This year the city of New York will pick a new Mayor, after 12 years of Michael Bloomberg.
There were only supposed to be 8 years of Bloomberg, as the voters of New York City had twice endorsed term limits of only 2 terms. But Bloomberg decided he wanted a third term, refused to call for a referendum, and got his faithful friend City Council President Christine Quinn to twist a few arms, promise that the members of the City Council would also get a third term, and voila!, our mayor had the chance to drop another $100 million into winning a third term.
For some reason, he thinks that his legacy will be his education “reforms,” but the voters don’t agree. The last Quinnipiac poll showed that only 22% of voters want his autocratic style of governing the schools to continue. The rest want some form of shared governance, where other elected officials have a voice in choosing the city’s school board, and the school board treats parents and the public with a modicum of respect.
Despite the constant trumpeting of the Bloomberg PR machine, voters understand that the city school system has not improved and that it is highly inequitable. Leonie Haimson and I wrote an article in The Nation recently describing the elitist tone and consequences of the Mayor and his policies. The proportion of black and Hispanic students admitted to the city’s exam schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, etc.) has dropped precipitously during the Bloomberg years. The numbers are in the linked article. Brooklyn Tech, for example, which had an enrollment about 23% black and Hispanic, now has only 10%. The admission of black and Hispanic children to the city’s coveted gifted and talented programs has plummeted since the Bloomberg administration decided that it would be determined only by a single test score, even for the youngest children. The city’s state test scores, once the mayor’s greatest boast, collapsed in 2010 when the state education department admitted that it had made the tests too predictable and lowered the passing score each year. The Bloomberg administration boasts about the rising graduation rate, but never pairs it with the fact that some 80% of the graduates who enter community college require remediation in basic skills. The mayor boasts about reducing the black-white and Hispanic-white achievement gaps, but the federal tests (NAEP) show the gaps unchanged over the past decade.
And so the mayoral election is underway, and the Democratic candidates have loudly criticized the mayor’s policies. I moderated a parent forum at PS 29 in Cobble Hill (every Democratic candidate showed up except Christine Quinn, who was attending a fundraiser, and none of the Republican candidates accepted the invitation). The entire event was videotaped and it is here on the website of Parent Voices New York.
The questions I asked were written by parents. They wanted to know (I am paraphrasing, you can watch and see the original):
1) what will you do to reduce class size to not more than 20 children in the early grades (class size in New York City is the highest in 14 years)?
2) what will you do to end high-stakes testing?
3) will you end Bloomberg’s policy of assigning letter grades to schools, which no one understands and which are highly misleading?
4) what will you do to make the governance system more democratic, so that parents have a voice?
5) will you end Bloomberg’s policy of closing schools based on low test scores?
Every candidate–Bill Thompson, Sal Albanese, Bill DiBlasio, John Liu–disagreed with the Bloomberg administration’s policies.
All promised to dismantle the heavy-handed reforms of the past dozen years. All agreed that schools should be helped, not closed; that class sizes, especially in the early grades, should be reduced; that the school-grading policy should be abandoned; and all promised a more democratic and more open form of governance when the mayoral control law expires in 2015.
The Bloomberg administration won’t let the critics go unanswered. They have nothing left to boast about, so they fall back on weary platitudes about “we can’t go back to the bad old days.” The mayor sent out Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to defend the Mayor’s sterling record. Walcott is the third non-educator appointed by Bloomberg to be chancellor. He was preceded by litigator Joel Klein and publisher Cathie Black. The mayor thinks that educators don’t know anything about education.
Dennis Walcott was once a civil rights leader. He was head of the New York Urban League before he went to work for Bloomberg as deputy mayor, largely as an ambassador to the black community. I don’t envy him. He has to defend an administration that has privatized the public schools across large swaths of black and Hispanic neighborhoods. He has to defend an administration that has made testing its major strategy. He has to defend an administration that cares not a whit that only 9 black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School this year, in an entering class of 1,000. He has to defend an administration that has whitened the enrollment of gifted programs by making admission dependent on a single test score. He has to defend an administration that oversaw the gutting of arts in the schools.
The mayor called his program “Children First” when he announced it on Martin Luther King Jr. Day back in 2003. We now know that the children who come first are the ones whose parents are knowledgeable enough and have time enough to navigate a complex system of choices and testing. We know which children don’t come first.