Ho, ho, ho! Merry mayoral control!


Governor Andrew Cuomo may have given some Upstate mayors just the holiday present they were hoping for: you guessed it, mayoral control.

In a recent letter from a Cuomo aide to the state’s top education leaders, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and outgoing SED Commissioner John King, Cuomo indicates that he wants fresh ideas to boost academic outcomes around the state. Though some educators say that the letter is little more than an indictment of urban school districts, teachers, and their unions.

The letter poses several questions. Most importantly: Why is New York spending more on education than any other state and yet its outcomes are so poor? And how can only 1 percent of New York’s teachers receive unfavorable evaluations when such a large number of students perform so poorly?

The letter goes on to ask whether mayors in the state’s smaller cities – Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, for example – would benefit from controlling governance of their school districts. New York City has had mayoral control for more than a decade, and while former mayor Michael Bloomberg credited mayoral control with improving student performance during his term, there’s no significant evidence that it has any impact on student achievement.

Locally, Democratic Assembly member David Gantt has submitted legislation multiple times that would grant mayoral control for Rochester. That legislation hasn't gotten much traction, however. In her campaign, now-mayor Lovely Warren said that she would not pursue mayoral control. When asked about it more recently, however, she gave a more nuanced response, saying that it is up to the governor and the State Legislature.

The letter also asks whether the cap on charter schools should be completely removed, whether financial incentives would improve teacher competency, and whether the probationary period for teachers should be extended before they can qualify for tenure. It’s currently three years.

Oddly, there’s no mention of the abysmal roll out of the Common Core curriculum or how state officials would prevent approving another charter school to an apparently unqualified applicant.

And it makes no mention of how to address some of the more intransigent challenges that urban educators face daily: chronic absenteeism, crime-ridden neighborhoods, substandard housing, food shortages, and crumbling city schools that lack the arts, music, and sports resources of their suburban counterparts.

The letter asks for unfiltered advice; how about holding the line on the constant changes to standards, testing, and bureaucratic busy work? How about funding schools according to the CFE court ruling?