May 24, 2012
Upper West Sider and mayoral hopeful Tom Allon would oppose testing in elementary schools — even though the state, not the city, sets the testing schedule.
That was one of several policy positions he outlined for a sparse crowd of principals, campaign volunteers, and teachers’ union leader Michael Mulgrew yesterday evening who gathered to hear his first policy speech about education.
Allon, a former teacher and political outsider, said he wants to be the “education mayor” — a mantle Bloomberg sought early in his administration. Allon briefly taught English and journalism at his alma mater, Stuyvesant High School; aided city officials in the creation two small high schools in Manhattan; and sent three daughters to public schools.
The speech itself contained few hard proposals but instead focused on challenges facing the school system and a handful of small-scale solutions that are already in place, such as teacher mentoring programs that the UFT runs.
It was when audience members pressed Allon for specifics that he offered ideas of what an Allon administration might look like. (His five likely competitors in the Democratic primary have also started to stake out their education platforms, but none has yet delivered a policy address on the subject.)
Like Mayor Bloomberg, he would favor mayoral control and school choice. But like some of Bloomberg’s fiercest critics, he would slash the Department of Education’s central bureaucracy and reduce the emphasis on standardized testing.
And on some issues, he would strike out for a middle ground.
For example, as long as he can choose the next schools chancellor, Allon said he wouldn’t mind having fewer appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy, which has always had a majority of mayoral appointees and easily approved any mayor proposal.
“I would be open to having a much more inclusive and less autocratic way of handling things,” he said.
He would pursue the creation of new schools — but they wouldn’t be as small as the ones the Bloomberg administration has favored. Instead, new high schools should have 800 or 1,000 students each so they could offer more activities, sports, and academic support services. Tiny boutique schools have too few of those features, and too many administrators, he said.
“We have way too many people at Tweed and way too many administrators in schools,” he said, garnering some enthusiastic applause. “I would cut many of those positions. Maybe they could go back to teaching in schools.”
And Allon would push for more school construction — but assign most of the tab to private developers who build high-rises on city land. By replicating the building process behind the new Spruce Street School in Tribeca, the city could modernize facilities and create more school seats in districts that need them.
“The city has 1,200 school buildings, many of them sitting on valuable pieces of real estate,” he said. “We have 1940s and 1950s industrial style schools that have horrible auditoriums that are embarrassing to walk into each day.”
Responding to the question about high-stakes testing, Allon said he would not hesitant to demand policy changes.
“The mayor of New York is a big bully pulpit and I plan to make education the most important issue,” he said.