Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Updated with video: mayoral debate with Weiner making his first appearance

The Weiner scrum (Credit:  @NYDNLemire)
Updated: now with video, excerpts of highlights below.

Despite the Anthony Weiner press hysteria, (it was his first appearance at a mayoral debate; Michael Powell of NYTimes tweeted "Cluster idiocy of press on full display at Weiner a thon educational debate") yesterday’s education forum hosted by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools was very interesting.   

Zakiyah Ansari did a great job moderating, and there were very good questions asked by parents and students.  Chris Quinn didn’t attend, though Zakiyah said the date of the debate had been changed twice to accommodate Quinn’s schedule.

Weiner stood out from the crowd not just because of the paparazzi scrum and excessive media attention; he was the only candidate to come through the audience and shake hands.  He was the only candidate to stand while answering questions, the only one to say no when asked if he would stop having safety agents under control of police rather than principals, and the only one against requiring arts in every school.  

Weiner was quite resistant to altering his stance on increasing the number of suspensions for unruly students, justifying that by saying we have the largest classes in 20 years (actually 14) which leads to more disruptions.  (Why not reduce class size instead?)

Credit: Daily News

There were several questions about Eva Moskowitz, director of Success Academy charter chain, as well as the hot-button issue of charter co-locations.  When asked if Eva gets unfair treatment by DOE, all said yes;  Weiner commented, ”I have no bloody idea…Uh, sure. … It seems to be the answer of the day.”

Liu and de Blasio were for giving Community Education Councils approval over co-locations; Weiner said more “community input” was needed in co-location decisions.  In underutilized schools, he suggested, why not put gifted program instead, or give the school a gym or science lab?   Thompson again called for a co-location “moratorium” (but for how long?)

They all cited the fact that either they had attended NYC public schools (Albanese, Liu, Thompson, Weiner), or their moms had been public school teachers (Thompson, Weiner), or they themselves had been teachers (Albanese), or their kids currently attended public schools.(Liu, de Blasio.)  They all were against the current over-emphasis on high stakes testing.  They all would fight for CFE funds from state.  They all were against closing schools rather than helping them improve.

While De Blasio and Liu said they would raise taxes on the wealthy to fund schools, Thompson was grilled on his pledge against raising taxes.  He responded he would cut contracts, consultants and wasted funds for networks “first.”  As someone who agrees there is tremendous waste in education spending, I don’t see that this would suffice, given the fact that school budgets have been cut to the bone and that teachers are looking for retroactive raises.

De Blasio said "Nothing will help our schools more than reducing class sizes," which begs the question of why he focuses instead on expanding preK and afterschool. 

Some new issues were brought up, not mentioned in previous debates: John Liu said he would bring back more bilingual programs, especially for older students who were new immigrants. Albanese said principals should be rated partly on how well they engage parents.   

When asked about improving special education, Liu said 25% of kids do not get their mandated services, and there should be a “balance” between inclusion and separate programs for special needs kids.  De Blasio said parents of students with disabilities get “treated like dirt.”  I didn’t hear a real solution, though, to the problems of special education from any of them. 

They all came out against the state and city plan to sharing personal student data with inBloom Inc. and for-profit vendors.  Afterwards, I asked Thompson if he would ask Merryl Tisch, his campaign chair and Regents head to pull out of inBloom, as she could stop it in a second.  He said he would. 

Here are some news links: NY Times, Daily News, WSJ, NY PostHuffington Post, NY Mag, City and State. GothamSchools has the audio; I’ll post the video as soon as it’s available.

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