During much of the last decade, New York City’s school system became a fervent symbol of the education reform movement. The nation’s largest school system has operated under mayoral control since 2002, when the State Legislature gave Mayor Michael Bloomberg nearly complete authority over NYC's schools. Bloomberg made Joel Klein chancellor of city schools and together they ushered in a number of controversial changes such as appointing school board members. They also paid aggressive attention to testing, and implemented what many viewed as increased accountability of teachers.
And Bloomberg's been a huge supporter of charter schools, which proliferated during his tenure.
Though NYC was not the first city to turn to mayoral control, the city’s model of school governance was closely watched by parents, educators, and politicians around the country – including in Rochester. Buoyed by scandalous stories about New York’s failing schools, Bloomberg’s decision-making went almost unchecked. There was the infamous rubber room, where city teachers on disciplinary leave or probation would spend their days doing nothing while still earning their salaries and benefits. And the formidable political influence of teachers unions came under greater public scrutiny.
To some degree, Bloomberg’s methods were vindicated by some increases in test scores and graduation rates. But the Bloomberg style of education reform may have been dealt a serious blow as NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio chose Carmen Farina, a former teacher and principal, as the new chancellor of the city’s schools. Farina’s appointment was widely seen as a signal to the education community that the Bloomberg-era is over.
Farina reportedly influenced de Blasio and his plans to expand universal pre-K and after-school programs. And instead of giving deference to charter schools, de Blasio has indicated that the city’s charters will need to pay rent, a significant concern given the city’s pricey real estate market.
Educators and politicians around the country will be watching New York City schools closely. Critics of de Blasio were swift to denounce the Farina appointment. And there is a lot at stake for de Blasio politically, and for the nation's education communities. If the city’s graduation rates slip backward, de Blasio's chances of winning a second election could be jeopardized.
If test scores and grad rates increase, however, particularly under the new Common Core standards, it will inevitably lead to another national debate about improving public education.