Campbell Brown: De Blasio’s Vision Not Nearly Radical Enough to Fix NYC Schools

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outlines his vision for New York City schools at Bronx Latin School on September 16, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
This excerpt from Campbell Brown's speech to the New York State Business Council originally appeared in the New York Post.
Mayor de Blasio announced a number of worthy education initiatives on Wednesday — expanding computer-science programming, increasing college readiness and pledging that every child will read at grade level by third grade.
On the face of it, all good. All the research shows that third-grade literacy is the critical indicator of future success. That’s why every big-city school superintendent around the country makes it a core priority from the start.
In Philadelphia, 100 percent literacy in third grade is what they call an “anchor goal.” In Ohio it’s called “the Third Grade Literacy Guarantee.” In the Bay Area it’s “Oakland reads 2020.” In Houston it’s “Literacy by 3.”
But what’s not clear is why it took de Blasio 21 months, nearly half his term, to add it to his agenda and get on board with the rest of the country.
Better late than never? Sure. Will these proposals create a more equitable system? Not a chance — not without much more fundamental changes to the way schools are run. A cluster of programs isn’t a vision.
I believe the reason he can’t articulate a vision for NYC’s public schools and their students is because education policies whose bedrock principle is not offending teachers unions won’t give the city’s poor kids the equality of opportunity they deserve.
What concerns me is that Wednesday’s announcement will distract from the truly important, politically difficult reforms de Blasio refuses to consider.
Look at where the administration has failed to act. On teacher quality — including those third-grade reading teachers — the evidence has been clear for years. We know that nothing is more important than having a good teacher. But unions pretend teachers are all the same, get paid the same — the only contingency is how long they’ve been at it.
Early on, the mayor signaled his actual intentions — and wasted a huge opportunity — in giving teachers an 18 percent salary increase but failing to negotiate meaningful work-rule changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I favor much higher salaries for teachers. But not just for showing up. Good teachers should make more. Teachers who excel in poor neighborhoods should make more. Salary increases should be a performance incentive, not a guarantee for hanging around.
But that’s not in the de Blasio contract.
He could also have done something to ensure principals can assemble and maintain the best staff for their schools — management 101, right? Yet he did nothing about the “last-in-first-out” system of teacher job security or the time-consuming and ruinously expensive process to get rid of bad teachers.
His efforts to improve the very worst schools have been confused and under-imagined. Many of the worst of the worst — the so-called Renewal schools — actually posted lower scores after their first year in his Renewal program.
De Blasio is desperate to win multi-year mayoral control over city schools from the Legislature. But real reform means rebuilding the system around kids and taking on the unions and machine politicians.
And — crucially — it means finding someone who can implement those changes. Someone who can modernize our public schools with the urgency needed.
Unfortunately, that person is not the current chancellor, Carmen Fariña.
I don’t doubt she’s a great educator. But her job has been mainly to serve as a union-approved caretaker.
Seventy percent of the kids in her schools — hundreds of thousands of kids, mostly poor and of color — are underperforming, yet she’s shown no sense of urgency. She just goes along in the moment — it is always “a beautiful day,” as she said, tellingly, during a blizzard last year.
Fariña is untroubled by facts, as when she claimed that charter schools were pushing out high-need children but wouldn’t back it up with data. Or when she dismissed a gold-standard social-science study validating the Bloomberg-era small-school initiative as merely “one view of things.”
It may be naive to think that Bill de Blasio will ever become serious about education. But I remain hopeful — so I humbly suggest that he find someone who knows what citywide improvement looks like.
The truth is, this really isn’t about fighting the teachers unions. They’re just doing what you’d expect them to do — protecting and defending all teachers, good or bad.
It’s not about them. It’s about our political leaders. Their decisions have a real impact on the lives of New York’s children. And those children deserve better than de Blasio and Fariña have given them.
Photo by Getty Images

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today