As the clock ticks down on the Bloomberg era and the wannabe candidates scurry to meet the masses forums and committees emerge to suggest policies for the next administration.
Seemingly every day an education issue – this week a teacher evaluation plan and the school bus strike dominate the headlines and op ed pages.
Last week the Democratic candidates gathered at Baruch College to respond to questions at a forum organized by the CSA – the supervisors union.
Over the next few blog posts I’ll examine some of the primary elements of the current educational structure in New York City.
Let’s begin with governance.
The 10th amendment to the Constitution, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” has always been interpreted as “reserving” education as a state function. 16,000 elected local school boards and fifty state departments of educations govern education. In New York City the “consolidation,” the combining of the boroughs into one city in 1898 and the creation of a unified board of education, a board appointed by the mayor led the new school system until 1970. School board members came from the elites of the city, a policy board that selected a superintendent from inside the system. Diane Ravitch traces the history of education in New York City in The Great School Wars
By the 1960s the school board was under constant attack: an emerging militant teacher union, attempts to integrate an increasingly segregated system, rising militancy in the civil right movement, an overwhelmingly white teaching and supervisory staff, the Vietnamese war, the system was fraught with conflict. The school board and the school bureaucracy resisted change and fought to maintain the system, an increasingly dysfunctional school system.
David Rogers author of 110 Livingston Street: Politics and Administration in the New York City Schools provides “a rigorous sociological examination of ‘bureaucratic pathology within the school system.’” Rogers saw little hope of positive change,
“”I would conclude, then, that there may be no solution for the failures of big cities and urban education over the short run, and that conditions will probably get worse before they improve.”" But there is a prescription for at least partial cure: decentralization of operations (a principal ought to be able to get the air conditioning repaired) and greater centralization of planning. “”The structure of the school system itself must be changed.’”
A 1967 Ford Foundation report, “Reconnection for Learning,” the lengthy and acrimonious teacher strike in the fall of 1968 and a popular reform-minded mayor with presidential aspirations resulted in a complete overhaul of the governance of the school system.
The new law created thirty-two community school districts elected by a proportional representation system and a seven member appointed central board – one by each borough president and two by the mayor. The school system leader, called a chancellor, would be selected by the board.
The new school board members were salaried (a per diem stipend) and each member had a full time staff member. Esmerelda Simmons, a Dinkins appointee recounts her experiences, a board on which the members spent their time responding to the political needs of their patrons.
Although the mayor only had two appointees he never had a problem finding two additional votes – mayors claimed credit for successes and blamed and fired chancellors for perceived failures. From 1970 until the change in the law in 2002 the tenure of chancellors was about three years. For the twelve years of Ed Koch schools were significantly underfunded. Under union-supported David Dinkins it took almost two years to negotiate an expired contract. Rudy Giuliani was confrontational from day 1, and, the unpopular “double zero” (a five year contract with no increases in the first two years) was reluctantly approved by the union member after initially voting down the contract.
Mayoral control began in Boston in the early nineties with highly touted results; an increasing number of cities have adopted the model. Kenneth Wong, The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools reviews 100 school districts in 40 states and concludes that mayoral control has increased student achievement.
The SUNY and CUNY Boards are appointed by the governor and other electeds, the Board of Regents elected by the state legislature. All are policy boards that meet monthly to address policy issues. For example the Board of Regents is currently discussing high school graduation requirements: should the state approve integrated credits in Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools – offering two credits for approved courses combining a CTE course with a basic course such as English, Social Studies or Math; should the Global Studies Regents, currently covering two years of coursework only cover one year, etc. School closing decisions are not considered policy; those decisions are made at the local level.
The specific powers of the current New York City board are specified in the law,
* § 2590-g. Powers and duties of the city board. The city board shall
advise the chancellor on matters of policy affecting the welfare of the
city school district and its pupils. The board shall exercise no
executive power and perform no executive or administrative functions.
Nothing herein contained shall be construed to require or authorize the
day-to-day supervision or the administration of the operations of any
school within the city school district of the city of New York
The law goes to specifically delineate a long list of powers Read here
Whither mayoral control?
1. Mayoral control versus appointed or elected boards.
The Los Angeles Board is elected, and highly politicized, and the school district is low functioning with a weak union. If the mayor is not responsible will the mayor appropriately fund schools? There are no examples of any governance model that has any clear advantages
2. Should the mayor have the authority to appoint and fire school board members at will?
Currently the mayor appoints eight of the thirteen board members and can fire his appointees at will. Most other school boards appoint/elect members for fixed terms.
3. Should potential board members be “approved” by a screening panel, and, if yes, who would be on the panel?
Candidate John Liu calls for a screening panel with wide representation – other candidates are silent. CUNY, SUNY and the Regents have no screening, although the appointees always have substantial resumes. The decisions of the boards are usually unanimous.
4. Should board meetings be forums to discuss major policy issues? Currently board meetings are platforms for opponents to rail against the board – the public has the opportunity to make brief statements before votes – with no impact. Other boards usually have public comment periods before votes and some have sessions for public comment.
Currently the board simply rubber stamps positions of the mayor – the members appointed by the borough presidents occasionally vote “no,” the votes have no impact.
5. One candidate (Quinn) suggests a deputy mayor for education and families. Should educational policy decisions be closely aligned with the mayor?
6. The last four chancellors have not been educators and required waivers from the state commissioner – should the waiver section be removed from the law? The current candidates who have commented all called for a “highly qualified educator.”
7. Should the next mayor lead any changes in the school governance law?
The current law “sunsets” on 6/30/15, the legislature can repeal or amend the current law at any time although the process requires approval by both houses and the governor.