The Business of Public Schools
Six years ago, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, did what many thought impossible: he took direct control of the school system.
Not surprisingly, the CEO-turned-mayor and his newly formed Department of Education (DOE) have run the school system like a business. But, with little public education experience among those in charge, questionable decisions have been made.
They implemented three major reorganizations and relied heavily on high-priced outside consultants who also had little knowledge of the school system, to the detriment of schools and students. For example, in January 2007, consultants made major cuts to bus routes that resulted in thousands of students waiting in the cold and forced some to cross major intersections to get to school. Fortunately, along with others, I was able to get 20% of routes restored.
Another misplaced attempt was the streamlining of special education, which led to a severe drop in referrals and evaluations. And, in 2004, when my office uncovered this problem, the DOE admitted that 20,000 students were shortchanged that year. In response, they changed practices, added money back and created the first special education summer make-up program. Students could not, however, regain the year of missed services.
Great emphasis has been placed on statistical results, including test scores. In order to boost test scores, there has been an obsessive focus on test prep. While the DOE has shown an increase in scores, experts in the field are skeptical. As a result of excessive testing, there has been a loss of a well-rounded education, including art and physical education classes. Recently, my office found only 7% of elementary schools and 27% of middle schools surveyed offered instruction in music, visual arts, dance and theater. Similarly, a report from my office found that the vast majority of elementary and middle schools we surveyed provide little, if any, physical education classes to students.
A major mistake made by the DOE has been to ignore parents and students, leaving community input and public oversight out of the process. We see this with the cell phone ban, decisions to open middle schools within elementary schools without consulting parents, closing schools without warning, changes to the gifted and talented program, pre-k admissions, and the list goes on. And, when parents complain they can't get basic information, all they get is a referral to 311.
Of course the mayor deserves some credit. He has raised teacher salaries, and he gave principals more control over their schools.
Because the last six years have been a time of great tumult for city schools, it's important to see what has worked and what hasn't, especially given that the law governing mayoral control will sunset next year.
At the request of the leadership of the state assembly, I have appointed an independent commission on school governance to make recommendations on what the future of mayoral control should be.
This mayor is a businessman. The next might not be. Regardless of the next mayor’s approach, the system’s customers—parents and students—should be able to expect stability, transparency, and consultation. #