ills; they want
an education today that is as rich as that of their suburban counterparts.
It is not a question of “either/or”. We need adequate and equitable
resources to address educational and social needs simultaneously.
I hope this mayor and governor will help reset this course because
we cannot rely too heavily on the courts; they have a way of shifting
with the political wind.#
Jill Levy is the President of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators
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