Five candidates for mayor spent the better part of an education forum on Monday distancing themselves from the tone of the Bloomberg administration if not the education policies themselves.
The four Democrats and one Republican who currently intend to run for mayor emphasized the need to better engage parents, offer more support to teachers and pull back on high-stakes testing.
"I think we're stalled, and we need a very, very serious reset," said Bill de Blasio, the public advocate. He shared a stage at the Fordham University School of Law with Christine Quinn, speaker of the city council; Bill Thompson, former head of the Board of Education and former city comptroller; John Liu, city comptroller, and Tom Allon, president of the community newspaper group Manhattan Media, and the sole Republican contender.
No candidate would give a definitive yes or no answer when asked if the school system was better off now than 10 years ago. Results have been mixed, they said. They all supported mayoral control, for example, but with some revision.
"The promise of mayoral control has not been realized," said Thompson, adding that mayoral control is "supposed to be about collaboration." De Blasio added that he would support mayoral control but make it a more democratic process and give more power to the Community Education Councils.
Liu lamented how mayoral control deviated from its original intention of accountability.
"Somehow in the interim it morphed into this ridiculous system of control where the mayor and the Department of Education didn't have to answer to the City Council," he said.
Quinn agreed with the need for more accountability, and offered one of the more concrete remedies of the evening: make the Department of Education, which now answers to state government, a full city agency with oversight by the City Council.
Allon steered the conversation from mayoral control to teachers.
"If we make schools about teachers, parents and students, and we keep the politicians the hell out of the classrooms, then mayoral control will become academic," he said.
Allon, who spoke of empowering teachers and his firm support for merit pay, argued for changes to teacher training.
"Everything comes down to making sure that teachers are prepared before they walk into the classroom," he said. He supported a medical school model for teacher training in which teachers are first apprentices and gradually become masters of their profession.
The moderators of the evening, Lindsey Christ of NY1 and Philissa Cramer of Gotham Schools, raised the topic of charter schools which prompted a brief discussion of hot-button issues such as school closures and equity.
There are parents who believe, Thompson said, that their public schools are being allowed to fail so that a charter school can open. "I'm not against charter schools," he said, "but we have to do this fairly and equitably."
He said that he would put a moratorium on school closures if elected mayor, as did John Liu.
"The co-location situation, and many of the closures as well, is based on a model of ramming everything through," said De Blasio, who added that parents have long felt ignored on this issue. "If their voices don't matter why are they even bothering to play a productive in the school system?"