November 20, 2012
Eric Nadelstern was the city Department of Education’s most senior deputy chancellor until his retirement in January 2011. He currently runs a principal training institute at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
In an effort to influence the debate among mayoral candidates, it’s time to take stock of what’s worked at the Department of Education and in our schools during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, and what hasn’t. The following contributions should be sustained:
- Networks have proven to be an excellent means of both empowering principals and their school communities and of managing schools at a fraction of the cost of the old district offices. The funds that have been saved amount to hundreds of millions of dollars which are now in school budgets and should remain there.
- No accountability system is perfect, including Progress Reports and Quality Reviews. But these instruments have been a game changer. Instead of asking, as we once did, whether schools, principals and teachers can be evaluated, the debate is now how best to assess those charged with the education of our children.
- School closures account for 2 to 3 percent on an annual basis of the 1,750 public schools in the city. To be designated for closure, therefore performing below at least 97 percent of the schools, is an indication that the school is one of the worst and no parent should be forced to send their children to such a school. Despite hopes to the contrary, failed schools never reinvent themselves.
- Opening a critical mass of over 500 new small schools in a decade was the breakthrough educational reform during the Bloomberg years. School buildings that were graduating barely 30 percent of their students are now graduating 70 percent. This is the main reason that citywide graduation rates in this time have increased by 30 percent from 50 percent to 65 percent.
- Over 100 of the new schools cited above are charter schools, which for the most part, have outperformed our district schools. Support for charters must continue so that families have more and better school options.
The following initiatives have not proven successful and should be discontinued or phased out:
- Promoting a costly Innovation Zone pilot that has not raised student achievement.
- Perpetuating zoning restrictions that result in a two-tiered system of schools.
- Requiring every teacher to provide 150 minutes each week of after-school tutorials.
- Making promotional decisions solely on the basis of standardized test results.
- Imposing the Common Core Standards on all schools.
- Appointing a Panel for Educational Policy that rubber-stamps mayoral policies while refusing to interact with the public during public hearings.
- Supporting a principals’ academy that costs $200,000 per graduate.
- Stonewalling the press.
- Developing a contentious relationship with the UFT and other labor unions.
- Creating busywork for schools that takes time away from educating students.
The next mayor and schools chancellor will have their work cut out as they endeavor to provide all of our children with the kind of world-class education required for success in the 21st century. Being able to differentiate between what has worked and what has not would be an excellent place to begin.