Revolution in Education
Mayor Bloomberg made good on his promise to shake up New York City’s schools.
In sweeping reforms, Mayor Bloomberg centralized management of the city’s schools and overhauled the curriculum earlier. Most schools will get a new, unified curriculum in reading, writing, and mathematics and phonics-based reading instruction. Class size will be cut, employees laid off, and services streamlined. Most of these changes will take place by September, the mayor said.
The changes to the school’s management are the linchpin of the overhaul. The mayor has eliminated school community boards. He has replaced the old 40 school districts with 10 larger regions. Each of the ten regions are led by a regional superintendent, and together with Mayor Bloomberg and the Schools Chancellor, they will supervise all of New York’s 1,200 schools. Within each region, 10 instructional supervisors will oversee a dozen schools. Six support centers will handle human resources, budgeting, and other support.
Bloomberg centralized power to replace what he called “Byzantine administrative fiefdoms.” The old bureaucracy was wasting valuable resources and teachers’ time. It was apparent the city’s schools were failing, said Michael D. Usdan, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership. In one quarter of the city’s schools, more than two-thirds of students fail to meet standards in reading, writing and math, Bloomberg said.
“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,” Bloomberg said. “New York city has embarked on a historic mission to fundamentally improve its public school system and dramatically enhance the lives and futures of its children.”
Not everyone is sure the reforms will be a success. It’s unclear how Mayor Bloomberg’s “command and control” structure will affect the system, said Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at New York University. “The mayor promised radical change, and he is bringing about radical change,” Ravitch said. “Whether it will improve the situation, only time will tell.”
Curriculum changes are also central to Bloomberg’s education plan. Kindergartners through third graders will get 45 minutes of Month By Month Phonics, published by Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company in Greensboro, N.C. Elementary and middle-school students will have at least 90 minutes of reading and writing each day. Children will be able to read books from their libraries instead of basic readers.
“Teachers who are cookie cutters are not what we need. We need teachers who are creative and empowered,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “It is an effort guided by prudent strategies, to bring coherence and academic excellence to a school system that heretofore has offered a grab bag of curricula with only small pockets of success.”
Sandra Priest Rose, founder of the Reading Reform Foundation lends her organization’s support and expertise to the “important chan-ges happening at the Department of Edu-cation.”
The centralized curriculum will help the many students and teachers who move from school to school. Less than half the city’s middle school teachers have been at the same school for more than two years. “It really does matter if people get on a single page,” Klein said.
It will cost $35 million to buy the new math and phonics materials and provide every classroom with a library. Most of the money will come from the savings created by closing 32 school district offices and reassigning or laying off 6,000 people.
The teachers’ union praised the new curriculums, but is not sure whether all members can be trained to use them quickly enough. All of the city’s 1,200 schools will have a math and literacy coach under Mr. Klein’s plan. The city’s top 200 schools will have some discretion when choosing their curricula, training teachers and setting budgets.
The reforms need to continue beyond Mayor Bloomberg’s time in office, said Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union. Teachers worried the change was only temporary, she said. “They are going to need assurance that there is a real commitment to this project and real support.”#