Academic journal article Education Next

Will Mayor De Blasio Turn Back the School Reform Clock?

Academic journal article Education Next

Will Mayor De Blasio Turn Back the School Reform Clock?

Article excerpt

"The scruffy young man who arrived in Nicaragua in 1988 stood out," the story begins. "Bill de Blasi[degrees], then 26, went to Nicaragua to help distribute food and medicine in the middle of a war between left and right. A few paragraphs later, the reporter, Javier C. Hernandez, drops the bomb: "Mr. de Blasio ... grew to be an admirer of Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista party, thrusting himself into one of the most polarizing issues in American politics at the time."

Would this be Bill de Blasio's Bill Ayers moment? Would the other shoe drop?

It didn't. Even though the New York Post weighed in the next day with a story that ACORN, the discredited Far Left activist group, had been "plotting for more than a decade to install Bill de Blasio at City Hall," nothing happened.

In fact, de Blasio increased his lead over Republican opponent Joe Lhota, from 43 points to 49 (68 to 19) after the revelation. (He would win the November 5 general election by an astounding 73 to 24 percent.)

While heads were spinning, policy watchers seemed genuinely perplexed by de Blasio's education opinions. The new front-runner had made statements--"It is insult to injury to give [charters] free rent," he told an education forum in the summer--that sent chills up the charter school movement's spine. He also said he would stop giving schools grades of A to F, a signature accountability initiative of the Bloomberg-Klein era (Joel Klein was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's schools chancellor between 2002 and 2010). De Blasio opposes many of Bloomberg's reform efforts despite the achievement gains realized by the nation's largest school district during the last 12 years (see Figure 1).

Yet on close reading, de Blasio's nine-page education plan offers mostly bromides and impossible dreams: "ensure that all students are reading at grade level by third grade," "reduce class size," "involve and engage parents and families," and "place great leaders to lead great teachers in every school." The proposal that has gotten him the most attention--universal pre-K--has done so not because of the education part but because of the payment plan: a tax on those making more than $500,000.

Competing depictions of Mayor de Blasio--that he's an enemy of Bloomberg-style education reform and that he's more of a pragmatist than his anti-Bloomberg rhetoric sug-gests--have split education reformers into two camps: the fearful and the hopeful.

A Question of Choice

The Daily News calls it a plan "to kill city charter schools by a thousand cuts." De Blasio has said that he would cap their numbers, stop letting them share space with traditional public schools, and start charging rent for existing colocations. The Democratic mayor's public comments against charters, among the most significant of the Bloomberg reforms, have convinced many reformers that de Blasio is a real threat to continued progress in the city's schools.

Stopping colocation or charging rent for space would be "absolutely catastrophic," Joel Klein told me. "It's not just bad for the charters, but for the children.... Charter schools are public in every meaningful way.... The public schools don't pay rent, the charter schools, which are serving the same kids, shouldn't pay rent."

"Colocations are a fiscal necessity for New York's charters," according to education professor and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Marcus Winters, "since they get no capital funds from the state."

A new report by Grover "Russ" Whitehurst and the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution says that the "expansion of school choice and school competition" has been a "prominent dimension of change" since Bloomberg won control of the schools in 2002. (De Blasio says he supports mayoral control.) Using their new authority, Bloomberg and Klein "dramatically" expanded the "availability of alternatives" to failing public schools, increasing charters from 14 schools to 159 during Bloomberg's three terms, closing failing schools, and making almost all of the city's high schools "schools of choice" (see Figure 2). …

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