Albany must renew mayoral control over New York schools

The New York Legislature must now act quickly Renewal of mayoral control over the city’s schools, and with minimal changes if it hopes to get a system that’s a marked improvement over its predecessors over the last 20 years. Albany’s failure this week to renew it in this year’s budget agreement betrayed an obscene cynicism that must be overcome immediately.

And make no mistake: adding “adjustments” to the system (which are actually concessions to various interest groups – most notably the powerful teachers’ union) would be a clear sign of disrespect for the city’s schoolchildren. Likewise, holding the renewal hostage in negotiations with the mayor over other policy issues would be politics at its worst.

Remember that the law giving city mayors control of schools expires on June 30th.

True, no system of government is perfect, but the introduction of mayoral control in 2002 came after the utter disaster of two previous models of government: the first, decentralized control for 32 elected district boards in the 1970s, and the second, a centrally dominated, bureaucratic approach, with a central education authority appointed (and committed) by six different elected officials in the 1980s and 1990s.

Public school
From the early 1980s through 2001, the city high school graduation rate was 50 percent.
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Nobody was accountable and accountable for improvements during those years, and the results showed the impact. From the early 1980s through 2001, the high school graduation rate was 50% and was resilient to numerous efforts to improve it. Since then, that rate has improved to over 70%, even discounting the impact of lax grading standards during the pandemic.

Historically, the city has always scored below the national average in annual exams, but that is no longer the case. While there are Department of Education schools with unacceptably low levels of performance, the city as a whole topped the state average in 2019, the final year of full testing.

Some of us have been deeply disappointed by the actions of the de Blasio administration, but we now have a mayor and chancellor who seem more aligned with the Bloomberg administration’s school initiatives, adapted to their own priorities and to the current era.

Michael Bloomberg
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s approach included closing underperforming schools and expanding school choice.

Others resented Bloomberg’s approach, including closing underperforming schools, expanding choice, and making schools and staff accountable for outcomes. In 2013, she and others elected a mayor with opposing views.

Whatever a mayor’s views, once elected, he or she should have as much direct control over schools as any other city service and be held accountable for their performance. All mayors keep an eye on the next election and can react to criticism within reasonable limits. Yes, they can be aloof like lame ducks, à la de Blasio; but changes can come once they’re gone.

Some say we need to adjust mayoral control, but the law has already been adjusted; there is little room for more change without materially undercutting it.

School bus
The city’s high school graduation rate is now 70 percent, and the city surpassed state test scores in 2019.
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In 2009, the Legislature feared that the Bloomberg administration was hiding information about schools’ performance, so the legislature used the renewal of mayoral control to give the city’s independent budget office the power to access more than just the school system’s financial data and to analyze all staff, building and student data. (I led this effort at the IBO from 2010 to 2018, and that work continues to this day under my successor.)

A later change to the system required the mayor to select at least two parents from public schools for the Education Policy Board, in addition to the five parents selected by the borough presidents.

This body and local community education councils should be the public forums through which parents and community members can express their views on proposed policy changes. Their voices should be heard and taken seriously, and city leaders should consult with parents and community members, not lecture them.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected by voters unhappy with Bloomberg’s actions.
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Mayor Eric Adams
New York now has a mayor who more closely matches Bloomberg’s approach to education.
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Additional minor legislative changes to ensure this proper public debate might be worth considering – but in the end, the only workable system for managing education in the city is what we currently have: direct mayoral control. Fingers crossed Albany extends it before it expires.

Ray Domanico is Senior Fellow and Director of Education Policy at the Manhattan Institute. Albany must renew mayoral control over New York schools


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