Education now: Better? Worse?
At 12:01 this morning, the law that enshrined mayoral control of New York City’s public schools formally sunset, as the New York State Senate remained paralyzed by crisis. The old Board of Education was automatically resurrected, as were 32 community school boards, whose members are to be elected.
Whether or not this will stand, or if the State Senate will come back to order and re-issue some form of mayor control remains to be seen. However, what we’ve seen so far is not good: Bloomberg is making sure to keep himself and his corporate-world school’s chancellor, Joel Klein, firmly in control, with as little in the way of checks and balances as possible.
The seven-member board is composed of two people directly appointed by the mayor, and one person appointed by each of the five Borough Presidents. The mayor and the BP’s have made their appointments, and six of them are sympathetic to Bloomberg: There are three deputy mayors and three allies. The other, Dolores M. Fernández, was appointed by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., and thankfully, she is expected to oppose Joel Klein’s continued reign as well as many of Bloomberg’s policies.
It’s too bad that four of the five Borough Presidents decided not to challenge Bloomberg’s power. If they had, we could have seen a board that would fire Joel Klein, and bring in someone who has an actual background in education. Klein has imposed a top-down corporate model on the schools, and has left room for virtually no input by parents or the community.
We need a system that will not be bogged down in bureaucracy and patronage, as the old Board of Education was, as well as something that is democratic, allowing for the greatest possible involvement of the people of New York—something that the Bloomberg top-down control model was decidedly not.
For that reason, we agree with the efforts of the new Democratic leader, John Sampson, as well as other Democrats and members of the State Senate who want to pass an amended version of executive control that is far better than the version passed by the State Assembly, which left the Bloomberg version largely unchanged.
An example would be the “Better Schools Act,” introduced by Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, and endorsed by the Alliance for Quality Education, a diverse coalition of community organizations dedicated to bettering local public education. This bill would divide appointment to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), which leads the Department of Education, between both the mayor and the City Council, which, by its nature, is closer to the people of the city. Members of the PEP would be appointed for fixed terms—not at the leisure of the mayor or city council. As it stood until this morning, the PEP was a farce: any member who disagrees with Bloomberg is simply removed and replaced. The bill would also add accountability and transparency to the DOE, and would allow for greater participation by the community.
Neither the current nor the previous setup works. We need a democratic form of executive and legislative control.
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