How will Mayor Adams Lead/Manage NYC Schools?

On November 2nd Eric Adams was elected the 110th mayor of New York City’ with an overwhelming democratic voter base and an underfunded opponent the winner was a foregone conclusion. Mayor-elect Adams appointed United Way CEO Sheena Wright as head of his transition team and will begin to build the team that will lead New York City for the next four years.

Both of Adams’s predecessors stumbled in trying to manage the million plus student Department of Education.

On the eve of the 2013 mayoral election Sol Stern, in a City Journal essay offering advice to the new mayor wrote,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics ….  New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office [Bloomberg]: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Eight years later Bloomberg’s successor is facing the same sharp criticism. The City Journal writes,

Behind the system’s near-collapse is the failure of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s educational approach. Its two pillars—the search for one-size-fits-all solutions and the belief that educational quality could not be expanded but only redistributed—were not only wrong under normal circumstances but especially misaligned with the challenges posed by the pandemic. The mayor’s policies have harmed those most in need—and undermined the viability of Gotham as a place for families to raise children, with implications for the city’s long-term social and economic health.

Rather than parsing the successes and failures of the last two mayors let’s take a look at the largest education edifices in the state, the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State Education Department (SED).

SUNY has 64 campuses and almost 400,000 students spread across the state, from community colleges to four year colleges to university centers and is governed by a Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is the governing body and consists of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, by and with consent of the New York State Senate for fixed terms. The Board is currently led by Merryl Tisch, who previously served as the leader of the Board of Regents.

Governor Cuomo used the SUNY Board to reward his perceived friends and punish his perceived enemies. Teacher unions were a barb that nettled the governor, after the failure to endorse him in 2014 the 2015 budget increased service time needed for tenure from three to four years and a number of charter school perks.

The original charter school law (12/98) designated the Board of Regents as the authorizing entity 

 ,The board of regents shall be the only sole entity to issue a charter

The governor amended the law adding,

The board of regents and the board of trustees of the state university of New York
The SUNY Board of Trustees created the Charter School Institute, an extremely charter friendly organization and has become the primary charter school authorizer in the state. The Board of Trustees decided it can usurp the teacher certification role of the Board of Regents and could certify their own teachers.

The New York State courts sustained a suit by the Board of Regents. (Read description here) and squelched the attempt to enlarge the power of the SUNY Board.

Jim Malatras is a close friend of the former governor. I met him in 2013-14 at the Cuomo Commission meetings, he is smart and collaborative, I was impressed and the commission report excellent (Read ); unfortunately many of the recommendations are unrealized.

Malatras resurfaced as the director of the Rockefeller Institute for Government, an Albany-based think tank. A few years later as President of SUNY Empire , one of the smallest SUNY campuses and offers primarily online courses with only 165 full-time faculty. In August 2020 the Chancellorship of SUNY opened up and surprise, surprise, Jim Malatras, without any search, was appointed by the SUNY Board as Chancellor, the SUNY faculty Senate complained loudly   as did the student organizations, his defenders noted his close ties to the governor as an asset.h

A year later with Cuomo gone the closeness to Cuomo was no longer an asset and his involvement in Cuomo data “massaging” resulted in cries for the SUNY Trustees to fire Malatras, read a NY Post guest op ed by Fred Smith here.

Will Adams mirror Cuomo and use his office to reward his allies and punish perceived enemies? 

The City University of New York (CUNY) has 25 campuses across the city; an enrollment of 275,000 students and is governed by a Board of Trustees, fifteen members appointed by the governor, William Thompson, the former Comptroller of New York City as well as President of the Board of Education serves as chairman.

Felix Matos Rodriquez is the Chancellor of CUNY; he previously served as President of Hostos Community College and Queens College in the CUNY system, a graduate of Yale (BA) and Columbia (Phd) with a long academic career.

The Wall Street Journal ranks CCNY the “best value” college in the nation and six of the top ten colleges in the nation measuring “social mobility,” moving incoming students from poverty to the middle class a decade later are CUNY colleges.

How will the CUNY model impact Adams?

Will Adams mirror the CUNY model, select a leader from within with impeccable credentials and a board leader with a sparkling resume and political smarts, and, allow his selectees to run the school system.

The seventeen member Board of Regents oversees the State Department of Education (NYSED), 700 school districts and 4400 schools. The board is “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature, in reality by the Speaker of the Assembly as democrats far outnumber republicans; the board selects a leader, called the chancellor, and hires a state commissioner.  The governor has no role. The Board sets policy, establishes graduation requirements, teacher preparation requirements and a host of other regulations; however, superintendents, principals and teachers don’t work for the SED, they work for elected local school boards. Curriculum and instruction are local discretion, except for the lowest achieving schools.  The Board issued a 189-page policy paper, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (Read here), urging school districts to implement the policies and acknowledges these decisions are made at the district level.

Should Adams support both decision-making at the local level, for example, the 147 schools in the Affinity District  and work closely with low achieving schools in a Chancellor’s District model?

In other words should Adams select highly qualified educational leaders and allow them to run the schools, or, like his predecessors micromanage for political benefit?

A first Adams announcement:

Should a school named after a slaveholder , an anti-Semite and anti-Catholic Dutch governor have his name removed from the school?

Over the next six weeks the Adams administration will be rolled out – stay tuned.

One response to “How will Mayor Adams Lead/Manage NYC Schools?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    I am afraid that you lost me by suggesting that the Chancellor’s District should be resurrected. While that strategy showed short term gains in reading in elementary schools, it failed to raise math scores in the lower grades, and did not improve performance of middle and high school students.

    Remediation is an ineffective approach. But just as heterogeneous grouping works well for students across the academic spectrum, it also works well for schools.


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