Would Parents Win a NYC School Board Election? or, a Billionaire? or, Charter School Supporters?

In my last blog post I included my testimony to the Education Committee of the NYS Assembly and showed up bright and early on Monday to wait turn to testify.

The mayoral control law is not scheduled to sunset until 6/30/22; however, as Committee Chair Benedetto explained the members wanted to explore how the law is working, and, intends to hold further hearings and perhaps appoint a commission to explore in depth.

I suggested in my oral testimony that additional hearings are held in the poorest neighborhoods of the city; on Monday the testimony came from the most active communities in the city, i. e., the Upper West Side (District 3) of Manhattan, the Lower East Side (District 1) and Brownstone Brooklyn (District 15), the poorest districts were not represented.

Chancellor Carranza lauded mayoral control and listed achievements and had a “professional” back and forth with the committee members. Mark Treyger, the Chair of the City Council Education Committee mirrored my testimony: change the law to give the board (Panel for Education Policy) fixed terms and can only be removed for cause, add a seat for the City Council and increase the powers (unspecified) of the local boards (Community Education Councils).

A number of the speakers were Asian and were sharply critical of the mayor’s policy to end G & T classes as well as the specialized high school admittance procedures and supported moving to an elected central board. Other speakers also called for an end to mayoral control and moving to an elected board.

I reminded the committee that Los Angeles had an elected board; elected with millions of dollars from charter school supporters.

Now a little history … (the teacher in me!)

The last time New York City had an elected school board was in the 1870s, and, the move away from elected school boards was part of the first wave of reform; referred to as the Progressive Era. The school board elections were dominated by political organizations.

On the day of the inauguration of a president  lines formed outside the White House; folks who supported the candidacy of the newly elected president seeking jobs in the federal bureaucracy; the opponents of the patronage system called it the “spoils system.” The same practices were replicated at the state and local jurisdictions. While the “reformers” protested the system was deeply engrained in our political culture.

In 1881 President Garfield was shot and killed by a disappointed job seeker and two years later Chester Arthur, who succeeded Garfield as president signed the Pendleton Act (1883), a sweeping law that created the federal civil service system.

The progressive reforms moved from the federal to the states.

New York City is a relatively new creation, the “Great Consolidation,” the merging of the boroughs into one city occurred in 1898. The creation also resulted in the merging of the separate school systems into one system; and, a few years later the establishment of a Board of Examiners, a quasi-independent body that created tests, administered and scored the tests and produced rank-order lists from which teachers/supervisors were hired ending the patronage that had plagued the school system for decades. The Central Board, a policy board, was appointed by the mayor among recommendations from a screening panel and appointed a superintendent.

The Board of Examiners licensing of supervisors was ruled racially discriminatory in the mid-1970s and the Board was abolished in 1990 and replaced by tests required by the state for certification, hiring occurring at the district level. (Read a more detailed account here)

The history of the education in New York City is described in detail by Diane Ravitch in “The Great School Wars,” (1973). From the 1870s until 1970 New York City Boards of Education were appointed indirectly by the mayor. Prior to 1870 they were elected, Ravitch writes of elected boards,

A history of the city that was published in 1869 noted that when, “The Trustees and Commissioners (aka, school boards) happen to be educated men of character the schools they have charge of are well managed schools, but, when as very often happens they are ignorant and unprincipled the schools suffer. There is therefore a marked difference in schools, some of them are excellent and others the opposite. Among the elected school trustees were ‘keepers of groggeries who can hardly write their own name’.”

Our experience with elected local school boards is conflicted, a few districts thrived. District 22 (Flatbush, Madison, Sheepshead Bay) bused 1,000 Black students a day into previously all-White schools, totally committed to School-Based Management and School-Based budgeting and even asked to secede from the city and become an independent school district. Other districts, too many “others.” the poorest and the lowest achieving, were dominated by powerbrokers, at best inept, at worst corrupt. Although decentralization has been romanticized in the podcast “School Colors,” the question of how you move back to more empowered local school boards without recreating corrupt fiefdoms is both challenging and of interest to the members of the committee that attended the hearing.

Mayoral Control took a hit today as the NYC Department of Investigation savaged de Blasio in a devastating report,

,Mayor Bill de Blasio engaged in “political horse-trading” to delay an investigation into academic standards at Orthodox yeshivas, according to a joint investigation released Wednesday …

The … agencies looked into the city Department of Education’s probe of the yeshivas and whether they were providing a “substantially equivalent” education to that provided in the city’s secular public schools. The DOE’s inquiry has been subject to numerous delays leading to accusations that the mayor’s office was treading too lightly in its examination for fear of upsetting the politically powerful Orthodox community.

… the mayor and state legislators agreed to delay a report of the DOE’s findings in an effort to clinch support for extending mayoral control of city schools.

Read entire Report here.

Maybe not as blatant as the days of “Boss” Tweed; however, bad enough. We have to ask: were the mayor’s motivations to change the admission requirements to the specialized high schools and his support for ending Gifted and Talent programs based upon his core beliefs or based on attracting Afro-American and progressive voters in his ill-fated run for the presidency?

The elected Boards of Education back in the 1860s were controlled by the Tweed machine and corruption was the order of the day. Today we’re watching billionaires fund their own presidential campaigns, what is to say that billionaires wouldn’t dump their ill-gotten gains into an election for a NYC school board?

How do you empower local boards (CECs) without ceding decision-making to the corrupt, narrow-minded and bigots?

On one hand the mayor has an excellent relationship with the teacher union, created the most expansive pre-k program in nation and on the other hand sharply criticized specialized high school admissions and Gifted and Talent programs without taking any actions.

Are there other examples of “horse-trading?”

Is this story just beginning?

2 responses to “Would Parents Win a NYC School Board Election? or, a Billionaire? or, Charter School Supporters?

  1. You don’t ever want to go back to Decentralization and all it’s corruption. So the very notion of pontifcating “if parents win a….” is at best misguided and at worse fools play.As for Billionaires taking over, how did that work with Bloomberg?


  2. Pingback: Four Views: Why Mayoral Control of the NYC Schools Should Be Ended or Modified or…..? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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