Friday, January 19, 2024

The myth of accountability under Mayoral control: my comments at the Manhattan hearing last night

Yet another great hearing where the vast majority of speakers, parents, teachers and students speaking out against Mayoral control.  You can watch the video here.  My three-minutes are below.

My name is Leonie Haimson, and I am the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. There are many myths surrounding Mayoral control, including that it somehow provides more accountability.  Yet as we have seen over the last twenty years, when it comes to class size and the basic conditions in our public schools, one-man rule has not provided even the most minimal accountability.

When he first ran for mayor more than 20 years ago, Bloomberg promised to lower class size in the early grades. His 2002 campaign flyer put it this way: “Studies confirm one of the greatest detriments to learning is an overcrowded classroom … For students a loud packed classroom means a greater chance of falling behind. For teachers, [it] means a tougher time teaching & giving students attention they need.”

Yet class sizes increased sharply during the Bloomberg years, especially in the early grades, and by 2013, his last year in office, they had risen to the highest levels in 15 years, By that time, Bloomberg had renounced his earlier pledge, and proclaimed that he would fire half the teachers and double class sizes if he could, and that would be a “good deal for the students.”

Not only did Bloomberg fail to lower class size, but the DOE during his administration also failed to use state funds meant for smaller classes appropriately and according to law, according to not one, not two, but three different audits from state and city comptrollers.

When Bill De Blasio ran for office, he also promised that he would commit to specific class size reduction goals in all grades, and achieve them by the end of his first term.  He made that promise verbally at a mayoral debate on June 14, 2013, and then checked off a box in a document handed to him at the event, while signing this promise with his name . His campaign also pledged to lower class size, according to a different  survey filled out by his campaign. And yet once elected, he renounced that promise, and said he would wait until all the CFE funding was fully provided by  the state. 

Now that NYC schools are finally receiving their full complement of CFE funding amounting to more than $1.3 Billion in additional annual Aid, the State Legislature overwhelmingly passed a law in June 2022 requiring NYC to phase in smaller class sizes in all grades. 

And yet Mayor Adams is doing everything he can to oppose the law, has increased class size for the last two years, and by his actions is making it impossible for the city to comply, by continuing to cut school budgets and slashing the capital plan for new school construction.

I see no accountability in these actions of any of these mayors. Under Mayoral control, instead, autocratic and failed administrations have repeatedly violated laws concerning special  education, bilingual education, as well as student privacy, the last leading to repeated breaches of the most personal information of literally over a million current and past NYC students.

Moreover, the corruption scandals under local school boards were relatively minor in terms of their scope compared to the millions wasted by corrupt DOE officials over the last 20 years.  It is time for this failed experiment of Mayoral control to end.  Thank you for your time.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Amazing hearing in Brooklyn last night on Mayoral control; here are a few excerpts

Last night,  hearings were held in Brooklyn on Mayoral control.  About 70 people spoke, most of them extremely eloquently, passionately, and on point about how this essentially autocratic system of governance has seriously damaged our schools and NYC children. More than 90% said they opposed the current system, and the few that said they supported it mostly worked for DOE, including three Superintendents whose main argument seemed to be that this was a good system because they might not have been appointed otherwise.  One member of the Citywide Council for High Schools said Mayoral control had allowed for more "parent choice", while failing to mention that she works for the largest charter school chain in the city.

Most surprising were the number of parents, teachers, and literacy experts who blasted the new mandated Literacy curriculum, especially HMH Into Reading, which they described as  composed of scripted lessons, excerpts from texts, and repeated tests with multiple choice questions, with no time for students to read entire books or engage in any sort of independent reading.  They said this had led to many students becoming bored and disengaged.  And yet this Mayor has gotten credit in the media for imposing this curriculum, because it is ostensibly focused on phonics.  

Many other speakers decried the rising class sizes, the wasteful contracts, the expansion of charter schools which has taken billions from the DOE budget and a increasing precious space from public schools, and of course, the repeated budget cuts imposed on  schools. But so many important points were made over the four hours by so many speakers that they are hard to summarize. A video is posted here, and I encourage everyone to watch it.  Meanwhile, I have collected a few of the most eloquent statements, from four parents and a teacher and have posted them below, with the permission of the speakers.

Two more hearings remain.  First in Manhattan on Jan.18 at the High School of Fashion Industries, and though the sign up list is full, the hearing is still is worth attending, as last night in Brooklyn they extended the speaking time to anyone who showed up, whether they had were on the sign up list or not.  

The final public hearing is in Staten Island  on January 29. You can also submit written comments by January 31, and I urge everyone -- even those who have already spoken at these meetings -- to do so.  The consensus is now overwhelming that, as one person said, Mayoral control is a failed experiment.  Time to put the public back into public education.