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Now That He’s Got Control, What Will NYC’s Mayor Do About “Chaos, Gridlock, and Corruption”?

On Thursday, June 29, 2017, the New York State Legislature voted to extend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of New York City schools for two years.

The move was heralded by everyone from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who proclaimed it “the best way to provide education,” to former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who asserted that mayoral control would make His Honor directly accountable.

Earlier, School Chancellor Carmen Fariña had predicted that if mayoral control were not renewed and NYC reverted to its pre-Bloomberg 2002 state of 32 community school boards overseen by a politically appointed Board of Education, it would lead to “chaos, gridlock, and corruption.”

Well, now de Blasio and Fariña had gotten their way. And yet, as I look around America’s largest public school system, what do I see but… chaos, gridlock, and corruption.

Let us count the ways….

CHAOS

Tried to apply to an NYC public high-school lately? The New York Times recently discovered that it’s really, really hard. They tried to place the blame on school choice. I explained here that the real problem is the lack of excellent K-8 schools that tragically limit a student’s choices by the time they reach eighth grade.

But even a child lucky enough to score a lottery seat in a top elementary gifted, unzoned or charter school still has to navigate a labyrinth of different applications, interviews, portfolio reviews, auditions, tests and Open House visits to score a seat at a Specialized or Screened or Performing Arts or Limited Unscreened or Ed-Opt or P-Tech or Honors Program High-School.

The process is so confusing – even staff aren’t sure of what’s required and are famous for giving out erroneous information – a cottage industry has sprung up to help, ranging from books to test prep centers to private consultants.

When confronted with parents’ frustrations, the Department of Ed decided the solution was to eliminate one requirement for Limited Unscreened schools by 2019, making it no longer necessary for students to physically visit a site in order to receive priority in admissions. I explained why that would make not a whit of difference here.

Everything else about the public-high school application process remains exactly the same, i.e. equally as chaotic.

GRIDLOCK

One of the major sticking points in renewing Mayoral control was the battle between those who want to remove the cap on the number of charter schools, and those who wish it to remain flat. (In reality, anti-charter folk would like to see it reverse into negative numbers.)

The current deal does not include a charter school expansion, although The Wall Street Journal hints of a back-channel agreement, the details of which de Blasio promises will be coming “shortly.”

In the meantime, NYC charter schools cumulatively report over 40,000 students on their waiting lists, with the Success Academy network, which regularly outscores even some citywide and district Gifted & Talented programs, desperately seeking permission to expand after receiving more than 17,000 applications for only 3,000+ available seats.

But even with little more than a third of public school students capable of passing their state ELA and Math exams, the pleas of schools that have proven they could help raise those statistics remain… politically gridlocked.

CORRUPTION

When Chancellor Fariña speaks of corruption, she is not referring to blatant violations like the Deputy Mayor pulling strings to exercise school choice not permitted among average citizens.

She means:

(F)actions who aren’t putting the best interest of kids first…. Managers, appointed by the local school boards, inflated the price of contracts to generate lucrative kickbacks that took money directly away from students and siphoned money from taxpayers.

Would those have anything in common with the Mayor’s much-touted Renewal Schools Program, which spent $400 million dollars (out of a budgeted $800 million, much of it going to non-academic services, including a massive administrative bureaucracy) to achieve… nothing? (In NYC’s defense, Obama’s seven billion dollar School Improvement Grants Program posted not much better results.)

It would seem, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, that mayoral control is the absolutely worse system of management… except for all the others.

So now that de Blasio has his mandate, what, exactly, is he planning to do about the aforementioned chaos, gridlock, corruption… not to mention all the other school problems? NYC parents need answers now. We can’t wait until mayoral control is up for renewal again in two years.

 

What do you think?

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