Having nearly botched a bailout package for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, state legislators now turn their attention to continued mayoral control of New York City’s public schools. Wish the city’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren luck—they’re going to need it.
The legislation that abolished the old Board of Education and gave the mayor absolute control over the city’s schools is due to expire next month. Reauthorization seems highly likely, and with good reason. City schools are accountable as never before, they are offering children a better education and they are safer than they were under the old regime. Two recent reports—just a sampling of the good news from public schools during the Bloomberg years—offer a glimpse of the progress being made. Test scores show that 69 percent of students in grades three to eight met state standards in English comprehension, up from 58 percent last year. Another report shows that violence in the city’s classrooms is down 22 percent since 2002.
If the measure of mayoral control is performance, it’s safe to say that the experiment has been a success. Mr. Bloomberg has been in charge of the system since 2002. There has been little but good news from the classroom since.
There are, however, those who seem to prefer the bad old days of an unaccountable, top-heavy, bureaucratic Board of Education. For example, Manhattan State Senator Bill Perkins made a remarkable assertion several days ago when Schools Chancellor Joel Klein appeared before the Senate’s Education Committee. Mr. Perkins told Mr. Klein that mayoral control “has been a disaster for parents. It has not gotten better.”
A disaster for parents? Does Mr. Perkins believe that parents preferred the old system of local advisory boards stacked with patronage appointees? Incredibly, the senator seems to think so.
Mayor control has been a disaster, all right, but not for parents and students—it has been a disaster for political hacks. No longer can they place their surrogates on district school boards that were better known for their corruption than their commitment to quality education. We’d be curious to meet the parents who yearn for a return to such a system.
Albany may tweak mayoral control, which is its prerogative. But it’s clear that there will be no going back to the regime Mr. Perkins seems to prefer. Mayoral control not only has produced real results, it has wrenched control out of the hands of the United Federation of Teachers and its president, Randi Weingarten. The UFT remains a formidable obstacle to reform, but it has been put on the defensive, and rightly so, over the past eight years.
The performance of many charter schools shows that students respond to educational innovation; it’s amazing what happens once the teachers’ union gets out of the way. And charter schools have inspired support from private benefactors like Rupert Murdoch, who just gave $5.5 million to the wildly successful Harlem Village Academy.
New York’s public schools are moving in the right direction.