Most supporters of mayoral control list similar reasons for why they prefer the governance structure: it consolidates accountability in a single person; it reduces corruption that can proliferate in a decentralized system. But there's also a less prominent argument: that mayoral control could facilitate a new breed of full-service schools that tackle both poverty and low academic achievement. Teachers union president Randi Weingarten made this argument last year when she said mayors could create "community schools" by linking city agencies in innovative ways. But I hadn't heard it again until today, when I spoke with Katherine Eckstein, a public policy expert who works at the Children's Aid Society, one of the city's oldest social services agencies. "When kids are hungry or depressed, or have no place to go, or have chronic medical problems, they have no way to take advantage of opportunities put before them," she told me. Eckstein, the public policy director for the organization's National Technical Assistance Center for Community Schools, said many services exist that can help students deal with such issues, but they are not always effectively delivered. "I see this as the promise of mayoral control — harnessing the power of city agencies," she said, adding that the Children's Aid Society plans to promote this idea as the debate over mayoral control's future picks up.
Yesterday I wrote about two politicians who showed up at the Queens mayoral control panel I moderated Tuesday. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is running for mayor, declared with a swagger his desire to keep most of mayoral control preserved for himself, when he becomes mayor. (He is taking on Mayor Bloomberg and Comptroller Bill Thompson in the 2009 race.) City Councilman Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, waited patiently in a question line and then declared his support for making school governance more democratic. De Blasio is running for public advocate. Here's video displaying each official's testimony. First de Blasio, with the shushing of Weiner's posse at about minute 3:30: Then Weiner, who was surprised to be asked whether he had a question for the panel, rather than the reverse:
If the graduation requirements in effect for this year's ninth-graders had applied to students who entered high school five years ago, the city's graduation rate would be just 37 percent. The new, more stringent requirements could cause the city's graduation rate, which has only recently topped 50 percent, to plummet, advocates say in a new report (pdf) about what they call a "looming crisis" for the city schools. The report, prepared by the Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent group, details how poor and minority students could suffer most under the new rules. Beginning with this year's freshman class, all high school students will have to earn what's called a Regents diploma by scoring 65 or higher on five different state exams. Until now, the state has allowed students who scored between 55 and 64 on any of the tests to graduate with a less rigorous diploma. The less rigorous diploma, called a local diploma, has been the most common type earned by city students. At a press conference on the steps of the Department of Education this morning, CEJ and dozens of other advocates called for an emergency working group of state and city education officials to focus on how to help schools where few students are on track to graduate with Regents diplomas.
A page from a manual helping charter school leaders resist unionization. Labor-management relations may be off to a rocky start so far at KIPP AMP, the Brooklyn charter school where teachers shocked the charter school community last month by petitioning to join the powerful United Federation of Teachers. The trouble is that KIPP management has so far declined to recognize the teachers' petition, something the leaders have 30 days to do — or else defer to a more contentious process, the state labor board. Allowing the labor board to decide whether to recognize the petitions opens the door for KIPP to make a legal case against unionization. The 30-day period ends next Thursday. It is not clear why KIPP is not recognizing the petitions, or whether the charter school network will do so by Thursday. Union officials said they recently sent the charter school network a reminder letter, restating the 30-day deadline, but KIPP has still not recognized. Dave Levin, the KIPP co-founder and superintendent of New York City KIPP schools who will have to make the final decision, has not returned my requests for comment. Briscoe Smith, the senior vice president and counsel at a Manhattan-based foundation that helps charter schools fight unions (and is loathed by the UFT), said he has not consulted with KIPP. But he said it is possible for managers to challenge workers' efforts to unionize.
Brandeis High School will phase out beginning this year. Few were surprised today when Department of Education officials descended on the Upper West Side's Louis Brandeis High School to inform staff that the long-struggling school has been slated to close. For years, the school has been among the lowest-performing in the city, with a four-year graduation rate of just 33 percent. This year Brandeis received a D on its DOE progress report, used to evaluate how much students are improving. By the time teachers and staff gathered today in the school's basement auditorium for a 3 p.m. meeting, most appeared to know why they were there. One teacher told me that rumors had spread through the building all afternoon. "There's been talking ever since we had gotten our progress report," said another teacher, Tara Bernard, a speech pathologist who has worked at the school for four years. "We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop for years," said another teacher as he left the building. But some students said they thought the school was improving. A ninth-grader told me he heard the school had problems, but he hadn't experienced them. And an older student said the school had fewer fights than in the past. Bernard, the speech pathologist, said the school had been relatively stable in her four years working there.
Hispanic Federation president Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, center. What exactly does it mean to be a "partner"? When Learn NY, the group fighting to preserve the mayor's control over the school system, announced partnerships with three racial-minority groups last week, it seemed like evidence that the groups would join its lobbying battle. But the president of one of the three groups, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez of the Hispanic Federation, told me late last week that "partner" in this case has a "very contained and limited" meaning. The Hispanic Federation will not adopt Learn NY's position on mayoral control; it will come up with its own, separate position, after talking to parents, she said. That keeps Lopez open to maintaining the scathing critique of mayoral control that she provided to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's commission on school governance last year: "The dial towards improvement has moved very, very slowly during the years of mayoral control and in certain communities we have seen the dial moving in the opposite direction towards a worsening of the schools," she said in testimony that you can read here (page 130 — UPDATE: sorry about broken link, should work now). In her testimony, Lopez blamed both the Bloomberg administration's "corporate" approach to school policy and the mayoral control system itself, which she said silenced debate. She also challenged the idea promoted by Learn NY board chairman Geoffrey Canada that mayoral control brings a clear line of accountability. Lopez said that under mayoral control it has been impossible to know who is responsible for what. "Too many of us are unsure of what the system really looks like now," Lopez said. So why is Lopez partnering with Learn NY? She said that the resources the group offered her, combined with the chance to boost the voice of the Latino community, sealed the deal.
The city teachers union teachers union is catching no breaks on its proposed mayoral control position, which last night sailed through the first of two hoops required before it becomes official union policy. First, the Department of Education and the group supporting mayoral control, Learn NY, dismissed the union's proposal as a step backward, comparing it to the way the public schools were run before mayoral control. Both don't like the union's proposal to empower the Panel for Educational Policy, now seen as a rubber stamp, into an effective school board that would have to approve policy decisions. Now, the mayor controls a majority of appointments on the panel, and can dismiss any of these members at a moment's notice. Under the union's proposal, the mayor would control only 5 of 13 seats, and term limits would protect board members from overnight removal. "We can't have it both ways," Learn NY board chair Geoffrey Canada said in a statement. "Either one person is in charge, or no one is." The union is also receiving criticism from a group of its own members, who late last night released a minority report suggesting that the legislature carve even more power away from the mayor.