Mayor de Blasio’s First Challenges: “Low Hanging Fruit” and Substantive Institutional Change

On Tuesday Bill de Blasio will be elected with one of the largest margins in the history of New York City mayoral elections.

The New York Post and the Manhattan Institute will wring their hands and predict the Armageddon. The City Council Progressive Caucus will be touting their “13 Bold Ideas” agenda (Read here).
Average New Yorkers will continue the mundane realities of life – hoping the streets are safe, and clean, that their kids’ schools provide the best education, that they can afford to move to a nicer apartment or house, that their health insurance is adequate and affordable, and, that the new tall guy in Gracie Mansion is one of them not one of the 1%.

A few days after the celebrations end the Mayor-elect will probably appoint a transition team – a combination of former city officials, college professors, think tank gurus, a “highly regarded” group of New Yorkers to pass along their expertise and experience.

Every mayor wants to get off to a running start, to put their stamp on the new administration, to build on the overwhelming victory at the polls. In a few months the surge of adrenalin will wane, the day to day realities of the running Gotham will emerge, de Blasio must seize the early enthusiasm to satisfy his acolytes and pacify his harshest critics.

In the world of education appointing a highly credible chancellor is a first step, and a policy board, the Panel for Educational Policy, in law, the Board of Education, New Yorkers who are well-respected and experienced in setting policy goals and providing a forum to exchange and interact with the public, essential first steps.

Within weeks the mayor can pick the “low hanging fruit,” the easy choices that symbolize that the mayor is on the side of parents and teachers.

* End the ATR (Absent Teacher Reserve) Pool

The ATR Pool is a political contrivance; it had nothing to do with better education. In the just-released NYS teacher evaluation scores 91% were “highly effective” or “effective” and only 1% “ineffective,” the exile of 1200 teachers fated to float weekly from school to school is foolish, a waste of dollars and a policy that has no impact on student achievement. Send the ATRs back to schools, back to classrooms, if some of them are inadequate, take the required actions to dismiss them.

* Process Teachers Under Charges Expeditiously

There are 400 teachers who have been removed from classroom duties who are under investigation pending charges, or. have been charged pending a hearing, or, whose hearings have been completed. The current administration knows that the vast majority of the cases can be resolved short of dismissal. Some charges should be withdrawn; some teachers would end up with a fine or a letter of reprimand. The current contractual procedures, called “a model for the state,” by Commissioner John King, requires a timely process,

In all cases, as delineated in Education Law §3020-a the final hearing shall be completed no later than 60 days from the pre-hearing conference and the written decision must be rendered within 30 days from the final hearing date.

The department, clearly due to Mayor Bloomberg’s derision of the arbitration process has placed obstacle after obstacle in the path of a timely procedure. (Read the contract sections dealing with the 3020a process here) The process should continue as envisioned by the contract timelines. The current Star Chamber proceedings are an abomination.

* Establish a Process to Review the Co-Location Decisions of the PEP Since September, 2013.

Bloomberg has been cramming charter schools and new public schools into existing buildings at an accelerated pace since September. Clearly a political policy to try and embed a philosophy before the new guy is in charge. Many of these placements are poor decisions. The charter school law calls upon charter schools to,

the charter entity is encouraged to give preference to applications that demonstrate the capability to provide comprehensive learning experiences to students identified by the applicants as at risk of academic failure.

In reality the current administration has simply stuffed charter schools into schools without any reference to the needs of the community or without any intent to serve “at risk” students, in fact, the opposite is commonplace.

* Direct the new chancellor and the new PEP to explore limiting the number required “standardized” tests.

The requirement that kindergarten students need to take a “standardized test” is absurd. While the department and the union may be working out a resolution the new mayor should direct his appointees to engage with the state to seek ways to reduce the amount of testing across all grades.

* Withdraw from the InBloom student data collection system.

New York State is the only state that is now fully participating in the collection of an enormous amount of student data and turning the data over to a national not-for-profit (formerly a Murdoch subsidiary) to allow third party providers to create applications, there is a serious privacy issue. (See InBloom’s defense hereand critic’s response here). The New York City School District should withdraw from InBloom.

* Negotiate a Successor Teacher Contract

The next contract, “low fruit”? Actually, yes.

Both the unions and the mayor want to remove a sharp thorn that will press deeply in the flesh until it is removed. How do you find a path to both a percentage increase, four years of retroactive dollars, sharply accelerating city health plan costs and the myriad details of contracts? While I have absolutely no participation in the negotiations in the past retroactive dollars were paid as “non-pensionable” cash payouts and spread out over a couple of budgets.

If the contracts negotiations drag out over too many months the relationship between the union and the mayor will erode – a “lose-lose” for the union and the mayor, a resolution in a matter of months, a “win-win.”

The deeper and far more complex problem is creating a school system that serves the needs of the million plus kids – a school system that encompasses families and communities – a different vision. Yes, we measure graduation rates and standardized test scores, the larger issue is combining education and working to break the chains of generational poverty.

There are no models – Chicago and Los Angeles are deeply involved in conflicts, teachers and communities fighting the establishment, Philadelphia is in a meltdown; Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester achievement is at the bottom of the state.

de Blasio can simply pacify/satisfy teachers and communities, or, search for a model that both addresses education and societal dysfunctions.

The last four mayors limped away with wounded reputations and a polarized city. Can de Blasio blend the needs of the 99% with the power of 1%?

With parents across the state and the nation expressing increasing dissatisfaction with the educational (de)form crowd de Blasio has an opportunity to seize upon the anger and lead education policy back to sanity.

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5 responses to “Mayor de Blasio’s First Challenges: “Low Hanging Fruit” and Substantive Institutional Change

  1. Heres a model that is guaranteed to work…To begin with, abandon this latest notion of giving early childhood grades standardized tests. Secondly , ask the colleges if they base their admissions on whether or not students have been educated in a commom core driven curriculum. They will tell you no, they base their admittance criteria on academic content knowledge, some of which is very much attained by our old friend ROTE..Of course rote does not promote critical thinking, and a teacher asking questions that promote rote responses may be regarded as ineffectual. Not by any college admitting office, but by our Common Core pontificators, many of whom could not tell you the difference between a lesson driven by a learning Objective ,or one driven by an Aim. The new Mayor should have the cajones to just throw it all out, along with the ATR, and Rubber Room attendees. He should insist on expedited hearings,expedited dismissals if warranted, and expedited return to service for those worthy to do so. He should also know that he cannot afford to make his centerpiece in education focus around the re-distribution of the wealthy’s tax money to fund all day kindergarten. He may personally resent the wealthy, but hes best off abandoning that part of his platform, it will result in a political backlash somewhere down the line.Let this calling not be his anti Guantanamo Bay equivalent.

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  2. These are reasonable observations and suggestions, Ed. Bill de Blasio is a reasonable man, someone who is willing to listen and to work with communities and teachers to iron out school governance issues. I look forward to January first.

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  3. I must object to one of your suggestions, especially the non-pensionable retroactive raises. While its true this has happened in the past,under Randi Weingarten, she is no longer in charge to sell us out.

    I hope Michael Mulgrew insists on pensionable retroactive raises that Michael Bloomberg refused to give us.

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  4. Chaz
    Whether the retroactive rate is 2, 3 or4% the retro dollars could range from 4-8 billion, a sum well beyond the cities ability to pay in a single budget. With de Blasio attackers accusing him of bankrupting the city even before he is sworn in retro pay will require a nimble solution. Employee health plans costs are increasing at more than 10% a year – I believe Mulgrew has a narrow window to negotiate key non-fiscal matters for some creative solutions to fiscal issues.

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  5. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/11/04/the-bloomberg-reforms-an-assessment/
    this analysis of the outcome of ed policies under Bloomberg clearly lays out the work that lies ahead

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