November 24, 2008
The nonprofit pro-mayoral control advocacy group that was originally titled MASS, for Mayoral Accountability for Student Success, is now called Learn NY, and its official first day of existence is today. The group has close ties with the Bloomberg administration, but it is not being funded by the mayor, officials said in a background press conference with reporters this morning.
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has already done impressive digging into the group’s media strategy. A spokesperson for the group confirmed to me today that the blog commenter Haimson noticed voicing his passion for mayoral control is indeed on the payroll of Learn NY. Brian Keeler, an online-media specialist who ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2006 with the help of a following he built at Daily Kos, has been posting positive comments on this blog, Leonie’s, and others. He is also an employee of the Web design firm that built Learn NY’s Web site and will write a regular blog on the site, the spokesperson, Julie Wood, said.
Something that will surely be asked — especially by critics of mayoral control and the Bloomberg administration, including Haimson — is how much of a “MASS” organization Learn NY really is. This is an important question to ask, for sure, just as it will be important to ask of groups opposing mayoral control. The question in this case is difficult to answer, partly because the pro-mayoral control forces have been circling for a while, but with some unexplained zig-zags.
First, there was the news, from Adam Lisberg at the Daily News, that a pro-mayoral control campaign was being led in part by Emma Bloomberg, Mayor Michael’s daughter and an employee of the Robin Hood Foundation. The foundation invests in charter schools that are generally strong mayoral control supporters. Then, Jenny Medina and Elissa Gootman reported in the Times that a campaign would be called MASS; that it was expected to have Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf serve as informal liason to the Bloomberg admnistration; and that Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone and chairman of MASS’s board, would recruit additional board members.
Now, MASS is calling itself Learn NY; has the same original three board members; and is disavowing all ties to the Bloomberg administration (though its leaders say that they have had conversations with administration officials). The group is also staking out a position that tacitly accepts two of the most-repeated criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg’s rule of the schools, pushing for a way to increase parental involvement and for a way to increase transparency and access to data.
Here’s the key excerpt from Canada’s introductory op/ed, published in Sunday’s Daily News:
There is more data available now than ever before, but parents and citizens deserve to have full confidence in its accuracy. An independent organization should be formed to analyze school performance and policy effectiveness. There should also be increased fiscal transparency, with audits to ensure that money is going toward children and learning.
The Department of Education has not done nearly enough to engage parents. Parents should have more notice before major decisions, like school closings or the cell phone ban, are made. And they should be given forums to voice their opinions – not merely free-for-all complaint sessions, but substantive discussions that are taken seriously. The DOE should establish community engagement benchmarks to monitor progress toward greater involvement of parents.