Monday, January 28

Student Thought: Mayoral control and the question for Albany

It always surprises me how my fellow students always seem to take much more moderate and pragmatic positions on many of today's more controversial education issues than I would expect.

At last week's New York City Student Union meeting, the issue that came up was mayoral control of NYC schools, which Albany can either reinstate or let sunset in 2009. While much of what we hear on the issue from other members of the education community (parents, teachers, activists) is outright condemnation, most students were supportive of the idea of mayoral control.

I've been on the fence about the issue for a while now, but after hearing my fellow students arguments, I am convinced that mayoral control is not the devil after all.

For starters mayoral control assures that at least someone is responsible and accountable for the success and failure of our education system. It makes education an important issue in the municipal election with both the largest voter turnout and the greatest amount of press coverage and it also serves to keep education in the news because there are always reporters surrounding the mayor.

Mayoral control also centralizes education giving some hope for equal standards citywide and the possibility of important sweeping change.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe it needs some changes. I just took my US History Regents and the idea of checks and balances comes to mind. Since the president has to get his Secretary of Education approved by Congress, why shouldn't the mayor have to get the chancellor approved by the City Council? Makes sense right? I would also advocate that a Chancellor Selection Board be appointed comprising of teachers, parents, students and administrators to publicly review candidates for the position.

Up to now, most of what I have heard as criticism of mayoral control seems more to be criticism of what Bloomberg and Klein have done to our schools. What we have seen with the current Bloomberg-Klein Complex is a complete denial of some of the most important issues in education, especially class size. They have also shown a pattern of disrespect to many of the constituents of our education system and filled the department with bureaucrats, lawyers and businessmen instead of educators.

We know that we need a chancellor who has experience as an educator in the classroom and in the schools. We need one who understands the delicate processes of teaching and learning. So I say, instead of drifting back to decentralization and the disorganization and confusion that comes with it, why not demand a mayor who will give us just that, who will pledge to put an educator in charge of our schools. This in my belief is one of the biggest positives of mayoral control is that we the people can make this statement.

In 2009, Albany will have a tough decision to make. Mayoral control is an extreme system. It is likely to be very good or very bad because under it change comes much more easily. It does not tend towards moderation. However, in our current state of education, in which way too few of us students graduate and fewer leave our schools ready to support ourselves and become able participants in our democracy, we need a system that will enable change to occur. What we have had is not working. We need new solutions, new ideas. Mayoral control is the most effective way to implement the changes we seek in our schools.

So the question before Albany is this: Do we want to abandon a system that has such a potential for good, just because it hasn't been used as such in the past six years?
--Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog

1 comment:

Philissa said...

Interesting post, Seth, and I think you've hit on the key issue that will be difficult for lawmakers to deal with as they evaluate mayoral control in NYC: how to separate the idea of mayoral control from the reign of Bloomberg.

But what you say about checks and balances suggests that you do think mayoral control inherently creates opportunities for abuse. And putting checks and balances in place is tricky. Who should sit on the Chancellor Selection Board? How would they be appointed? Would the mayor fill the majority or even all of the seats on the board? If he didn't, would he truly have control?

I also agree that mayoral control allows one person to be held accountable for the success/failure of the schools. But I would question 1) why this is so important, when the schools themselves and the forces affecting them are so many and 2) whether this accountability is real. Certainly for Mayor Bloomberg being accountable has been a license to dismiss critics. Yes, that might not be the case under the next mayor -- but it might, and under the current system there wouldn't be anything to stop it.