Shouldn’t An Open Dialogue Have Preceded the Extension of Mayoral Control? Mayoral Control Without Public Input Is Autocratic Control.

In the final days and hours of the legislative session e-mails and faxes clogged the e-mailboxes of every legislator. The phones never stopped ringing and lobbyists prowled the halls of the legislative office building (LOB). For the Democrats in the Assembly extending and improving rent control laws and stopping the education tax credit and charter school expansion efforts. For the Republicans in the Senate extending the property tax cap, which was due to expire next year, an election year; and, for Mayor de Blasio, the extension of mayoral control which was due to expire today.

Geoff Decker at Chalkbeat reported on Senate leader Flangan’s problem with the extension of mayoral control,

As the legislature prepared to vote on a bill that includes a host of education and housing issues Thursday evening, including the mayoral control extension, Senator John Flanagan offered the most expansive explanation yet for why Republicans stood in the way of giving de Blasio more time. He personally backed mayoral control, he said, but the city’s spending on education had not received enough scrutiny.

Perhaps the reason is simpler; there was no voter, no constituent pressures, to include mayoral control beyond the minimum of one year. If mayoral control was well down the list for the Democrats why should the Republicans accede to the Mayor of New York City? If the third “man in the room,” the Governor, also seemed unconcerned, pushing mayoral control into next year was the easiest way to move it off the table.

While newspaper editorials and the elites all saw the extension as crucial absent was any grassroots support.

Even one of the Mayor’s strongest supporters, the leader of the NYC teacher union, only agreed with mayoral control with caveats.

In a rare break with Mayor de Blasio, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said Thursday he doesn’t support mayoral control of the schools in its current form.

Mulgrew, speaking after an event with the mayor in which they both touted career and technical education, said the union doesn’t think the mayor should have primary authority over the Panel for Educational Policy, which he does now.

But he said he likes “the idea of mayoral control.”

The 2003 mayoral control law (Read law here) has been extended twice with only minor tinkering.

The law established a thirteen member board,

Such board of education shall consist of thirteen appointed members: one member to be appointed by each borough president of the city of New York; and eight members to be appointed by the mayor of the city of New York. The chancellor shall serve as an ex-officio non-voting member of the city board. The city board shall elect its own chairperson from among its voting members. All thirteen appointed members shall serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority.

In other words the mayor appoints the majority of the board and can fire them as he sees fit. When two members of the Bloomberg-appointed Board voted against the chancellor early in his term he fired the members. The eight members appointed by the mayor have raised their hands regardless of the opposition in the audience, regardless of the issues; the hottest issues have been charter school co-locations. Ironically, a few weeks before the Albany votes the Board failed to approve the placement of an Eva Moskowitz elementary charter school in Hudde Junior High School; due to the absence of Board members and the organized opposition of Hudde parents. Of course next moth the decision may be reversed, or, another board member replaced.

One of the intended, or, to be kind, unintended consequences of mayoral control has been to exclude parents and communities from the process. The prior board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor was highly politicized, and, the 32 elected community school boards ranged from grossly inept and corrupt to highly competent and engaged. Regrettably, the poorest school districts ended up with the least capable and most corrupt school boards. The political power structures in communities dominated the school board elections. The law did change in the late nineties and all supervisory appointments were made by the chancellor, with the advice, not consent of school boards.

The school board in the district in which I served as the union leader encouraged school and district-based leadership teams, school-based budgeting and provided continuous, extensive training of school teams.

The current Community Education Councils (CEC) are toothless. Seats on councils are frequently unfilled and at the meetings there are more council members than members of the community present.

The many iterations of organizational structures, from Regions to Empowerment to Networks excluded communities, except if the leader had skills from the “old days,” although that were discouraged. Where did a parent go with a question? Call 311 and you were referred back to the person who originally failed to answer your question. Frequently Asked Questions were web-based in communities in which parents had limited access and limited skills in accessing the sites.

School programs either emanated from Tweed or the Network. It was the rare school in which school-based leadership teams felt invested in school programs.

The current 92 Renewal Schools, in year one, the year just completed, were supposed to develop school plans. The program has stumbled, Patrick Wall, in Chalkbeat chronicles the efforts of Brooklyn Generation High School, a Renewal School on the South Shore High School campus, to deal with the mixed messages from the city and the state.

The system feels adrift and mayoral control lacks a rudder.

How many public forums were held to seek public input on mayoral control?

How much outreach from the offices of the chancellor or the mayor?

How many legislators attended community forums?

I would hope that next year the office of the mayor, legislators, perhaps the local members of the Board of Regents will sponsor a series of community forums to seek input.

Should the appointed members of the Board serve fixed terms?

Should the Board expand to include members appointed by others, the Speaker of the City Council? The Comptroller?

Should all Board meetings be webcast?

Should the Community Education Councils be re-structured? Should the CECs be granted additional authority? Should they play a role in setting actual district policies? An advisory role in the selection of principals? Or the superintendent?

Should superintendents be required to hold open meetings with parent leaders monthly?

Should the Department conduct locally-based in-depth training programs for school leadership teams?

We know the most effective schools have strong school cultures: parents, teachers and school leaders working from the bottom up with the support from the district and the chancellor; building distributive leadership structures; both encouraging school communities to design local initiatives and holding them accountable for the results of their efforts.

Perhaps, create a default structure for schools not yet capable of designing their own strategies; a limited Chancellor’s District.

And, the core issue: we must “measure” schools from where they are, taking into account the obstacles, the “risk load factors” that schools face.

I’ve been in schools in which Regents scores are extremely high or reading and math scores well into the highly proficient range with mediocre instruction: the kids came to school with impressive skills with strong family supports and other schools with dynamite teachers and school leaders that appear to have mediocre results if we only measure by test scores.

Principals tell me over the last few months superintendents have held principal meetings in schools and teams of principals have observed lessons and, in facilitated meetings, critiqued the lessons. The purpose: so that principal grading of lessons will be consistent across the system. While a consistent view of a lesson is important the key is the post-observation conference. Written observation reports do not improve instruction – the on-going school leader-teacher dialogue, hopefully not just at a post observation conferences, improves practice. Do school leaders have the skills to engage teachers in discussions about practice and do the discussions lead to improvements in practice, and, how do we know it?

In too many schools triage management is the norm, the crisis of the moment, is the rule; teacher observation an annoying compliance chore, and both teachers and school leaders think “if we only had better kids.” A hint: parents send you the best kids they have.

Mayoral control should not be a synonym for autocratic leadership.

An acquaintance had scheduled a meeting with a principal at the beginning of the second period; they arrived early and asked the school secretary if it was possible to meet earlier. The secretary said, “No.”

The guest asked, “Is he observing a class?” The secretary, “No.”

The guest, “Is he meeting with teachers or parents?” The secretary, “No.”

The guest, a little brusquely, “Can’t you disturb him?” The secretary, “No.”

The guest, a little rudely, “Why not?” The secretary, “He’s teaching.”

The principal taught a gym class first period to allow teachers to meet and plan at the beginning of the school day.

Instruction was at the core of the school.

My friend Jonathan always reminds us, “The answers are in the room,” staffs may need a little encouragement, a little prodding, a little help from the school or district leadership, you can’t beat teachers or principals into “getting better.”

Some schools/districts should be required to post the same quote that Dante saw on the gate of Hell, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, ” I would prefer schools that can post others,

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”
― John Dewey

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
― Jacques Barzun,

Or, one of my favorites,

“People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs. This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

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