Volume 21, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Nov. 28 - Dec. 4, 2008
Give parents a voice in the schools
On the issue of mayoral control of the city’s public schools, we hear over and over again from parents’ that they don’t have enough say and that their voices aren’t being heard by the mayor and schools chancellor.
The issue is coming under renewed scrutiny because the state law that gave Mayor Bloomberg authority over the education system six years ago will sunset in June, unless it’s renewed before then by the state Legislature.
It seems pretty certain the mayor, in the end, will retain control of the schools, and he should. There really is no other good option, no Plan B, as it were.
The best that can be done is for the legislation to be modified so that, among other things, parents start to feel more empowered — which would only benefit the system as a whole.
The mayor’s taking over the schools had to happen. After the bitter battles that brought about decentralization, that form of school governance ultimately proved a failure. Many school boards were riddled with petty politics and city leaders could conveniently blame someone else for problems in the schools. Mayors would say they didn’t have full control of the Board of Education, which would in turn blame City Hall for a lack of funds.
Mayoral control is not a perfect solution, but the fact that there is someone who is held responsible and accountable for the state of our schools is not a negligible thing. Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Klein have clearly brought new accountability and professionalism to the system.
Some would say the intense testing, for one, under Klein has helped, others that it’s a waste of time. The debate on testing is an important one that needs to be fully and publicly aired.
Putting police officers in certain violence-prone schools has increased safety, a basic requirement for learning.
There are clearly still problems with the school report card system, but ultimately, we like the idea of focusing attention on each school, pinpointing areas for improvement.
But, above all, the lack of parental input and consultation has been glaringly apparent in some of the most heated flare-ups in recent years, such as the policy on student cell phones and the changing of bus routes. Bringing the parents into the discussions on cell phones, for example, early on would have avoided much sturm und drang.
More of a real role should be given to the new Community Education Councils — which represent the parents — and then boroughwide and citywide umbrella councils should be created so parents’ ideas can come to the fore in a meaningful way.
The mayor and education advocates have time to start proactively thinking about making these improvements. The mayor should not wait until his back is against the wall before he starts negotiating a last-minute deal in Albany, he should explain now how to give parents a stronger voice. Just like when the test starts — the clock is ticking.