Chancellor Fariña on why losing mayoral control ‘would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

As the leader charged with providing a high-quality education to 1.1 million New York City students, I have to be honest with you:

Our school system is headed for disaster. You may have heard something in the news about mayoral control. Let me explain what it is and why losing it would be devastating.

The state government must act to keep the mayor in charge of our schools by June 30. If they don’t, the entire system will slide back into the old, decentralized structure we had before. That would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption. I should know, I’ve been working in city schools since the 1960s. I saw what happened before 2002 when we put the mayor in charge.

First and foremost, today, the leadership of our schools makes sense. I am accountable for continued progress in our schools and the mayor is my boss. That means New Yorkers know exactly who to blame if things aren’t going well and exactly who to call when they need something done. It also means that the largest school system in the nation has an executive with real power to shake things up, innovate on behalf of students and families, and make wholesale changes that benefit all corners of the city.

If Albany lets mayoral control lapse, there will be no one accountable for progress. Our schools have never been stronger, and all that we have accomplished together will be at risk. Instead, power will be in the hands of 32 separate community school boards. That will mean a mountain of new red tape and surging costs due to inefficiency. According to the Independent Budget Office, costs dropped 22 percent after mayoral control was enacted in 2002.

But that’s not the worst of it. The most catastrophic thing is how our students will suffer.

With 32 separate entities in charge of the “system,” it will be nothing more than a constant struggle for resources. Some communities will win and some will lose. Some communities will get more than their share and some will be asked to do with much less. If parents think that’s unfair, who can they complain to?

Having 32 separate school boards is ripe for corruption. Isolated districts are small enough to be taken over by factions who aren’t putting the best interest of kids first. In the past, these boards too frequently ended up as personal property that could be bartered and traded, and used to reward cronies. Under the old system, entire districts did not have well-trained teachers or necessary materials. This isn’t just speculation – again, I was there.

Managers, appointed by the local school boards, inflated the price of contracts to generate lucrative kickbacks that took money directly away from students and siphoned money from taxpayers. One district alone stole $6 million from students, paying 81 employees for jobs they never showed up to. In another, school safety was entrusted to a high-level gang member.

Before mayoral control, graduation rates hovered around 50 percent and many schools simply were not safe. Students in the city consistently did worse than their peers across the state on standardized tests.

In the 15 years since mayors have controlled the school system, New Yorkers have seen a turnaround that has been nothing less than stunning.

Right now, New York City’s graduation rate is the highest in history. The drop-rate rate is the lowest it has ever been. For the first time ever, our students beat the rest of the state on English tests. Crime in schools has fallen 35 percent over the last five years. And we have the highest-ever college enrollment rate.

Mayor de Blasio has brought change to every district in the city. In two short years, we have added free, full-day, high-quality pre-K for every 4-year-old. Now, we are working to do the same with 3-K, instruction for 3-year-olds.

We have after-school programs for every middle schooler and we’ve made investments in school facilities—guaranteeing that every classroom is air conditioned and every school has a gym. All of these accomplishments, and many others, are a direct result of mayoral control.

I want to be clear: This isn’t about the mayor I work for. Mayoral control is vital for New Yorkers no matter who the mayor is.

There is only one proven way to run the New York City school system — that’s putting our schools in the hands of a duly elected, accountable leader, the mayor of New York. The future of our City is at stake unless Albany takes immediate action.

Carmen Fariña is chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.

Future of Schools

Spike in refugee students fuels increase in English language learners at two adult charter schools

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Two charter schools serving adults saw Indianapolis’s largest spike in students learning English this year, fueled by a rise in the refugees seeking high school diplomas, officials said.

Excel Center-University Heights and Christel House DORS South, charter schools serving adult students, saw their enrollment of English language learners jump to 44 percent and 63 percent of all students, respectively.

The campuses are less than two miles apart. The south side neighborhood they serve is close to a large population of Burmese refugees, said Jeff Hoover, Senior Director of The Excel Center Network and Operations.

Excel, which has 359 students, overwhelmingly attracts students by word-of-mouth, said Hoover, so enrollment at University Heights has gained momentum among refugees as students graduate and spread the word in their communities.

“They really created a real family type of atmosphere,” he said. “Being in a different country, and feeling that sense of community within a school is certainly … something that would attract me.”

Indiana has a mixed history when it comes to welcoming refugees. Indianapolis has one of the largest Burmese communities in the U.S., and about 14,000 Burmese-Chin refugees now live on the south side of the city, the Indy Star reported last year. Indiana admitted 1,893 refugees in 2016, according to Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nonprofit that works with refugees in Indiana. But under the Trump administration, that number was dramatically cut. At an Indianapolis school dedicated to serving students who are new to the country, enrollment declined in part because of the policy change.

State lawmakers allocated an extra $250 per student this year for schools to help educate students who are English language learners. At schools that have particularly high populations of students learning English, even more money is available.

International students who go to Excel may have high school diplomas or even college or advanced degrees from their home countries, unlike the U.S.-born students there, Hoover said. But Indiana employers and universities don’t always recognize those credentials, so the immigrants go to Excel to earn recognized diplomas.

Students who are English language learners often go through the same program as their peers who are fluent, but it may take them longer to complete diplomas, Hoover said. At the University Heights campus, there is an instructor who can speak some of the dialects spoken by Burmese refugees.

As charter school targeted at serving adults, Excel offers flexible scheduling and onsite childcare.

These 10 Marion County schools saw the number of English language learners enrolled jump over the past year.

  1. Excel Center – University Heights — 44 percent of students are English language learners, up 20 percentage points from last year.
  2. Christel House DORS South — 63 percent of students are English language learners, up 17 percentage points from last year.
  3. James Allison Elementary School in Speedway — 29 percent of students are English language learners, up 12 percentage points from last year.
  4. Homecroft Elementary School in Perry Township — 36 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  5. Southport Elementary School in Perry Township — 46 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  6. Westlake Elementary School in Wayne Township — 34 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  7. Arlington High School in Indianapolis Public Schools — 11 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  8. James Whitcomb Riley School 43 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 8 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  9. Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Perry Township — 35 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  10. Global Preparatory Academy at School 44 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 23 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.

Making history

Watch Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off here

Participants in the first-ever Great American Teach-Off Tim Livingston, left, Eleanor Vierling, Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Terrance O’Neil. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

On March 7, two teams of educators met in Austin to teach a math lesson — and make history.

The teachers, Eleanor Vierling and Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Tim Livingston and Terrance O’Neil, taught a 20-minute lesson called “contemplate then calculate.” The teachers were participating in Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off, an event at the SXSW EDU conference.

The goal of the Teach-Off, inspired by some of our favorite TV shows that celebrate the hidden craftsmanship in other professions, was to elevate the craft of teaching.

After both teams of teachers presented their lessons, there was a robust conversation on stage and on Twitter about the best moments.

Watch the entire Teach-Off here and then tell us your favorite moment using the hashtag #teachoff.