Thursday, June 18, 2009

WHAT NOW? A response to the state’s decision to uphold mayoral control

Jessica Shiller has run workshops for Teachers Unite. She makes an excellent point in that there were so few voices opposing mayoral control outright, with the majority willing to settle for tweaks. You get what you pay for. Watch what happens as a result of the tweaks. Next time people shouldn't make the same mistake. The battle to end mayoral control starts NOW.

Guest Editorial

by Jessica Shiller, assistant professor of education at Lehman College, CUNY

A former student of mine wrote on Facebook recently,

Aaaah, crazy state politics! The state HAS to pass a mayoral control law before June ends, or else the city schools will revert to a totally inefficient governance model. Mayoral control also has to be reformed so there's at least some check on Mayor Bloomberg's power--Diane Ravitch has good ideas. But as long as the state senate bickers about who gets the keys to the senate chamber...NYC schools, and New York State, get NOTHING.

When I said that mayoral control might not be such a good thing for the city school system, he retorted,

As I understand it, if nothing happens by then, we automatically go back to the old governance structure. I don't think that's a good idea. I don't have too much background on what it was like when the Board of Education was in control, but it sounds like it was a lot of finger-pointing and not much getting accomplished. Reform (e.g. fixed terms for Panel for Education Policy members, taking the chancellor off the PEP, mechanisms for parent voice) are necessary within the current model, and June 30 seems like an important deadline for getting that done.

Well, he got what he wished for. The state assembly just upheld mayoral control by a vote of 121-18. The chaos in the state senate not withstanding, it is clear that New York City will have mayoral control for another several years (The assembly’s bill has 2015 as the next time the law will be up for renewal). After public hearings, protests, campaigns, and lobbying, efforts by those of us who oppose mayoral control have fallen short.

So, what now? If you are a fan of Bloomberg’s leadership, you are probably rejoicing, but if you are not then you are probably stomping angrily after reading the latest news. In any case, we need to understand what happened in order to move forward. My former student's understanding of mayoral control is probably how most people understand it, as a system contrasted with a pre-mayoral control arcane, inefficient school system. Many people believe that Bloomberg has whipped the schools into shape.

This myth has been dismissed by scholars like Diane Ravitch, parent groups, and teachers. Scholars have shown that mayoral control has not raised test scores and graduation rates as promised, parents have demonstrated how their voice has been eliminated from the school system, and teachers have maintained that their jobs have been narrowed to that of test-prep coaches. For more on the down sides of mayoral control, see

Yet, the myth that Bloomberg has single-handedly turned around a dysfunctional school system prevails because it has been broadcast across the airwaves and in the papers for the last seven years. The media campaign has been persuasive. That said, opponents of mayoral control did a lot of things well. They published counter-data to the false data put out by the New York City’s Department of Education (see Jennifer Jennings and Sherman Dorn's work on test score data). They organized coalitions, got petitions signed, lobbied legislators, and stormed public hearings. But it was not enough. Many opponents of mayoral control still favored mayoral control in some form. They advocated for some checks and balances on the mayor’s power, but did not oppose mayoral control altogether. So, when it came down to it, they supported the state's efforts to renew mayoral control. A much smaller group opposed mayoral control and did not get the word out early enough.

An extension of mayoral control may bring its own demise as numbers of dissatisfied parents and teachers grows, but those opposed to mayoral control need to start organizing now to oppose it. There needs to be an independent media campaign that counters Bloomberg’s media machine. Second, organized parent groups need to continue their lobbying efforts at the state and city levels. Third, opponents of mayoral control need to organize teachers and students to join forces with parents and community activists to defeat it next time around. This is a battle that cannot be won only a few months before mayoral control is set to end, but needs to be a long term fight- starting now.


ed notes online said...

Leonie Haimson responds on the listserve:

The fight over mayoral control is not over until it's over. Clearly nothing is resolved in the
Senate as of now, and last time I looked, it took two houses to pass a law.

And I disagree with the main thrust of her analysis.
The vote of the Assembly to renew the law with small
changes did not result from the opposition out
organizing the opponents, though clearly they had a
lot more money, paid staff, a slew of lobbyists, as
well as fake grassroots organizations set up by the
Mayor and his allies.

It resulted from the decision of one man, Shelly
> Silver, that he didn't want big changes in the law,
> and that decision was made long before the vote was
> held.

Leonie Haimson

ed notes online said...

Jessica Shiller responds:

Although I am not on the listservs that my editorial appeared on, Norm Scott forwarded Leonie Hamison's comments and I wanted to respond.

She is right to say that money, paid staff and lobbyists were enlisted to
mayoral control. The messages they sent out were powerful and convincing for
many people. The wide support for mayoral control made that state assembly
vote possible. But if we think that Shelly Silver is to blame for making this
decision then not only do we deny any agency to every single state assembly
person, but we need not organize anymore. If it is all up to one person, then
why bother launching any campaigns? We certainly need not wait for the Senate
to confirm the Assembly vote. Perhaps we just need to drive up to Albany and
convince Silver that mayoral control is bad for the city, but he seemed to
that too up until a couple of months ago. I think it is much more complex than
Leonie makes it out to be. Opponents of mayoral control need to do better,
smarter organizing for a longer period of time than happened this time around.
I do not think it is all up to Shelly Silver.

Opponents of mayoral control worked hard this time, but this latest vote is a
cause for reflection on what went wrong. I think we need to have that
conversation as activists, to retool, and to get back up fighting.

Best, Jessica Shiller

LQuinlan said...

It is next to impossible to get the word out on the disaster that is mayoral control when Bloomberg is controlling the media. I know that Parent Associations and Civic Associations have been desperately trying to educate their members with little success. When only one side of the story is heard, after a while it seems that everyone's been drinking the BloomKlein Kool-Aid.