Sunday, January 03, 2016


We are now two years into the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Many are attempting to objectively look back and ahead as this is the midpoint of his four year term. On education, he clearly is failing to win over many teachers as this thorough point by point analysis from NYC Eye shows.

To be blunt, de Blasio has been just another Democratic Party politician who ditched his public education supporters after being elected.  His policies haven't won over the general public either.

By a margin of 52% to 36%, a September poll showed a strong majority do not want the mayor to keep control of the city schools. The same Quinnipiac poll found that 54% of those polled favored the teacher unions compared to just 31% for Governor Andrew Cuomo to improve education. Those numbers should sober the mayor and the governor while emboldening the UFT and NYSUT but they probably won't do any of that.

As we move ahead, the mayor needs to stand for something more than universal Pre-K and Renewal Schools when it comes to education.  As a city parent, I am grateful the mayor has expanded Pre-K. It came too late for my daughter, who is now a NYC  public school first grade student, but my son can benefit in 2018. As a parent, teacher and city resident, I am also pleased that the mayor has not closed schools with the same ferocity that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did. de Blasio is closing and reorganizing schools but at a much slower pace than his predecessor.

On the other hand, many educators feel like we are working under "Bloomberg Lite" as the basic "test and punish" anti-teacher, anti-parent policies have continued under the de Blasio administration. It seems in most ways he is solidifying the Bloomberg education legacy instead of reversing it.

Teachers I talk to still feel they are under attack as we spend inordinate amounts of time trying to align everything to the unpopular Common Core State Standards so as to avoid checklist ineffective observations under what for many of us is the dreaded Danielson Framework. Up in Albany it looks to us like Governor Cuomo's Task Force and the State Education Department are tinkering with rather than abolishing Common Core and test based evaluations and starting from scratch.

Parents and other stakeholders also continue to be shut out as the mayor appeals a lawsuit saying the open meetings law do not apply to School Leadership Team meetings. This is appalling. Did we mention how class sizes aren't improving much either? The list of de Blasio shortcomings on education could go on and on but that is not the main purpose of this piece.

It would be easy to blame every policy blunder on Chancellor Carmen Farina.  That would be too easy. The buck on schools stops with the mayor and de Blasio was elected in part to push through an overhaul of Bloomberg's school agenda. At the half way point it is clear the current mayor has failed miserably. The reality that many of the Bloomberg school administrators remain on the job just puts an exclamation point on the current mayor's dismal education record but it isn't too late to turn things around.

Mr. de Blasio might want to look around and notice how unpopular the governor's education policies are. The mayor should stop going along with the status quo and just trying to tailor it to New York City. Cuomo is very vulnerable on education. The mayor appearing weak and inept when it comes to public education is not helping New York's school children or his poll numbers.

If I were advising de Blasio, I would tell him to become the champion of public education the elite already accuse him of being. It will take some boldness on his part but the rewards will be worth it for the people of this city and state as well as his reelection chances and legacy.

The mayor could turn things around in a second by not just talking about there being too much testing but by actually coming out against it. He should support the opt-out from testing movement.  If he was really interested in being a leading progressive voice in the country, the field is wide open for a liberal leader to take up this cause at this pivotal time period.

This policy change would come with a huge upside and some risk but that risk is not that great. Remember, Governor Cuomo is highly unpopular when it comes to education. de Blasio could take him on as the real champion of the students.

240,000 students opted out of state exams in 2015. They had parents encouraging them so the number of voters who oppose these tests is astronomical but most came from outside of NYC.  That number could easily explode beyond people's wildest dreams if the New York City mayor was endorsing the grass roots anti-standardized testing movement instead of having the city Department of Education work to stifle it.

If the mayor had the suburban parents like Jeanette Deutermann and groups like the New York State Allies for Public Education on his side, he would emerge as a powerful rival to the governor on education and it would set the political stage for an epic showdown where the public would support de Blasio.

Yes the hedge fund people and charter school supporters like Eva Moskowitz would be appalled and would throw away millions of dollars in advertising against him, but they hate him already and they have squandered a fortune to take him down when he has done little to oppose them. Why not give them something real to attack on? The public would back the mayor. Cuomo knows test and punish education policy is unpopular. That is why he put his commission together to make it look like he is changing it when in reality not much is going to be different.

Naysayers will say the mayor can't change his view on standardized testing. It has too much support from the civil rights movement and the federal government. de Blasio should ignore so called civil rights leaders who say that we need standardized testing to see how our kids are doing.

We have the low stakes National Assessment of Educational Progress tests for that purpose as education professor Diane Ravitch pointed out. Before blindly running behind some civil rights leaders, the mayor should check if each one has received any money from Bill Gates, who funded much of Common Core. Bill Gates knows much less than teachers like me about public education.

As for losing federal dollars, this is where a little courage comes in. The mayor shouldn't worry about losing federal education funding if too many city kids don't take the Common Core tests this spring. Let the federal government bluster about removing federal money from New York if we refuse the tests. The likelihood of federal money being taken away in a presidential election year is quite low. Common Core is hated by many teachers, students and parents across the state.  Standardized testing is despised too. Common Core doesn't poll too well nationally either.

The mayor should step forward and get behind this grassroots movement. Many in the city's power elite are going to accuse any elected official endorsing opt-out of being a tool of the unions but opt-out is a parent, not union, led movement.  If the mayor supported the city opt-out movement and opposed Common Core, he would be an education hero to the masses. The public, particularly those 240,000 that opted out, their families and the many in the city that would join them, would respect the mayor who would be doing what is popular and sound educationally. We need to start from scratch rather than keep the Common Core instructional shifts and their invalid tests.

Now back to reality as Mayor de Blasio is probably never going to see this advice let alone accept it.

If the mayor doesn't want to do what is popular and right, maybe Public Advocate Letitia James or Comptroller Scott Stringer would be interested.  Someone needs to step up and be a strong champion with a clear vision to save our public schools.

How about some council members or assembly members or state senators or borough presidents leading?

Surely, some elected officials in NYC want to do what is right and popular by backing the parents and getting rid of test and punish education?

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