Is NYC's Progressive Mayor Turning into a Charter School Cheerleader?

When Bill de Blasio ran for mayor the first time, he sought my help. We met and spoke candidly. He told me he would strongly support traditional public schools. He said he would oppose the expansion of private charters into public school space. He promised to stop closing schools because of their test scores. His own children went to public schools. He would protect them and end the destructive tactics of Joel Klein, who coldly and cruelly closed schools over the tearful objections of students, parents, and teachers.

I enthusiastically endorsed him. The campaign issued a press release. De Blasio was elected in 2013, and re-elected in 2017. I wanted him to succeed and to support public schools against the privatizers.

He tried to stand up to the charters, but Eva’s billionaire backers rolled out a multi-million dollar TV campaign and donated huge sums to Governor Cuomo and key legislators. That ended de Blasio’s effort to block charter expansion. The legislature gave them a blank check in New York City, allowed them to expand at will, and even required the city to pay their rent in private facilities if it couldn’t provide suitable public space. Now his majority appointees to the city board rubber stamp charter co-locations and expansions.

Although the Mayor and Chancellor Farina have tried to support struggling schools, they have not hesitated to close them when they don’t show test score gains.

At the last meeting of the city’s Board of Education (which Mayor Bloomberg capriciously named the Panel on Education Policy to indicate its insignificance in the new era of mayoral control but which is still called the Board of Education in statute), the Mayor submitted a list of schools to close. Sadly, like Bloomberg, he has closed many schools. Unlike Bloomberg, he does not boast about it. There’s that.

At the last meeting of the Board, one of the Mayor’s appointees, T. Elzora Cleveland, dissented and another abstained, denying the majority needed to close two of the schools on the Mayor’s list. Cleveland has resigned, and education activists assume she was forced out to make way for a more pliable board member. 

How is this different from Mayor Bloomberg’s tactics?

During the Bloomberg regime, the Mayor ousted three appointees who objected to his wish to end social promotion. The three members worried that no one had devised a plan to help the kids held back. Bloomberg fired them on the spot, and said, in effect, mayoral control means I am in charge and my appointees do as I wish. At the time, the firings were called “the Monday night massacre.”

I strongly oppose closing public schools, especially those that are historic anchors of their community. Several years back, I was on a panel with John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. He said he had traveled to many countries to learn how they dealt with struggling schools. In every country, the Minister of Education said, “If a school is struggling, we send in support.” Dr. Jackson asked, “What do you do if you send support, and the school doesn’t improve?” In every case, the Minister said, “We send in more support.”

The bottom line is that accountability lies with the leadership. If a school is in trouble, it is up to the leadership to help, not punish. They control the resources. They decide whether the school will reduce class sizes and have the staff and programs it needs. Accountability begins at the top.


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