SIX MYTHS OF MAYORAL CONTROL
1. Student achievement and graduation rates have improved under mayoral control. False. National exams which provide the most reliable measures show no progress in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math since 2003, and no closing of the achievement gap in any subject or any grade. Yet obsessive testing and test preparation consumes more and more of class time, sacrificing the arts and sciences which foster a higher level of creative and critical thinking. When calculated by traditional methods, high school dropout rates continue to hover around 50%; and each year, more students are “discharged” or “pushed out” of our schools without being counted as dropouts. Indeed, students requiring special education or language instruction, who can wreak havoc on a school’s standardized test scores, are marginalized. At the same time, the mayor chooses to artificially inflate graduation rates by counting GEDs as graduates and employing dubious practices such as “credit recovery,” in which students who would otherwise fail are allowed to pass by attending a single weekend session.
2. The mayor is responsible. False. Since 2005 billions of state dollars won through a class-action lawsuit have been allocated for city schools to correct generations of educational deficiencies. Rather than follow mandates of the Legislature and judiciary to reduce class size, like a self-righteous vigilante, Mayor Bloomberg has diverted these funds to exorbitant and dubious experiments, including (1) excessive student testing; (2) paying principals, teachers and students “bonuses” for high test scores (rather than actual teaching and learning), (3) no-bid contracts (4) faulty school accountability systems, and (5) the divisive proliferation of charter schools, with no community input. Most egregiously, millions are being spent on political propaganda that could be used in the classroom – if it weren't so useful at spinning public opinion.
3. The mayor is accountable. False. Since seizing control in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg has refused to comply with numerous state and city laws or cooperate with any independent authorities: neither the State Legislature nor the City Council; not the Independent Budget Office; not the Public Advocate; neither City nor State Comptrollers. Indeed, Department of Education participation at public hearings has been scarce, until this year when, coincidentally, Mayoral Control expires. After seven years of unchecked authority, there has been no substantive independent auditing or verification of the Department of Education's spending practices or claims of higher student achievement. Without independent evaluations, no one can be sure of the value of or deficiencies in our children's education.
4. Parent input matters under mayoral control. False. Chancellor Klein has stripped the Community Education Councils (formerly Community District School Boards) by ignoring their legally-mandated roles to be consulted when schools are closed or opened in their districts. School Leadership Teams (made up of parents and staff at the school level) no longer have any meaningful input in or oversight of the selection of their school's principals or budgets. While each school is assigned one Parent Coordinator (usually overworked and underpaid), fearing reprisals, many are frequently torn between adhering to bureaucratic dictates and using their professional judgment. Allowing parents to call 311 to launch complaints is simply not enough.
5. Allowing mayoral control to expire will return patronage and/or corruption to the system. Ludicrous. Community school boards lost the power to hire school staff years before mayoral control was instituted. Meanwhile, wasteful spending, conflicts of interest, and hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts have proliferated under this administration. Mayoral control should be rescinded and replaced with a process that empowers the mayor to share responsibility for policymaking, with independent checks and balances, and with real engagement with parents and school communities. A more inclusive process will foster educational policies based on rational judgment, experience, and expertise, rather than political soundbites.
6. The mayor has dictatorial control. True. And seven years is enough. Only two out of the twenty top officials at the Department of Education are long-time educators. The rest are attorneys, consultants, and former corporate executives. Rather than ruling as a dismissive autocrat, it's time to require the mayor to partner. The Parent Commission on School Governance and Mayoral Control has a proposal designed to remedy lapses in this failed seven-year experiment, by restoring accountability, checks and balances, and community and stakeholder input to our governance system.
In these perilous times of dubious authority, the mayor and chancellor manifest a disturbingly Wall Street mentality of "trust us, we know what we're doing.” Alas, we can no longer afford the luxury of blind trust. President Obama has declared a sound education a civic responsibility. When our schools fail to provide every student with access to educational excellence, we undermine our nation’s future. Yes, we can do better.