Monday, November 19, 2012
The first mayoral debate on education!
The candidates included two Bills, one Tom, one John and one Christine, absent Scott Stringer, given his announcement today that he will run for City Comptroller instead.
The consensus among most of the observers I talked to afterwards is that the candidates did not distinguish themselves much from one another on the hot-button issues. Also, despite the best efforts of the moderators, Lindsey Christ of NY! And Philissa Cramer of GothamSchools, who tried to get them to be as specific as possible, given the limited time frame, there was a lot of ambiguity in their responses. Below are the questions and answers, as best as I could record them:
Question: Would you select a Chancellor who is an educator, and would that person be from inside the DOE or outside the system?
Bill Thompson: Would choose an educator and someone outside the system; the “best of the best.”
Bill De Blasio: An educator, with a screening process that includes the public (how?).
Tom Allon: Would choose someone like the following individuals: former Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern, Jennifer Raab, head of Hunter College, Linda Darling-Hammond professor at Stanford, or John White (formerly of DOE and now the controversial Louisiana education chief) .
John Liu: An educator, possibly from within the DOE.
Christine Quinn: Would rule no one out, there are many great people inside DOE including principals, network people and Superintendents. Jennifer Raab is a “fascinating” example, who was not an educator when appointed head of Hunter but has done an excellent job.
Question: The next mayor will probably have to negotiate a new contract with the UFT; would you push for merit pay and/or limit tenure?
DeBlasio: I want to compliment Cory Booker, who got an excellent contract for Newark teachers [I don’t think Booker had much to do with it]; he put incentives into system to get teachers to teach in high need subject areas like science. As to tenure, there is “merit” in new state system; it’s a “wtep in the right direction”; he would partner with the union on improving the system.
Allon: For merit pay, would establish a new “career” track; gives example of New American Academy which pays master teachers more. 50% attrition rates of teachers in 5 years a disgrace; he would weaken tenure (how that would improve attrition unclear).
Liu: There’s a reason for tenure: teacher jobs were used by pols to give jobs to cronies etc.; tenure should be protected. Merit pay; depends how you measure “merit”; in the current system there’s a 40-50% margin of error; first you need an evaluation system that makes sense.
Thompson: NYC tried merit pay before; it hasn’t worked, but he wouldn’t take it off the table.
Quinn: Newark contract should be model for nation; it was developed in a collaborative process ; gives extra pay to teachers to teach in tougher schools; would not support score-based merit pay; teachers do not go into profession for money. (So why would financial incentives work to attract them to high needs schools?) Tenure: agrees with new state system that if you have a poor evaluation two years in a row, with mentoring and support, you should lose tenure. She would push to implement this system in NYC.
Question #3: What one thing would you do to improve school system?
Liu: Would hire more guidance counselors, so instead of 1 per 100 students.
Thompson: Moratorium on school closings.
Allon: No more standardized testing in 1st through 5th grade (unfortunately there are federal and state mandates requiring testing in 3-5th grades); make foreign language mandatory in elementary schools and require at least two years classroom experience for all teachers.
De Blasio: fund Universal preK and more afterschool programs.
Quinn: stop vilifying teachers, tone down rhetoric, reduce test prep, intervene in struggling schools to get them help they need before closing.
Question #4: Have schools gotten better or worse under Bloomberg?
De Blasio: Progress has “stalled”; we need “reset” and cannot continue status quo.
Allon: Schools slightly better, but we need to properly train teachers, need at least 3 years of clinical practice;
Liu: Not sure, some schools better, some worse, hard to measure; we need to reduce emphasis on high-stakes testing; stop co-locations and listen to parents more, make sure students really ready for college.
Thompson: Mayoral control has not worked; there’s been an excessive focus on test-taking.
Quinn: tThere’s been progress, but not enough; need to bring parents in real ways; too much test prep, should be more emphasis on college completion.
Question #5: Would you give charters free rent in public school buildings?
Quinn: I would not stop this practice, though all sides think current system is broken, including charter proponents. Process needs to be more “transparent.”
De Blasio: Opinions of parents ignored and system undemocratic; there needs to be more parent engagement, if there’s a bad plan should be changed.
Thompson: System of inequities, students at public school feel they're 2nd class citizens; should be done differently, but not against charter co-locations per se.
Allon: Charters are public schools, principals should work together as they do in Brandeis building, which has four high schools, including Frank McCourt HS which he helped start.
Liu: Would call for moratorium on all school closings and co-locations; co-locations cause too much friction and are destructive to educational process.
DeBlasio (in response to Allon); McCourt HS good example of harmful co-location; successful HS model whose growth was limited by incursion of charter school (Upper West Success).
Allon True, they originally wanted 800 seats for McCourt, but DOE limited enrollment to 400, DOE still stuck on small school model that Gates started but has now discredited. Administrative costs for all these small schools are sky high, paying for principal/AP for every schools.
Quinn: Lots of examples of principals working together well in co-located schools; we need to invest in more leadership training of principals.
Question: class size reduction is the top priority of parents; is it a priority of yours; and if so, how would you pay for it ?
Liu: Yes, it’s a priority; but there are space issues; teachers are not fully utilized; we can afford to do this without spending a lot more money.
Allon: Impossible to enact this citywide; he would prioritize 1st and 2nd grade; and in language and science instruction.
Thompson: Most important in K-3rd grades; in other grades, could provide more time on task through extended day or Saturday school.
De Blasio: Parents want this intensely; we should fund it by doing away with all the consultants; reiterates support for preK.
Quinn: Focus on class size in preK-3rd and ELA classes. We might find savings in the contracts budget, to redirect to classroom but in order to implement we need long term capital planning to make sure there’s space; engage with Census and Dept of Health in this process.
Question: When mayoral control up for vote in 2015, would you go to Albany to change system or keep as is?
De Blasio: We need to keep mayoral control but a more democratic version, including giving CEC’s a meaningful role in co-locations and closings like Community Boards have now(CBs also only have advisory powers). The PEP should be place of real debate instead of Kangaroo court.
Quinn: We need municipal control, DOE treated like real city agency, under control of City Council and Mayor. That way the Council could legislate, will full budgetary knowledge and authority and parents can go to Councilmember for help. [Currently, DOE is NOT a city agency like any other but primarily under control of state legislature instead.]
Allon: Mayoral control “red herring” not important; we need right teachers in classroom.
Liu: I supported mayoral control because I thought it meant accountability, but we didn’t get that. We need to modify so there is more accountability [but how he didn’t say].
Thompson: Doesn’t matter so much as long as there is a good mayor, he would “tweak” it and bring district Superintendents back as before.
All of the candidates had their high points: Liu came out most strongly vs. co-locations and school closings; and expressed the most skepticism about theunreliable teacher evaluation system. Chris Quinn’s notion of municipal control would be a substantial improvement to our governance system, providing real checks and balances, if the Legislature would agree to give more power to the City Council. Allon seemed to understand how flawed and expensive the small school initiative has been, though his understanding of some other areas seemed weak (testing and John White). De Blasio was most emphatic that the governance system needs to be changed to become more democratic, and that the PEP must change as well, but put forward few specifics as to how this should be accomplished. Thompson was clear about the need to have a moratorium on school closings and giving back authority to the district Superintendents, but was weak on charters and how to reform mayoral control.
In the end, they all were somewhat disappointing in similar ways: they all inveighed against the clear overemphasis on testing and test prep, but offered no concrete proposals on how to mitigate this, especially as many of these policies are now coming from state and federal level. They all said that the system had to change so that parents would be “listened” to more, but none had specific proposals to institutionalize the parent voice. All said class size was important but most would limit their efforts to smaller classes in the early grades, and none seemed to understand how many economic benefits and cost savings would come from this reform. None seemed to realize how necessary class size reduction will be towards improving our schools, including for our middle and high students if the words “equity” and “college and career ready” are ever to become more than buzzwords.
Hopefully, as time goes on, all the candidates will start to develop a deeper understanding and more clearly defined policy positions over the six months. In any case, it will be up to us as parents, educators and advocates to make sure that they do.