Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise of providing universal pre-kindergarten but the challenges facing the New York City schools extend well beyond pre-K. SchoolBook outlines the top five challenges facing de Blasio and his education team now that they are running the sprawling bureaucracy that is the New York City public school system. We left out the teachers' contract because he'll be negotiating with all the major unions.
1) How will he get universal pre-K? De Blasio has proposed a tax on New Yorkers making over $500,000 a year to fund more after-school programs and universal pre-k. This requires approval from Albany. Assembly Democrats are on board but Senate Republicans are not. The mayor-elect has assembled a campaign called UPKNYC.org. Celebrities and prominent New Yorkers - including his wife, Chirlane McCray - are leading what he calls a grassroots effort to urge lawmakers to support the tax. Some have suggested there are other ways of cobbling together the funds through existing resources. But de Blasio insists the tax is the only way to make the program self-sufficient.
2) Will he really charge charter schools rent to stay in public school buildings? De Blasio made this proposal during his campaign, singling out what he called "well-resourced" charters.
"Programs that can afford to pay rent should be paying rent," he said. "We certainly need the resources in terms of our public budget. Those that are less resourced should not have to pay rent."
Fewer than 100 charters have free space in public school buildings; De Blasio suggested charging them based on a sliding scale.
Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academies charter network, said paying rent would be a huge hardship. Although the philanthropic community has been generous to charters, “it is a pittance compared to what it would cost to build a building or rent space,” she said.
The charter movement is extremely anxious to hear more; schools and networks have organized their parents to speak out. Expect a big fight.
3) How will de Blasio deal with co-located schools and parental input? There are approximately 900 city schools that share buildings now. Bloomberg’s administration created hundreds of new schools, mostly by letting them incubate in buildings where failing schools were phasing out. More are destined to open next fall. Some parents have filed a lawsuit to block this but de Blasio hasn't taken a stand on them.
On the campaign trail, de Blasio called for more community input before deciding whether to co-locate schools but he has not laid out any specific plans for how to include parents more in decisions. Some parent groups are already sending him their suggestions. Meanwhile, he is calling for a one-year moratorium on closing any schools or co-locating others in the same buildings.
4) Will he reorganize the school system? Mayor Bloomberg spent his first few years of mayoral control tearing apart the old structure of 32 community school districts for the elementary and middle schools. In their place he created a system in which schools were grouped by networks, not geography, when it came to professional development and peer support for principals. De Blasio criticized the networks for being too diffuse, and not accessible to parents. What to do next is unclear. The school system is vast, and some principals are happy with their networks. Recently, De Blasio said he would try to "strike the right balance."
5) Will the city stop using test scores to grade schools and teachers? De Blasio has been a vocal critic of Bloomberg's use of student test scores.
"The over-reliance on standardized testing was absolutely bankrupt," he said at a candidates forum last spring. "It doesn’t work, it doesn’t reflect the reality of our children."
He said he intends to continue using school progress reports but without the A-F letter grades. Some school districts, such as Washington D.C., post information about their schools with color-coded status reports, revealing whether they are doing well (green) or struggling (yellow to red). It’s not known how much information de Blasio plans to publicize about each school or in what format.
As for teachers, state law requires districts to use student test scores on state exams for 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. It is possible for de Blasio to re-negotiate other aspects of the evaluation process involving observations and measures of student learning - which have been onerous for principals - but he can’t change the law.