How different are the mayoral candidates from Bloomberg on education, actually? | Capital New York
February 8, 2013, By Dana Rubinstein
Have 11 years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg improved education in New York City?
That was the last question posed to five mayoral candidates during 90-minute forum on education last week. The answer from two of them, current and former comptrollers John Liu and Bill Thompson, was a fairly emphatic no.
The answer from one of them, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, was a hedge: Bloomberg did well in the first term, followed by two terms in which the system "slid hugely backwards."
Only two of the five would-be mayors gave an answer that in any way approximated a yes.
One of those was media executive Tom Allon, a former Stuyvesant teacher who's mounting a longshot bid as a Republican and who said Bloomberg had perhaps improved education a little bit, though not "enough."
The other yes came from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose mission from now until September (or thereabouts) is to appeal to Democratic primary voters without squandering the tacit backing of Bloomberg and the city's business establishment that she’s worked so hard to secure.
”I think we have a lot further to go," said Quinn. "But yes, I do think we’ve made progress under Mayor Bloomberg, but not progress which I am satisfied with ...”
The crowd seated in Baruch College’s Mason Hall, most of them members of a union that sponsored the event, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, booed and hissed. But she pressed on.
“Remember, we now have mayoral control, which is a great foundation to build off of," Quinn said. "But we’re not there.”
It sounded like she was saying the opposite of the other Democrats on the stage, who had said Bloomberg's education legacy was a flop. But in terms of the substance, she might as well have been speaking for all of them.
Every candidate on that stage—including Thompson, de Blasio and Liu, all of whom had faulted Bloomberg's work on education—likes and plans to keep mayoral control of public schools, which was a product of a 2002 legislative victory by which Bloomberg wrested direction of the city's schools and education policy from the old Board of Education.
It's that very mayoral control that raises the stakes this year, in what will be the first open mayoral election in decades in which the winner will exert near-supreme control over education policy in New York City.
Notwithstanding a perennial effort by some particularly close allies of the teachers union to reinstitute the old board model, that debate is effectively over.
“What’s funny is they might disagree with Michael Bloomberg’s version of mayoral control, but they’re not gonna give that up,” said Liz Willen, the editor of the Hechinger Report, who was one of the two moderators of last week’s forum.
The litmus-test issues on education for Bloomberg's would-be successors are, broadly speaking, charter schools and their co-location in buildings with district schools, teacher evaluations, student testing, and school closures.
Here, too, the policy prescriptions, at least on the Democratic side, are broadly similar: a diminution of the privileges accorded charter schools under the Bloomberg administration and a closer alliance with the teachers union, a less-pronounced reliance on standardized testing for students and teachers, fewer school closures, a more expansive pre-K program and a greater emphasis on public feedback in the formation of policy. (The word "collaborate," in its various forms, got thrown around quite a bit during last week's forum.)
The early consensus among the candidates, as Columbia political science and education professor Jeffrey Henig described it, is that New York City needs “a kinder, gentler mayoral control of schools.”
The differences among the Democratic candidates are mostly a matter of degree, with Quinn generally the least inclined to make major changes to Bloomberg's policies.
The top-polling Republican candidate, Joe Lhota, hasn't spoken extensively about education, but seems inclined to follow the Bloomberg model.
(Lhota described himself in a previous interview with Capital as "very pro-charter." He also said that co-locations aren't ideal but that he has "no problem with them," and that standardized tests are a "very, very important" metric but shouldn't be the "sole criteria" by which teachers and schools are judged, which is what pretty much everyone thinks. Also, like Quinn, he supports the idea of giving students tablets instead of textbooks. It's an idea Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, calls "trivial.")
The five mayoral candidates at last week's forum sat in sober colors on gray chairs, beneath a proscenium engraved with the proverb, "He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul/He that keepeth understanding shall find good.”
Bloomberg came into office with the laudable notion of becoming the education mayor, to fix New York's public school system or fall short, and be held accountable in either case.
He was returned to office twice, but the consensus among his would-be successors seemed to be that his victories came despite the state of the city's public schools, not because of it.
“I simply cannot accept the status quo of our school system today,” said de Blasio, a graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Mass., and the father of two public school-educated children.
De Blasio has proposed a program of universal pre-K education, to be paid for by a new tax on high earners.
Bloomberg’s “overemphasis on numbers, on statistics” is all wrong, said Liu, a Bronx Science alumnus who lives in Queens and drives his son to a Manhattan public school each day.
“It seems like we’ve come to a place where closing schools has become the goal, almost as if it’s a good thing,” said Quinn, a graduate of Holy Child Academy, a Catholic school on Long Island. “That shouldn’t be the case at all.”
Thompson, de Blasio and Liu all support a moratorium on the mayor’s aggressive school closures policy—schools that receive poor grades from the city multiple times may be shuttered or radically restructured—while Quinn thinks the practice should be used only in rare circumstances.
Thompson, a Midwood High School alum, says that instead of closing schools, the city should resurrect an old initiative by Giuliani-era city schools chancellor Rudy Crew, in which the administration aggregated all the failing schools into one "district" and supervised them extra-closely.
Thompson, de Blasio and Liu all said, too, that they would appoint chancellors who were professional educators, unlike Bloomberg's first two appointees, Joel Klein and the short-lived Cathie Black (who gave way to the more traditionally qualified Dennis Walcott).
On that point, Quinn equivocated.
“Given the complexity of the job, you want someone who has a lot of educational experience,” she said. “That can be somebody who was a teacher, it can be somebody who has run a not-for-profit.”
Thompson, de Blasio, Liu and Quinn all think there needs to be less reliance on standardized testing, and less reliance on such test results to grade teachers and schools.
Every Democrat on stage except for Quinn thought the Bloomberg administration’s handling of negotiations with the teacher’s union has been an abject failure.
On that point, as on others, Quinn's said words that didn't amount to a position, critical or otherwise, on how Bloomberg had done.
“The first thing is everybody needs to get back in the room, lock themselves in the room if they have to, we have to have a system,” she said.
All of the Democratic candidates support charter schools in theory, if not in practice: none of them support their rapid expansion, as Bloomberg has (in the name of school choice), not even Quinn, who recently described the current number of charters as "at a good level."
And all of the Democratic candidates think the way in which the city has housed charter schools with district schools has been clumsy.
“I support charter schools,” said Thompson. “However, what we are seeing across the city of New York, in co-location, are, in one side of the school it’s bright, there’s technology, it’s airy ... it looks good, and on the other side of the school, it as if the children are in a different city. They are being treated as second-class citizens.”
De Blasio name-checked former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Academy Charter Schools and has combatively lobbied for and defended co-locations in the face of hostility from the teachers union and parents of children in public schools that have been required to share facilities with new charters.
“Another thing that has to change starting in January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run ...,” de Blasio said, at which point loud cheers obscured the rest of his sentence.
RELATED TAGS: POLITICS 2013 ISSUES BILL DE BLASIO BILL THOMPSON CHARTER SCHOOLS CHRISTINE QUINN CO-LOCATION COMMUNITY SCHOOLS CSA EDUCATION EVA MOSKOWITZ JEFFREY HENIG JOHN LIU LIZ WILLEN SCHOOL CLOSURES STUDENT TESTING TEACHER EVALUATIONS TOM ALLON UFT
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ICEUFT BLOG, Feb. 10, 2013: OPPOSITION TO SCHOOL CLOSING SHOULD BE REQUIRED FOR A POLITICIAN TO RECEIVE UFT ENDORSEMENT
De Blasio and Thompson last spring on mayoral control, as reported by Capital New York.
November 19, 2012, in Schoolbook, the candidates on mayoral control.