The NYC public schools need attention and leadership. Improving the educational system requires creative thinking and new ideas.
Most important, the city’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren deserve a system with accountability, responsibility and oversight. Those are the primary reasons why state lawmakers must extend the system of mayoral control that started with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But that extension must be for a period that makes sense. Last year, the State Legislature gave Mayor Bill de Blasio one year. But it’s too disruptive to revisit this every year.
Instead, lawmakers should extend mayoral control for three years, a span already under consideration by members of the State Assembly and Senate. De Blasio proposed seven, but that’s too long without accountability. Three years would allow de Blasio to finish out his term, and give whoever is elected next, perhaps de Blasio himself, a year to start work on school issues in a new term.
It’s important to note de Blasio’s successes, from universal pre-K to the introduction of community schools. And Chancellor Carmen Fariña has been impressive in her knowledge, honesty and ideas. But de Blasio has to be more responsive to charter schools. There’s a need to improve parent engagement. And the mayor’s response to concerns over school violence, failing schools and accessibility has been inadequate.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan rebuked de Blasio last week, a day after a legislative hearing in Albany, saying he wouldn’t trust the mayor with school system control until he got responses to “unanswered questions.” Well, there’s another hearing set for May 19, this time in NYC. A de Blasio spokesman said the mayor hasn’t decided whether he’ll be there. That’s a mistake. He should go and answer every question to show that oversight matters to him.
De Blasio’s critics point to separate inquiries plaguing the mayor. But for the mayoral control decision, it’s important to focus on what’s best for the schools. Remember the old system: the central Board of Education, the community school boards, the bureaucracy that did little and was responsive to no one. Going backward is not the answer.