(Snarling) “It’s all politics!”
If you ask the average person to define “politics” you’ll probably hear, “underhanded,” “deceptive,” “dishonest” as synonyms. How many would respond “the democratic process by which you achieve policies?” Libraries are devoted to political science, from Plato to Aristotle to Machiavelli to Locke and Hobbes to our founding fathers.
Machiavellian is one of the terms denoting malevolent activities to reach ends; on the other hand are the activities just part of the political process?
I always had my students read sections of The Prince in the context of ethics, morality and prudent governance (See “What You Can Learn from Machiavelli” here), we had wonderful discussions.
Education and politics have always been intertwined.
In the 14,000 school districts across the nation school boards are elected, the lay school boards hire a superintendent, set budgets and policies within regulations in each state, and, as we’ve seen recently, the battlegrounds for culture wars. Battles over school governance have deep roots, Diane Ravitch. The Great School Wars: New York City (1805-1973) A History of the Public Schools as Battlefield of Social Change (1974) and Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession (2014) led us through conflict after conflict up to the current battle; mayoral control of schools.
In 1993 Boston converted to a mayoral system and it appeared to be a welcoming model. Across the nation some cities moved away from elected school boards and in 2007 Kenneth Wong and others reviewed the move to mayoral control and concluded,
… although mayoral control of schools may not be appropriate for every district, it can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance.
In the late 60’s New York City attempted to use the local control of schools to mollify the raging race wars in cities across the country. Riots in Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark, scores of fatalities, National Guard in the streets, The Ford Foundation (akin to the current day Gates Foundation) funded three small experimental enclaves with elected governing boards in New York City, and, after the “experiment” ballooned into a lengthy teachers’ strike, a Ford Foundation plan, Reconnection for Learning (Read plan here), led to a law decentralizing the entire school system. The Board of Education, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor and local school boards elected through a ranked choice voting system with the authority to hire principals and superintendents and set educational policies, within state regulations.
“Decentralization” is still controversial: listen to a detailed podcast here.
Newly elected Mayor Bloomberg, with wide support across the political spectrum, convinced Albany to convert to a mayoral control educational governance system. Bloomberg chose an attorney, with no education experience as the school district leader and the system underwent drastic consistent changes, from ten megadistricts to closing hundreds of low performing schools and creating hundreds of new schools, and, trying to layoff teachers in closing schools, vigorously opposed by the teacher union.
In his last term Bloomberg and the teacher union became bitter rivals; a survey found parents supporting teachers more than the mayor.
Bloomberg’s successor, de Blasio, retained mayoral control, created classes for three and four year olds, successfully negotiated contracts with the unions; however the local boards, called Community Education Councils were powerless and the central board, a rubberstamp for the mayor. In 2019, mayoral control was renewed with a few changes, the mayor retained full control of the board, and one member now was selected by local CECs.
The mayor control law contains a sunset clause, unless the law is renewed mayoral control expires and the previous system becomes the default.
Governor Hochul, facing a primary on June 28th added a four year extension to mayor control in her preliminary budget, a new governor and a new mayor apparently on the same wavelength.
Dissatisfaction with the mayoral control governance was bubbling for years. Why did the mayor need full control of the board? Why were the CECs powerless?
Sensing renewal of mayoral control might be in trouble Mayor Adams took the offensive, attacking the prior system, decentralization as “corrupt.”
In fact, the appointed members of the pre-mayoral control school board were highly qualified; for example, Irene Impellizari, the Brooklyn board member, was the Dean of Education at Brooklyn College.
William Thompson, who served as chair of the Board later was elected as Comptroller, lost to de Blasio for mayor in 2013 and currently serves as president of the CUNY Board. Thompson outmaneuvered Mayor Giuliani and elected Harold Levine as chancellor, Levy had an impeccable tenure.
Some of the local boards were dysfunctional while others were innovative and high functioning.
And then: politics.
Governor Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace in August, continued to cry foul, claiming he was setup by enemies. Lieutenant Governor Hochul became governor and appeared to be cruising to a June primary win; polling had her far ahead of her two rivals.
Unexpectedly, a well-regarded poll placed Cuomo only a few points behind Hochul; would Cuomo jump into the race?
Parent-elected CEC leaders uniformly oppose the current mayoral control system and CEC leader after leader criticized the renewal at a public hearing of the Assembly and Senate Education Committees; parent leaders called for only a one or two year renewal and task force to explore alternatives, maybe a parent led board.
The Assembly Education Committee chair announced,
The chairman of the Education committee in Albany’s lower chamber, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto (D-The Bronx), confirmed to The Post that Democrats in his chamber will not include the measure in their budget bill.
And Politico reports,
While mayoral control is traditionally not pushed for in one-house resolutions, it has also been kicked out of budget talks over the years and left to debate independently during the remainder of the legislative session, which runs through early June. The current version is set to expire on June 30.
For Adams, a slap in the face, for the leaders of the CECs and the dozens of concerned New Yorkers who testified at the March 4th hearing an acknowledgement of their concerns, and, for Hochul, wooing public school parents may be a key if Cuomo decides to join the fray.
“He who becomes a Prince through the favour of the people should always keep on good terms with them; which it is easy for him to do, since all they ask is not to be oppressed”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
UPDATE: .@CarlHeastie says they stripped all policy from their one house budget. Adds people shouldn’t read too much into the fact the @NYCMayor Control of City schools was not in it. Can be taken up later.