Academic journal article Education Next

Ed Reform Rollback in New York City: Mayor De Blasio's Efforts Remain a Work in Progress

Academic journal article Education Next

Ed Reform Rollback in New York City: Mayor De Blasio's Efforts Remain a Work in Progress

Article excerpt

IN HIS CAMPAIGN FOR MAYOR of New York City, Bill de Blasio positioned himself as the candidate most determined to break with the legacy of the outgoing Michael Bloomberg administration. Voters responded enthusiastically, handing de Blasio a nearly 50-point margin of victory in the November 2013 election. De Blasio, a Democrat, interpreted the win as a broad mandate for change, calling in his inaugural address for "a new progressive direction" that would "put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love." Public education, a top priority of the Bloomberg administration, was one of several areas where de Blasio promised big changes. De Blasio has pledged to maintain Bloomberg's focus on closing the achievement gap, but his education agenda has revised the means: turnarounds instead of closures, heavy emphasis on addressing the "root causes" of K-12 underperformance through pre-kindergarten education and social services, less antagonistic relations with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and more-relaxed school-discipline policies.

But the results have been something less than revolutionary. De Blasio's first three years in office attest to the significant constraints progressives across the country will face in trying to roll back education reform, even when faced with no significant political opposition at the local level. These constraints stem from state government's role in education policymaking, limits on available resources, and tensions within progressivism itself. All of them will likely continue to frustrate de Blasio and other progressive mayors in their attempts to develop an alternative to the education-reform agenda.

Accountability Gaps

Mayor Bloomberg, a Republican-turned -Independent, left an impressive record of achievement on school reform that contributed substantially to New York City's shedding its reputation as the "ungovernable city." The graduation rate rose by more than 20 percentage points and, leaving aside the years when the state recalibrated its evaluation framework, student-achievement rates in the city improved annually (see Figure 1). From 2003-13, 4th- and 8th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores rose in both reading and math at rates far outpacing those of the rest of the state and, in some cases, the nation as a whole (see Figure 2). On state tests, New York under Bloomberg gradually reduced the student proficiency gap between the city and the rest of the state in both English language arts (ELA) and math.

The city clearly has room for improvement, given its pockets of deep underperformance: the most recent round of state-test results found that 15 percent or fewer of the city's students are proficient in ELA in 145 schools and in math in 271 schools. And New York's NAEP scores place it only in the middle of the pack among large urban school systems. But aside from a slight drop-off in NAEP 4th-grade reading and math scores, the overall upward trends put in motion under Bloomberg have continued through de Blasio's first term. A February 2016 analysis by the Independent Budget Office found that New York's district and charter schools outperform the rest of the state when ethnic and economic variables and disability rates are accounted for. And in the spring 2016 round of state testing, the city's 3rd through 8th graders caught up to the rest of the state in ELA, notching a 38 percent proficiency rate compared to 37.9 percent statewide. (In math, the respective numbers were close, at 36.4 percent and 39.1 percent.)

When de Blasio took office, many critics doubted that his background as an activist and minor local official had prepared him for the awesome administrative challenges of Gotham's mayoralty. De Blasio tried to address his lack of executive experience by relying less than Bloomberg did on outsiders to staff his administration. De Blasio's schools chancellor is Carmen Farina, a 50-year veteran of New York education policy. …

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