Who Wants To Be The Next Education Mayor?

April 16, 2012

Original article published in City and State NY by Andrew J. Hawkins

Mayor Michael Bloomberg may not be running for reelection next year, but he will undoubtedly be playing a starring role in the race to replace him. The six Democrats expected to run next year are all supportive of the mayor’s efforts to take control of the school system, but differ with Bloomberg on most everything else—whether it’s school closures, co-locations with charter schools, relations with the teachers union or standardized test scores.

So if next year’s race is for the right to be the next education mayor, how do the candidates stack up? What are their qualifications, their accomplishments and their thoughts on some of the more controversial policies of the Bloomberg administration? David Bloomfield, a professor of education at CUNY and an expert on education policy in New York, was kind enough to offer his analysis of each candidate’s qualifications.
For their part, the Department of Education says that educational outcomes have never been better—and graduation rates and test scores never higher—than under Bloomberg.
“Our reforms have shown positive results for our students,” said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in an interview. “I’m a resident of New York City, and I’ll be paying close attention to what [the candidates] have to say.”

Tom Allon

Manhattan Media CEO*

Education: Stuyvesant High School; B.A. in history from Cornell University; M.S., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Qualifications: Taught journalism and American literature at Stuyvesant High School, 1986–87; briefly a member of the United Federation of Teachers.

Mayoral control: Allon supports mayoral control and charter schools, believing they give parents more options and serve as laboratories for education reform. He takes issue with the mayor’s emphasis on test scores and the administration’s turnaround program, where failing schools are closed and reopened as smaller schools. “We have merely shuffled the seats on the Titanic,” Allon says. If elected, he says he would seek to repair the stormy relationship between City Hall and the teachers union.

Accomplishments: Allon says his proudest accomplishment is helping to create two public high schools: Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the East Side and Frank McCourt High School on the West Side. “I worked with elected leaders in each neighborhood, used my consensus-
building powers, tenacity and political adeptness to get these two schools off the ground,” he says. But as a nonelected official, Allon can claim fewer accomplishments, naturally, than his potential rivals.

Education in 2013: Allon sees education as “the most important issue in the 2013 mayoral race. The rest is commentary.”

Bloomfield’s analysis: “Allon’s accomplishments, such as they are, disproportionately favor white students—Eleanor Roosevelt student enrollment, for example, is over 60 percent white and less than 20 percent black and Latino. Further, he urgently needs to broaden his scope beyond the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan.”

*Allon is CEO of Manhattan Media, which publishes this paper.

Bill de Blasio

Public Advocate

Education: Russell and Peabody elementary schools; Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in Cambridge, Mass.; B.A. from New York University; Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.

Qualifications: School-board member, 1999–2001; member of City Council Education Committee, 2002–2009; Public Advocate, 2009–present.

Mayoral control: De Blasio supports mayoral control, but believes in more parent engagement, though he lacks specifics on what that would look like. “I can say without reservation, as a public school parent, that this administration has shut us out,” he says. “We have got to bring parents to the table and treat them like stakeholders if we hope to make more progress in our schools. Mayoral control shouldn’t mean you go it alone and stop listening.”

Accomplishments: While serving on his local school board, de Blasio helped cap class size at 20 students and redevelop John Jay High School. As a Council member, he supported legislation to improve school playgrounds, make child-care centers more transparent, webcast PTA meetings and keep autistic children with their peers. As public advocate, de Blasio has made the issues of school closures and co-locations with charter schools among his top priorities. He took some credit for helping prevent the closure of P.S. 114 in Canarsie, and helped preserve P.S. 4’s NEST program.

Education in 2013: De Blasio says he will likely emphasize parental engagement and a less data-driven environment at Tweed in his pitch to voters next year. “The department’s narrow focus on a rigid notion of accountability based on high-stakes testing is doing kids a massive disservice. Every student deserves a well-rounded education from early child-care straight through to college and career prep,” he says.

Bloomfield’s analysis: “De Blasio probably has the most grassroots education experience of any prospective candidate, not only as a public school parent but as a past community school-board member. His challenge will be to move from advocacy, where he has had the luxury of throwing darts at mayoral decisions, to operational authority, where he will have to take action regarding greater rein for his Panel for Educational Policy appointees, hard choices on school closures and co-locations, and applying budgetary discipline to such issues as class size and special education.”

John Liu

City Comptroller

Education: P.S. 20; Bronx Science High School;
B.A. in molecular physics from SUNY
Binghamton.

Qualifications: Member of City Council Education Committee, 2002–2009; City Comptroller, 2009–present.

Mayoral control: Liu says he supports “mayoral accountability,” not mayoral control as practiced by the Bloomberg administration. He had some of the harshest criticisms of the mayor’s schools agenda of any of the mayoral candidates. “The overarching problem is that this administration has turned our schools into factories that are judged by numerical outputs,” he said.

Accomplishments: Liu says all the candidates’ claims of educational accomplishment need to be weighed against the reality of mayoral control. “The Department of Education has essentially near-total control over the schools,” he says. “Anything anyone claims to have done outside the DOE is always going to be somewhat limited.” In the Council Liu says he sought to hold the DOE accountable for bus-route screwups and contract spending. As comptroller, Liu turned auditing the DOE into something of a religion. He says he currently has 10 ongoing audits into DOE spending, a benefit of the reauthorized mayoral-control law of 2009. “The lack of accountability became systemwide, where absence of checks and balances turned the department into an ivory tower,” he says. “They thought they knew better than anybody else.”

Education in 2013: With his fundraising operation under a federal investigation, Liu knows his friends in the teachers union may be his only salvation for his mayoral run. “I’m not pandering to teachers or anybody, but my sixth grader spends most of his day with his teachers, and for teachers to have been taken out of equation, that’s just absurd,” he says. He says he would impose an immediate moratorium on charter-school co-locations.

Bloomfield’s analysis: “While Liu comes out swinging and he has been aggressive in his auditing power, his self-described impact on the Council and as comptroller has been weak. What, for example, has he done about co-location agreements with charter schools? As mayor, how would he increase checks and balances, and why would this be better for children?”

Christine Quinn

Council Speaker

Education: St. Patrick’s in Glen Cove and Holy Child in Old Westbury; B.A. in urban studies and education, Trinity College.

Qualifications: As speaker, Quinn has had a hand in practically all of the Council’s educational decisions.

Mayoral control: Quinn says she supports mayoral control, but would apply it differently if elected mayor. “I would continue my push to go further, and achieve full municipal control of schools by placing legislative authority with the City Council rather than the state Legislature,” she says. Unlike her rivals, Quinn supports the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to break up failing schools into smaller entities, believing they give families better education options. She agrees, though, that parental engagement under the Bloomberg administration has been lacking.

Accomplishments: Quinn’s education accomplishments include a lot of big-ticket items, befitting her position as speaker. Last year she helped secure a deal between the UFT and the Bloomberg administration to avert thousands of teacher layoffs. She says her other top accomplishments include expanding prekindergarten by 1,000 seats, restoring funding for student MetroCards, securing millions of dollars for low-performing schools and creating the antibullying “Respect for All” program.

Education in 2013: Providing a quality education to every student “must be the top priority of the next mayor,” Quinn says. “Improving our schools is one of the biggest challenges facing New York City if we want to remain competitive in a global economy.” Quinn, however, will likely face criticism from her opponents about being too close to the mayor and not coming out forcefully enough against the more controversial aspects of his education agenda. Quinn will argue that closeness allowed her to be more effective.

Bloomfield’s analysis: “Municipal control of schools would make the Council a 51-member Super Board of Education. This intriguing suggestion, producing hyper-local accountability and political havoc, plays better there than in the Legislature, which must approve. Quinn’s accomplishments are choreographed deals with City Hall, so her close ties to Bloomberg remain her greatest strength and weakness.”

Scott Stringer

Manhattan Borough President

Education: Junior High School 52 in Washington Heights; John F. Kennedy High School; B.A., John Jay College.

Qualifications: Member of state Assembly’s Education Committee, 1993–2005.

Mayoral control: “The greatest educational success—and failure—of the Bloomberg administration has been mayoral control,” Stringer says. He supports centralization and accountability, but argues that mayoral control under the Bloomberg administration has been too divisive. If elected, he says he would be a “strong leader and strong manager” of the city school system. His vision for the makeup of the PEP, for example, is flexible. “If I were a mayor, and I was confident in my policies, I’d like to think I would be able to manage whatever the PEP voting arithmetic would look like,” he says.

Accomplishments: Like de Blasio, Stringer points to a long list of advocacy and reportage on the issues of school overcrowding and parental engagement as his primary accomplishments in education policy. Stringer says his reports on school overcrowding directly led to the DOE opening two new schools in Manhattan. He created education “war rooms” across the borough to allow teachers, parents and local officials to come together and review enrollment data and brainstorm solutions to overcrowding.

Education in 2013: To Stringer, the fact that education will be a driving force behind the 2013 mayoral race is a no-brainer. But at this point Stringer says he’s not interested in differentiating his vision from his potential rivals. “This is not a contest to see who can draw the most distinctions,” he says. “A decade of ideological bickering and constant reorganizations is enough.”

Bloomfield’s analysis: “Stringer has a solid record of opposition to many city school policies through the informed voting record of his PEP appointee and hard-charging, well-researched reports. Reaching beyond Manhattan and proving independence from the teachers union remain his greatest challenges in proving to voters that he can manage for instructional improvement, not political points.”

Bill Thompson

Former City Comptroller

Education: Midwood High School; B.A., Tufts University.

Qualifications: School-board member, 1994–96; President, Board of Education, 1996–2001;
City Comptroller, 2002–2009.

Mayoral control: Thompson supports mayoral control, but if elected would look to reduce his own power by scaling back the mayor’s control over the Panel for Education Policy. “I don’t know if you need a majority [of seats on the panel],” Thompson says. “I can have one less.”

Accomplishments: Thompson said his effort to pass legislation in 1996 that centralized power with the schools chancellor laid the foundation for mayoral control. As comptroller, Thompson raised a stink around the issue of credit recovery, which allowed students to retrieve lost credit from failed classes in order to improve graduation rates, but the practice is still ongoing. And like his fellow candidates, Thompson says he took a particular interest in overcrowding and class size—both of which remain a persistent criticism of the schools under Bloomberg. “I’ll never say I was a good educator, but I’ve worked with good educators,” he says.

Education in 2013: With Thompson’s having already run against Bloomberg’s education record once before, look for him to present a more nuanced vision for the schools in the upcoming race. He views his Board of Education service as an asset, not an albatross, and says he plans to roll out a “comprehensive” education plan later this year. “I think I understand the system better than anyone else,” he says.

Bloomfield’s analysis: “Thompson’s role at the Board of Ed is largely irrelevant, since national, state, and local conditions have radically changed. As comptroller, he never demonstrated a clear educational vision, nor did he need to. Now, however, he needs to state a clear, powerful agenda to set him apart in achieving his stated goals of lower class size and meaningful high school graduation rates.

« More News and Press