Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mayoral Control, Not Mayoral Dictatorship

Once again, the Daily News editorial board has come to the defense of Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the public school system. In a March 4, 2008 editorial titled, “Keep mayoral control,” the perpetually fawning Daily News editors present a defense of the present authoritarian system that is either willfully obtuse or breathtakingly ignorant in its perceptions.

The editorial opens by arguing that even to begin discussing “curtailing … mayoral control” is an “epochally bad idea,” an anti-democratic assertion that reinforces freezing out the public while simultaneously recalling Ari Fleischer’s infamous post-9/11 comment that “people need to watch what they say.” By the Daily News’s argument, neither the State Assembly, City Council, Borough Presidents, Public Advocate, UFT, educational advocacy groups, nor parents themselves have any right to question mayoral control of schools or explore fine-tuning of the current arrangement. Now that public school parents have effectively been shut out of the entire DOE decision-making process and left with no way to defend their schools or their children's interests, the Daily News would have it kept that way in perpetuity (except, of course, for their own editorial voice and corporatist leanings).

Far more egregious, this latest editorial seeks to establish a false dichotomy with regard to this issue. The public can opt either for “accountability” that answers to no one, or have as the alternative, chaos (their own words!!). Curiously, the identical argument has been proffered by the Chinese Communist Party for over fifty years to justify an iron-fisted control that marginalizes citizen participation and brooks no opposition. Perhaps that explains why the New York City public school system increasingly mirrors the mainland Chinese educational system, with its single-minded and educationally stultifying focus on high stakes testing at every level from elementary school to college admission.

While the last five years of mayoral control have arguably brought benefits, the costs have been enormous – organizational chaos, management of education via a series of factory-like measurements, overemphasis on standardized tests, decisions handed down like papal fiats without warning or community discussion, criminalization of the classroom, and removal of the public from public education. Mayoral control of the public schools was never intended to create the mayoral dictatorship that has resulted.

The Daily News editorial closes by stating, “To substantially weaken the mayor would be to let the schools run out of control.” More properly, failing to establish reasonable checks and balances or regenerate public involvement and a parental voice would be simply to let the Mayor and Chancellor run out of control.

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