PHOTO: Contributed photoCity Council Speaker Christine Quinn's proposed changes to mayoral control are less drastic than Comptroller Bill Thompson's (right). Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/azipaybarah/2415786468/##Azi's Flickr.## Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, is joining the chorus of voices urging state lawmakers to add checks and balances to the mayor's authority over the public schools, but she's proposing a different, slightly softer kind of check. Rather than strengthening the citywide school board, as the teachers union, the comptroller, and several parent groups have suggested, Quinn wants lawmakers to empower the City Council to do stronger oversight of the mayor's school policies. In written testimony Quinn submitted to the state Assembly this week, she describes the arrangement she'd like to see as "municipal" rather than mayoral control. Currently, the Council's ability to check the mayor's education policy extends only "up to the door of a school," she says, citing last year's cell phone brouhaha as evidence. (The city argued that the council's legislation overturning Bloomberg's cell phone ban, which Bloomberg vetoed, but council members over-rode, did not have any effect on the final policy.) Only state lawmakers have the authority to override the mayor's school policy, Quinn argues. But she says that doesn't make sense. "I would never look to weigh in on local education policies in Elmira County, and I don’t think a State legislator from Elmira (no matter how qualified her or she may be) should or wants to be responsible for decisions made about New York City schools," she writes.
One of the charming features of GothamSchools is that, as a blogger, I can bite the hand that feeds me. Philissa Cramer and Elizabeth Green, the two journalists who make this site a must-read for me and thousands of others daily, have been very gracious in letting me post here. So I hope they will take the occasional riff on their work in the spirit in which I intend it: as a gentle, and educational, rebuke. Yesterday, Philissa posted a story on a new poll out of Quinnipiac University on all things New York City, including mayoral control of the schools and Joel Klein's performance as Chancellor of the NYC schools. The post was entitled "Sinking approval for mayor's school efforts, chancellor," and was accompanied by a chart that showed the percentage of New Yorkers who approve of Joel Klein's handling of the schools at six time points between October, 2008 and March, 2009. Klein's approval rating ranged from 42% to 44% between October and February, 2009, and the new poll reported that 37% approved of Klein's efforts. The figure, unfortunately, distorted the trend. Rather than using a true zero point, the scale of the chart ranged from 36%, at the low end, to 45%, at the upper end. The decline from 44% in February, 2009 to 37% in March, 2009 took up most of the chart, and made it seem much sharper than it would have if the scale for the chart were 0% to 100%.
Parents and a slew of community leaders filed a lawsuit today against the Department of Education, demanding that the department reverse its decision to shutter three struggling elementary schools and replace them with charter schools. The parents say the decisions violated state law, because they happened without any consultation of the elected parent councils that have replaced community school boards. Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers union; Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate, and a slew of parents of children at the schools are among the plaintiffs to the suit, which personally singles out Chancellor Joel Klein as a defendant. (Read the full suit here, in PDF form.) Suing Klein and his department is a dramatic escalation of the ongoing saga over the city's decision this year to shut down three elementary schools — two in Harlem and one in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn — and fill their buildings with charter schools instead. Charter schools are publicly funded, but operate outside of the regular district bureaucracy, meaning they usually lack teachers unions and can only serve a limited number of students.
PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaThe receptionist at the office of the Special Commissioner of Investigations, Richard Condon. Condon's staff takes up more than an entire floor at its financial district building. I just picked up the 600 pages of reports on wrongdoing and misconduct by city school employees that got sent to Chancellor Joel Klein in 2007 and 2008, but never surfaced publicly. The Post highlighted some of the contents: a Stuyvesant librarian's unauthorized field trips to a Quiz Bowl, a substitute teacher who showed students a movie in which he appeared with a semi-naked woman. But the biggest story is what is not in this file: Any investigations into top or even mid-level Department of Education officials, or any evidence of educators fudging student performance data to make their school look better. The absence is matched by a similar drought among those investigations that have been publicized. The development suggests one of two conclusions. On one hand, the new reports could disprove critics' concerns that growing pressure to produce higher test scores and graduate more students has led some educators to cheat. They could also squash the speculation that the Special Commissioner of Investigations, Richard Condon, somehow managed to cover up looks into higher-profile targets. On the other hand, the cynical conclusion is that high-level misbehavior and cheating are happening with little intervention from an office whose purpose is to investigate schools for misconduct.
Public support for Bloomberg's school control is at its lowest point since 2003, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's approval rating has also taken a hit, according to poll results released today. After a month packed with contentious public hearings about Klein's tenure as chancellor, his approval rating dropped 7 points, to 37 percent, according to a new poll out of Quinnipiac University. His approval rating is lowest among blacks, Hispanics, residents of the Bronx, and women. It's also just four points higher than his all-time low, posted two years ago just after mid-year school bus route changes frustrated parents citywide. Approval for how Mayor Bloomberg is handling the public schools has also dropped, to 47 percent from 50 percent a month ago, giving him the lowest approval rating on his education efforts since May 2003. Just 46 percent of New Yorkers said they thought the mayor's takeover of the public schools has been a success. Public school parents rated the mayor the worst: Just 41 percent of them said they approved of the job he's doing, and 54 percent said they disapproved. The poll indicates that the public still supports the idea of mayoral control. A majority, 52 percent, said the school governance structure should continue after June 30, when the law creating it is set to expire.
Technology constraints prohibited me from live-blogging Friday's Assembly hearing on mayoral control of the city schools, which (for those not following along) is the policy that in 2002 handed near-total education authority over to the mayor — and which is up for renewal this June. The strong thrust of Friday's hearing, the last of five that have taken Assembly members on a tour through the boroughs, was that lawmakers are not happy with the system they created. Some have become even less happy during the hearings in every borough over the last few months. A few flubbed exchanges with lawmakers have not helped the Bloomberg administration's case. One such embarrassing moment happened one Friday, when officials failed to produce the graduation rate for black males. Here are some of the highlights from Friday: Thirteen Assembly members attended the hearing, one of the largest showings so far, and I didn't hear any of them speak positively about mayoral control. Two members made their dissatisfaction most clear. "I can assure you that my opinion has changed a lot in these hearings," Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of Manhattan declared, after angrily chastising Department of Education officials during a question-and-answer session. "Talking to my legislative colleagues over the last three months, the question in my mind is no longer if we're going to make any changes to the law. It's going to be what changes are we going to make," declared Mark Weprin of Queens.
As we watch the KIPP/UFT battle unfold, one thing seems clear: we won't see a union contract between the two organizations anytime soon. The unionization process for KIPP AMP is governed by the Taylor Law and overseen by the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB"). If and when the PERB certifies the UFT to represent the AMP teachers, KIPP will be required to begin collective bargaining. This won't necessarily lead to a contract, though. From a primer published by Atlantic Legal: "In essence, collective bargaining is the obligation of the union and the employer to meet and confer in good faith concerning employees' terms and conditions of employment. Thus, a good faith effort must be made by both parties to seek agreement. However, an agreement is not required or guaranteed, since neither side is forced to accept any terms it does not want."