Unless mayoral candidates get serious on education, students will lose

Over the last decade, New York City public school students have seen real improvements in their schools, most clearly evidenced by a graduation rate that has been climbing steadily after decades of stagnation.

While we’re still nowhere near where we should be, students should get ready to say goodbye to the progress that’s been made – at least based on a forum on education attended by five announced mayoral candidates last week. Not only did the four Democrats and one Republican try and distance themselves from proven reforms – not a single one offered a coherent view of what we should be doing to continue the improvements during the hour-long panelsponsored by Gotham Schools and NY1.

Since mayoral control of the schools was authorized in 2002, ushering in an era of reform, graduation rates have spiked 40 percent overall, with a higher rate of growth for black and Hispanic students. The school dropout rate has been cut in half. Principals have far greater say in how to run their schools, more free than ever of bureaucratic meddling. And more than 600 new schools have given families real choices about where they can send their children to school that never existed before.

Rather than talking about how he would continue this success, Comptroller John Liu said his first priority the first year in office would be to hire more guidance counselors. That’s the main challenge facing the city’s public school students?

Republican Tom Allon said he would eliminate testing in first through fifth grades. Yes, the teachers' union has been successful in sowing a small backlash against accountability measures in communities that don’t have to worry about unacceptably low student performance. Allon, in adopting this rhetoric (and neglecting to mention that first and second graders are not, in fact, subject to standardized tests), is proposing to eliminate accountability for ensuring that kids are taught what they need to know in the early, most important years of learning.

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson said he would issue an instant moratorium on school closings. Translation: keep failing schools open. Would he send his children to them during the years he says they need to improve?

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he would increase taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year to fund a full-day pre-K program. All well and good. But won’t he need that money to close budget deficits as far as the eye can see? And what about the billions in dollars in costs that will likely be attached to a new teachers contract? And what of the 1.1 million kids who are already out of pre-K and in our public schools?

And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in her first year of office she would stop “vilifying” teachers, reduce the amount of time spent on test prep and figure out another way to address failing schools. Which means what, exactly, in terms of solutions that help children?

Unless another candidate steps up, or the existing field gets serious on education, New York City public students will be the losers in this race.


Photo Credit: GothamSchools

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