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Make Giuliani the Education Mayor Abolish the Board of Education

In a New York Times Op-ed piece, Teachers College President Arthur Levine opined that the New York City Board of Education be dissolved and the public schools report directly to the mayor. Citing that other major cities have done this already, Levine said that the schools should become a city department led by a commissioner. "For me this is an odd proposal to be making, since I am a critic of Mayor Giuliani's record on the public schools. But the simple fact is that he is already in charge of them," wrote Levine. "During his two terms, the mayor has criticized and forced from office two of the most able educators in the country" The school board's members are Appointed by the mayor and borough presidents, making the mayor "in all but name the overseer of the schools," wrote Levine. This current situation is unworkable because the mayor is not held accountable for school performance. The article, entitled "Make Giuliani the Education Mayor" appeared in the January 8 edition of the New York Times.

It's time to give the mayor something he has asked for. We should dissolve the New York City Board of Education. The public schools should report to the mayor-Rudolph Giuliani now and his successors later. The schools become a city department led by a commissioner. This is a step Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit have taken.

For me, this is an odd proposal to be making, since I am a critic of Mayor's Giuliani's record on the public schools. But the simple fact is that he is already in charge of the them.

In 1995, Mayor Giuliani vetoed the board's choice for chancellor and openly forced the board to appoint his personal candidate, Rudy Crew. During his two terms, the mayor has criticized and forced from office two of the most able educators in the country: first, Ramon Cortines, then Mr. Crew himself. Although the school board is seemingly autonomous, its members are appointed by the mayor and borough presidents. This makes the mayor in all but name the overseer of the schools.

At the same time, the current system allows the mayor to remain a critic who attacks the quality of the schools and their leaders rather than requiring him to offer and carry out a comprehensive plan to improve education in the city.

It is a system which casts the mayor as an outsider who is neither accountable nor responsible for the performance of perhaps the most important municipal activity. This is an absurd situation that we would never permit for police, fire or any other essential city service.

School boards were created to buffer schools from political intervention. When they are successful, their most important job is to ensure that educational values rather than politics govern the policy and operations of the school. In New York, the board's job is to choose a chancellor, work with that person to determine school policy, and ensure the successful academic, financial, administrative and moral operation of the schools.

The current board has failed in these responsibilities. Its very structure invites political intervention. The mayor openly controls the board's votes, and political agendas have regularly trumped educational needs. The result is that the city has neither a board that insulates the schools form political intervention nor an educational system for which anyone is accountable.

The result is that New York City has neither a board which insulates the schools from political intervention, nor an educational system for which anyone is accountable. This makes it possible for a Mayor after six years in office to attack the condition of the schools rather than being responsible for having failed to improve them. In this respect the mayor is not unique. We live in an age in which it is easier in general for politicians in our cities, our states, and Washington to distance themselves from education and remain critics while in office rather than taking on the enormously hard and complex job of fixing our schools.

It is time to tell our political leaders we are holding them accountable. Poll after poll shows we elected them in significant part because we wanted better education in America. Every candidate for office from dog catcher to president of the United States appeals to us for our votes by offering an education platform. We need to hold them responsible for implementing those platforms and even more importantly for improving the quality of our schools in documentable ways. Our children need that and we should accept no less. No longer should it be adequate for an office holder to remain the outsider or critic with regard to education. We need results, not rhetoric. No candidate should even consider running for a second term in office without a record of achievement in education.

The best way to begin this process in New York City is to abolish the board of education and turn the schools over to the Mayor officially. One could imagine other possibilities. For example, with the hope of reducing outside political intervention on the Board of Education, we could hold elections for Board seats rather than having the mayor or borough presidents appoint the members. But Americans have a dismal voter turnout record in school board elections, allowing special interest groups to gain control of school boards around the country. This and a host of other alternatives ranging from longer terms for members to encourage political independence to a blue ribbon panel to select members (who would choose the panel?) seem a worse prospect than the current arrangement.

The real danger in the proposal I make is that mayoral control could even further politicize the schools. This is difficult to imagine, but a nonpartisan review board would be a useful check and balance. For all intents and purposes, the mayor is and has been in charge of the schools since taking office. He is critical of the results. So is the rest of the city. It is time to ask the mayor to solve the problem. Our future as a city depends upon it. So should his.

 

By President Arthur Levine

This article originally appeared the New York Times January 8, 2000

Published Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2001

Make Giuliani the Education Mayor Abolish the Board of Education

It's time to give the mayor something he has asked for. We should dissolve the New York City Board of Education. The public schools should report to the mayor-Rudolph Giuliani now and his successors later. The schools become a city department led by a commissioner. This is a step Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit have taken.

For me, this is an odd proposal to be making, since I am a critic of Mayor's Giuliani's record on the public schools. But the simple fact is that he is already in charge of the them.

In 1995, Mayor Giuliani vetoed the board's choice for chancellor and openly forced the board to appoint his personal candidate, Rudy Crew. During his two terms, the mayor has criticized and forced from office two of the most able educators in the country: first, Ramon Cortines, then Mr. Crew himself. Although the school board is seemingly autonomous, its members are appointed by the mayor and borough presidents. This makes the mayor in all but name the overseer of the schools.

At the same time, the current system allows the mayor to remain a critic who attacks the quality of the schools and their leaders rather than requiring him to offer and carry out a comprehensive plan to improve education in the city.

It is a system which casts the mayor as an outsider who is neither accountable nor responsible for the performance of perhaps the most important municipal activity. This is an absurd situation that we would never permit for police, fire or any other essential city service.

School boards were created to buffer schools from political intervention. When they are successful, their most important job is to ensure that educational values rather than politics govern the policy and operations of the school. In New York, the board's job is to choose a chancellor, work with that person to determine school policy, and ensure the successful academic, financial, administrative and moral operation of the schools.

The current board has failed in these responsibilities. Its very structure invites political intervention. The mayor openly controls the board's votes, and political agendas have regularly trumped educational needs. The result is that the city has neither a board that insulates the schools form political intervention nor an educational system for which anyone is accountable.

The result is that New York City has neither a board which insulates the schools from political intervention, nor an educational system for which anyone is accountable. This makes it possible for a Mayor after six years in office to attack the condition of the schools rather than being responsible for having failed to improve them. In this respect the mayor is not unique. We live in an age in which it is easier in general for politicians in our cities, our states, and Washington to distance themselves from education and remain critics while in office rather than taking on the enormously hard and complex job of fixing our schools.

It is time to tell our political leaders we are holding them accountable. Poll after poll shows we elected them in significant part because we wanted better education in America. Every candidate for office from dog catcher to president of the United States appeals to us for our votes by offering an education platform. We need to hold them responsible for implementing those platforms and even more importantly for improving the quality of our schools in documentable ways. Our children need that and we should accept no less. No longer should it be adequate for an office holder to remain the outsider or critic with regard to education. We need results, not rhetoric. No candidate should even consider running for a second term in office without a record of achievement in education.

The best way to begin this process in New York City is to abolish the board of education and turn the schools over to the Mayor officially. One could imagine other possibilities. For example, with the hope of reducing outside political intervention on the Board of Education, we could hold elections for Board seats rather than having the mayor or borough presidents appoint the members. But Americans have a dismal voter turnout record in school board elections, allowing special interest groups to gain control of school boards around the country. This and a host of other alternatives ranging from longer terms for members to encourage political independence to a blue ribbon panel to select members (who would choose the panel?) seem a worse prospect than the current arrangement.

The real danger in the proposal I make is that mayoral control could even further politicize the schools. This is difficult to imagine, but a nonpartisan review board would be a useful check and balance. For all intents and purposes, the mayor is and has been in charge of the schools since taking office. He is critical of the results. So is the rest of the city. It is time to ask the mayor to solve the problem. Our future as a city depends upon it. So should his.

 

By President Arthur Levine

This article originally appeared the New York Times January 8, 2000

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