Is the NYC Department of Education Too Big to Succeed?

Twenty plus years of mayoral control: three mayors, seven chancellors, innumerable twists and turns and the system continues to stumble.   The new governor places a one sentence four year expansion of mayoral control into the preliminary budget (“NYC Mayoral Control. The Executive Budget provides a four-year extension of Mayoral control of the New York City school system”) and the State legislature, with a Democratic Mayor, Governor and both houses of the Legislature only extends mayoral control for two years, adds more parents to the Panel for Education Priorities (School Board), and a bill that dramatically reduces class size for schools in New York City (See text of bill here) and all pass with overwhelming majorities.

There are doubts over whether mayors can/should run the massive system, 1800 schools, a million students, 45 local superintendents.

Increasingly legislators and parents doubt whether mayors can create an effective school system.

The school system appears to be a victim of “triage” management, decisions determined by what will garner the most “clicks” after the high profile press conference.

The evidence is overwhelming.

After a summer of planning at the district and school level and a few days before the opening of schools the Department reassigns 1,000 educators from “Central” and “Borough” to “District” offices, closer to schools; however, what are their roles? Why weren’t they assigned directly to schools?

The Department of Education is reassigning roughly 1,000 staff members and $100 million in related resources from its Central Division and Borough-Citywide Offices to further assist schools and invest the resources they need.

The reorganization, the DOE said, will bring staff closer to the communities they serve, including deploying more than 100 social workers to district offices to help students and families, with a focus on vulnerable communities like students in temporary housing.

Why days before the opening of schools?  To grab a one-day story?

The Mayor’s budget, the Executive Budget cuts a few hundred million dollars from school budgets, ¾ of schools lose dollars and staff, (the city has a few billion unallocated federal dollars), and the City Council “urges” the mayor to restore the cuts.

41 of Council’s 51 members urge mayor and DOE to restore school budgets with over $760 million in newly discovered unspent federal stimulus funds before decisions that would separate teachers from existing schools for next year 

Another resolved dispute, in spite of widespread support from parents Adams/Banks opposes the class size reduction bill.  Research (and common sense) supports the positive impact, see here.

While the legislation awaits the governor’s signature Hochul indicates she supports the legislation.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said … that she supports sweeping legislation that would establish more aggressive class size limits in New York City’s public schools, the strongest comments she’s made since the bill was overwhelmingly passed by the legislature last month. 

“I’m looking closely at it. I’m inclined to be supportive,” Hochul said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, adding she spoke yesterday with Mayor Eric Adams and expected a resolution in the coming days. “I just have to work out a few more details with the mayor.”

The Adams administration has opposed the bill, warning that the legislation would cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year to implement and could detract from other funding priorities. Hochul suggested that funding was a sticking point and is considering “chapter amendments” that would allow the legislation to go into effect now but with changes that would be taken up by the legislature next year. 

The bill says that class size reductions “shall prioritize schools serving populations with higher poverty levels” though it does not define what that means. The legislation also lays out some exemptions to the mandates, including “space,” “over-enrolled students,” “license area shortages” and “severe economic distress.”

Text of Class Size reduction bill  

FLASH!!!!! Governor Hochul signs the Class Size Reduction Bill

The formula to allocate dollars from the budget to schools is called, Fair Student Funding, an oxymoron, the formula is far from “fair.”

The drastically inequitable formula harks back to the Bloomberg days.

In a well researched CUNY dissertation, “Children First Reforms, Fair Student Funding and the Displacement of Accountability in the New York City Department of Education,” (2015), Daniel Voloch found that in 2013-14, the percentage of funding city schools received varied from 81% to 134% of their FSF amount. Voloch also found an inverse relationship between the percentage of FSF funding schools received, their school size or enrollment, and their percentages of low-income and ELL students. The larger the school and the larger the percentage of their low-income and ELL students, the less FSF funding those schools received.

Bloomberg, de Blasio and Adams promised and ignored the FSF inequalities.

Whatever enthusiasm for mayoral control that existed in 2002 has waned; the legislature only extended mayoral control for two years with lots of discussion about alternatives.

Towards the end of the Bloomberg regency the governance structure was “Affinity Networks,” schools clustered by principal choice, schools selected Network Leaders with whom they wanted to work and the affinity networks had wide latitude in instructional methodologies. The teacher union was “flexible” and the models varied considerably.

Norm Fruchter, at the NYU Metro Center explored the roots and implementation of the Affinity District in three posts, I urge you to read, and ask you to comment freely.

Does the Affinity District model present a model, the roots of a new governance structure?

I’m not pointing a finger at the Adams/Banks leadership; twenty years of mayoral leadership has not created a high functioning system.

During the much maligned thirty years (1970-2002) of decentralization there were a few shining examples of local control responding to the needs of their communities, yes ,too few, and, yes, the neediest districts were devoured by local politics, schools become patronage pools for local powerbrokers and mayors, mostly Koch, turned their backs.  In the last years of decentralization the board president William Thompson and chancellor Harold Levy were an effective team, too late, Bloomberg seized the school system.

In January the legislature returns to Albany and I suspect key legislators will begin to explore alternatives to the current mayoral control system.

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