Opinion: Mayor de Blasio’s Inadequate Education Agenda and NYC’s Lost Year

Bill de Blasio Getty Images
To say Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first full year running the New York City schools has been a roller coaster would be an understatement.
While the de Blasio administration’s efforts on pre-K have been noteworthy, a thorough analysis of the Mayor’s education policies has found that he has been long on rhetoric, but short on results. Furthermore, the Mayor has refused to address teacher quality, continued his war on charter schools, and has rolled back school accountability measures.
Mayor de Blasio has long said that he would focus on struggling schools. His strategy includes three key elements: Renewal Schools, the closely related Community Schools Initiative, and small school mergers. While the policies contain positive elements, like making access to social services easier for needy students, they collectively fall short on elevating school quality. In fact, the most striking failure of the de Blasio education agenda is the fact that neither of his signature school quality initiatives – Renewal and Community Schools – addresses the quality in classrooms.
Despite talking tough early in his administration about removing subpar teachers, the teachers union contract negotiated by Mayor de Blasio did not include any substantive changes to the process for removing ineffective and dangerous teachers from the classroom. City Hall has also taken a weak-handed approach to the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, leaving a high number of unwanted teachers on the payroll.
After 18 months in office, his key new initiatives are little more than ideas – nothing of note has been executed. The Renewal Schools program, in particular, is off to a disastrous start. Announced well into the school year, and months after a state-mandated deadline, Renewal Schools have reported receiving uneven and sometimes non-existent support. Key elements of the intervention have yet to even receive sign-off from the teachers and principals unions.
After the state legislature doubled the number of charters available in NYC, it behooves the Mayor to put aside his past political rhetoric
The central problem is that these new policies are built on flawed foundations. The community school model as a way to improve student achievement is unproven. Evidence from similar initiatives nationwide show that social services alone are not sufficient to boost student outcomes; teacher quality must improve as well. And Mayor de Blasio’s plan to merge – rather than close – struggling schools delights the teachers union but flies in the face of research; substantial evidence indicates that the small schools created in the Bloomberg administration raised graduation rates and college enrollment.
One policy that held great promise at the outset was the Mayor’s PROSE (Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence) program, which promised to allow schools to experiment with changes outside of city and union regulations. But despite claims that the program would help schools to “reinvent themselves” and include a more “aggressive” set of changes than are allowed in charter schools, onerous red tape – such as requiring the teachers union, principal union, and DOE to sign off on the details – stifles schools’ abilities to enact meaningful change.
A year into the program, PROSE schools do not bear any similarity to charters.
At the same time, the Mayor continues to remain hostile to high performing charter schools. These are schools with a record of success, and yet, the de Blasio administration refuses to see them as a valuable part of the city’s public school system. After the state legislature doubled the number of charters available in New York City, it behooves the Mayor to put aside his past political rhetoric and work with these schools that consistently deliver results.
Now that the state legislature has granted Mayor de Blasio one more year to show progress, we hope that he will use his control of the school system to shift his focus to policies that have a clear track record of improving outcomes for students.


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