A New Direction for Education

Written by Tom Allon on . Posted in News Our Town, News Our Town Downtown, News West Side Spirit.


How the city’s education landscape would shift in a de Blasio administration

The conventional wisdom (which in politics is sometimes not correct) is that Bill de Blasio will be New York’s next mayor and he will put his own stamp on the future of public education in New York. (All bets are off if Lhota wins, because he is likely to continue a lot of Bloomberg’s policies, but that’s a topic for another column).

Looking at de Blasio’s campaign promises and policy pronouncements, it’s easy to glean that his administration will make a very sharp break from the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott era and we should expect to see a steep reversal of course in 2014.

First of all, de Blasio’s main emphasis during the campaign was on the importance of universal pre-k; he said we should fund that through a tax on those making more than $500,000 annually.

He is absolutely correct in pushing for universal pre-k; the achievement gap in our city between minority and non-minority kids is at one grade level by kindergarten, and universal pre-k should help alleviate most of that disparity.

What de Blasio will not likely get is the tax increase he’s been trumpeting, since that requires the approval of the State Legislature and 2014 is an election year in Albany. It’s highly unlikely that Governor Cuomo and the legislature will push a tax increase on anyone as they prepare to face the voters in November for re-election.

Another area de Blasio is likely to reverse course on is the use of high-stakes testing in determining student progress and curriculums. So much of public school learning is now geared to drive up student test scores that it’ll be challenging for de Blasio and his new Chancellor to undo this. This will certainly take time and it’s not clear that with all the other priorities facing a new administration that he’ll be able to do this seamlessly in a first term.

During the campaign, de Blasio often spoke about the need to bring parents back into the education system and in decision-making and to stop the top-down management by the DOE leaders at Tweed. This is one of those “mom and apple pie” ideas, hard to argue with, but also hard to envision exactly how it’s executed. In principle, de Blasio is absolutely correct; the only way education succeeds is when there is a three-way partnership between student-parent-teacher, working together to ensure that classroom and home are working in tandem to ensure children succeed.

There is also the question of how de Blasio will handle the teachers in this city, a group like all other public sector unions that has gone without a raise for almost four years. It is very likely that de Blasio will be fair and perhaps even generous with the teachers and their union; as a progressive leader who has strong ties to the labor movement, it is safe to predict that de Blasio will work hard to give city workers as much as the city budget allows.

Let’s hope that in addition to pay increases, de Blasio focuses on intense teacher training, both before they get into the classroom and then relentlessly when they are full-fledged teachers. Professional development and mentoring of our teachers is the single greatest way we will improve our city’s education system in the short term. Everything else is a very distant second to this incredibly urgent need.

For the sake of our kids and for the future of our city, I hope that de Blasio succeeds if he wins in November. Like public safety, education is one of the key components to ensuring that New York stays the capital of the world.

Tom Allon, the president of City & State newspaper, is a former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School and a former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor.

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