Monday, October 22, 2012

Teachers Unite: Undemocratic System of Mayoral Control Hurts NYC Schools

My suggestion is radical: put the choice of principal at the school level. They serve at the pleasure of the parents and teachers. In parts of Europe they actually elect their principals. That actually was a plank in the early history of the UFT some people tell me.  --- Norm at Ed Notes.
I love to quote myself.

Great work from Sally Lee and the crew at Teachers Unite. I am proud to have been on the first TU Board way back when. This work may prove to be a strong weapon in our goal to put a stake through the heart of mayoral control by killing the argument deformers use that they are fighting for civil rights. You know what amazes me? That 36% of the teachers actually think they have a power over decision-making at the city level and 80% seem to think they have decision making at the school level. I would think that would be reversed with most teachers saying they have no control given the testing regimen.

I'm also hearing some pushback about relying on School Leadership Teams (SLTs) as a vehicle for school governance. With so many autocratic principals it is real hard for teachers and even parents to carve out a space on these teams.

Here is the Summary and a link to the entire report.

Teachers, Parents and Students Report Having Little Say Over What Happens in Their Schools

Report Asserts that Mayoral Control Disempowers Low-Income Communities of Color, Recommends Reforms

New York, NY – The top-down system of mayoral control over New York City public schools does not serve the best interest of teachers, parents and students, according to a new report from Teachers Unite and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. The report, entitled Your Schools, Your Voice, finds that by shutting out teachers, parents, and students from the decision-making process, mayoral control devalues the people who are directly impacted by the school system.

The report analyzes the impact of mayoral control on democratic participation in schools by examining the current school governance bodies, the policies initiated under mayoral control, and the views of three focus groups of a broad range of parents, students.  The report also includes findings from surveys with over 400 teachers across the city. The report, which can be read in full HERE, finds:

·      Teachers have little say over what happens in their schools. 64% of teachers said they had no power in decision-making at the City level, and one in five teachers reported that they have no power over decisions made at their own school.

·      Current mechanisms for teacher input, such as School Leadership Teams and Community Education Councils, are considered powerless under mayoral control.  One in four teachers does not think the School Leadership Team (SLT), a state-mandated committee of school leaders, teachers, parents, and students created to facilitate shared decision-making and management of schools, represents their interests as a stakeholder. One in five teachers does not think the SLT represents the interests of their schools as a whole. And 57% of teachers reported that they had no power to influence decisions through the SLT.

·      Decisions made under mayoral control are not in the best interest of teachers, parents, and students. 94% of teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed with the policy implemented to evaluate and close schools based primarily on standardized test data. Nearly 80% of teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed with Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to impose merit-based pay for teachers. And 92% of teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed with the mayor’s appointment of Cathie Black as chancellor.

·       Parents and students agree with teachers that mayoral control and its policies prevent the community from having effective input. They report seeing the system change dramatically since the onset of mayoral control with the top-down structure preventing decisions through democratic processes. The report finds that parents feel sliced by and excluded from the very governance bodies created for their participation.

The report also asserts that mayoral control disempowers communities of color and low-income communities because it encourages policies that are beneficial to the private sector. By developing charter schools, increasing the use of standardized tests published by private corporations, and eroding worker protections for school staff, low-income communities of color are left with no method of influencing decisions that harm their schools.

Currently, the report states, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott enjoy a near total control of the New York City school system, with no effective mechanisms in place for input from the teachers, parents, and students. The community remains shut out of the decision-making process, leaving no avenues for recommendations or feedback from the people who are directly impacted. In fact, democratic participation in schools has deteriorated so much that the New York City teachers’ union has described participation as lower now than at any time in the 165-year history of the City school system.

“The research shows that  mayoral control limits democracy and participation in NYC’s schools, “said Alexa Kasdan, Director of Research and Policy at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. “We need a system in place that gives teachers, parents, and students a voice in forming important educational policies.”

“The report clearly shows that teachers believe that parents, teachers and youth together should have their voices heard and that is not happening under mayoral control of schools. Instead, policies are being made that are extremely unpopular and against the wishes of the people that they impact most: students, teachers and parents,” said Sally Lee, Executive Director of Teachers Unite.

The report recommends allowing the policy of mayoral control to expire no later than 2015, when it is slated for re-authorization. It also urges the development of an inclusive, democratic system of decision-making in schools designed around community-based responsiveness and accountability. The report recommends reclaiming and empowering School Leadership Teams, where teachers, parents, and students could establish a collaborative leadership model within their schools.

"Your Schools, Your Voice highlights how little is known about how community members can get involved in schools.  For instance, 81% of teachers surveyed were unsure of what Community Education Councils have the power to do, while the former Community School Boards (before mayoral control) were universally known as the sites for local democratic decision-making for neighborhood schools," said Lisa Donlan, President of Community Education Council District 1.

“School Leadership Teams give teachers, parents and students a rare opportunity to come up with a shared vision for public education,” remarked Elana Eisen-Markowitz, a Bronx high school teacher. “We have just started meeting as a new SLT and I’m very excited about our work together.”

A student anonymously quoted in the report suggests that the social and academic benefits of democratic participation in a public institution such as education is not lost on New York youth: “Students should be involved in school and citywide decisions because we’re the ones that are receiving the education so we should have a right in saying how we want it to be. You would probably see less dropouts, less suspensions, and students would probably be more likely to go to college, and it would motivate students to go to school if they had the right to decide how certain things go.”


Teachers Unite is an independent membership organization of public school educators supporting collaboration between parents, youth and educators fighting for social justice. Teachers Unite organizes teachers around human rights issues that impact New York City public school communities and offers collaborative leadership training for educators, parents, and youth. We believe that schools can only be transformed when educators work with and learn from parents and youth to achieve social and economic justice.


The Community Development Project (CDP) at the Urban Justice Center strengthens the impact of grassroots organizations in New York City’s low-income and other excluded communities. We partner with community organizations to win legal cases, publish community-driven research reports, assist with the formation of new organizations and cooperatives, and provide technical and transactional assistance in support of their work towards social justice.



  1. Thanks for talking about our report Norm. I expect lots of naysayers around our Call to Action. People will say exactly what you said you are hearing: Yes, it is hard to carve out space on SLTs.

    I would answer: It's hard work leading a school system, but if we want community control then we have to fight with strength and lead schools if we expect to take control (because otherwise the mayor just takes control). While I have yet to sit on an SLT (just another year until my oldest starts school!), I am hearing from TU members that SLTs provide a perfect space for educators to collaborate with youth and parents, informing them, learning from them, and putting forth new ideas.

    I would also say it's easier to take control of a consensus-based system that is already in place than to create a new system AND engage people to make it work. (Can you imagine starting a new teachers' union AND engaging new teachers to get active in it? Eek.)

    We look to LSCs in Chicago as a beacon of hope. How else can SLTs approximate LSCs unless school communities come together, get involved and push back against autocracy?

    And my last thought: Has anyone seen a strategic campaign to end mayoral control that has the power to out-maneuver those that fight for it to continue? A Reclaiming SLTs Campaign is a realistic, grassroots strategy for small, volunteer-based groups to develop true leadership and collaboration among educators and communities. It's a strategy based on empowering and engaging regular folks, which is, admittedly, truly hard work in a system based on disempowerment to the point of demoralization. This hard work of engagement, leadership development, education and coordination has a name, it's called: ORGANIZING!

    I truly hope that our activist friends discuss and debate our Call to Action and consider it as an organizing strategy that can build power, community, and change that can be felt at the school level.

  2. Thanks for adding this Sally. It would be great to initiate discussions around SLTs. I hope we would not be creating 2 classes of schools. One with cooperative principals and another with those who want to control the entire process. See the Francesco Portelos case of a teacher who took the SLT seriously and is not in the rubber room for his efforts. Really chilling. In reclaiming the SLTs We need to consider how to control the principal selection process.


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