David Steiner Engages Bill de Blasio: A Discussion with a Candidate at the Roosevelt House

I have attended too many mayoral candidate forums.

The formats have either been all the candidates answering questions, with pretty similar answers or a speech by a candidate followed by moderator questioning.

Christine Quinn at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School gave a lengthy detailed education speech, well, sort of. After the obligatory personal narrative she laid out her vision, nice, however, her vision was deeply flawed, it was shallow.

“Let’s do away with the A-F grading and institute a red-yellow-green light system,” what’s the difference?

“Let’s identify highly successful principals and have other principals emulate their practice.” Unfortunately she asked a “highly successful principal” in the audience to stand, a month or so later she was under investigation for manipulating Report Cards scores.

The CUNY Institute for Education Policy at Roosevelt House is a lovely venue – the newly renovated home of FDR and Eleanor and Sara Delano Roosevelt, the mother-in-law. Eleanor and Sara despised each other and in the reception area an artful paintings of the pair facing each other – someone has a cruel sense of humor.

David Steiner, the host and discussion partner has a future as a Charley Rose replacement, good questions, prodding, smart banter, with utmost respect from the guest.

Steiner began with a rhetorical question: As mayor, why would you want to be in charge of education? Schools in every urban center are struggling.

De Blasio has sharply criticized the Bloomberg-Klein education policies; Steiner recounted the “pluses,” the long list of increasing metrics and asked Bill what he was criticizing?

The candidate backed away, he wanted to build in Bloomberg’s success … a copout.

The core of the di Blasio education policy is to tax individuals who earn over $500,000 and the use the dollars for universal all-day pre-kindergarten and extended days in high poverty middle schools.

Tax increases require the approval of the City Council, the State legislature and the Governor – Steiner questioned whether there was the political will – de Blasio had “faith” that the political forces would support his plans. Steiner pushed, de Blasio defended. In reality the Republicans, who control the Senate, and the Governor, have vigorously opposed any tax increases. The current 2% property tax cap across the state (excepting NYC), has resulted in the loss of preK programs. The Governor placed a measly $25 million in competitive grants for preKs in his budget for the entire state – de Blasio’s plan would cost $500 million for NYC.

Steiner was particularly forceful on the charter school issue: if charter schools in NYC were doing so well, as the CREDO Report claims, why was he so anti-charter school? Well, he wasn’t anti-charter school, charter schools were a distraction, and they only account for 5% of seats.

On Michael Mulgrew: he half-jokingly reminded the audience that since no city union endorsed him, like Bloomberg, he had no obligations, and spoke generally about “coming together” with unions and their members. On the lack of a teacher contract (since 11/1/09) he acknowledged the complexities and was sure that he and the unions could work out an agreement

A last question: merit pay, opposed tying pay to pupil achievement, however, interested in a career ladder from teacher to assistant principal to principal, and, ideas about lead teachers, an intelligent response.

In the question period he danced: he supported continuing mayoral control, did not support veto powers for CECs over co-location, bemoaned the lack of involvement of the poorest neighborhoods, had no answers for the extremely low black, male graduation rates, and supported increasing Community Schools from the current handful to 100 – with no funding notions.

A slick, polished presentation by an experienced politician.

A former District 15 (Park Slope) school board member, a current public school parent, eight years as a City Councilman, four years as Public Advocate … can he win in the democratic field of seven, plus a runoff plus a fight against a Republican in November?

Did he distinguish himself from the “pack” of candidates?

Thompson and de Blasio, not surprisingly, are the most knowledgeable about education, Liu is probably the most personable and Quinn the most business-like.

At this point the sages, the political professionals who make a living working in and predicting results see Quinn, Thompson and de Blasio battling for the two spots in an October 1 runoff.

Interestingly the heavy funders on the Republican side can probably live with Quinn or Thompson, not de Blasio, and would pump major dollars into a Lhota versus di Blasio November tussle.

I’m waiting for the candidate who says, “I’ll pick a chancellor with extensive urban school experience, with evidence of the ability to work with teacher unions and communities, and get out of their way,” probably a long wait.

Urban mayors do not have a good record in education – Chicago is involved in substantial school closings and layoffs and faces a huge deficit, in Los Angeles the union and the superintendent are in total conflict, with a newly elected school board opposing the superintendent. Detroit is in default, Atlanta’s “success” was eraser-driven.

Which candidate is the “healer,” has the ability to bring together the disparate communities across the city, can negotiate a contract with unions who have been without a contract for years, can work with the business community that provides the tax base?

Is David Steiner interested in running for mayor?

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2 responses to “David Steiner Engages Bill de Blasio: A Discussion with a Candidate at the Roosevelt House

  1. “I’m waiting for the candidate who says, “I’ll pick a chancellor with extensive urban school experience, with evidence of the ability to work with teacher unions and communities, and get out of their way,” ”

    Me too!

    The only problem I see with that statement is that I don’t know of anyone out there who fits that profile. There are a dearth of urban superintendents in general and certainly none of the most media present names (Rhee, Valas, Anderson,) have shown any evidence of being able to work with teacher unions or parents.

    I would be interested in seeing nominations for the next Chancellor of NYC and maybe we can start asking candidates to respond to whether they would support these people and their agendas.

    Like

  2. “none of the most media present names (Rhee, Valas, Anderson,) have shown any evidence of being able to work with teacher unions or parents.”
    That’s because those people fit the new un-professional model of school leadership. They’re interested in following the market economists they learned from in college.
    That new model views the old democratic way of listening to parents in school board meetings as inefficient.
    Always beware of people that invoke efficiency. Besides thinking that the market will solve every decision in life, efficiency means running rough-shod over popular input or opinion.

    Like

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