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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Candidates Running for N.Y.C Mayor Send Mixed Messages to Teachers

By Peter DeWitt — May 30, 2013 3 min read
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Recently, N.Y.C. mayoral candidates participated in a forum sponsored by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). According to The N.Y. Times, “They cooed about the importance of paying teachers fairly. They took turns skewering charter schools. One candidate went out of his way to say the president of the teachers’ union would go down in history as a great leader.”

All of this is enough to make educators shake their heads in disbelief and groan “Don’t believe the hype!” Those who would be mayor (and control the city schools) were looking to win the endorsement of the UFT. Buyers beware...educators have been down this road before. They have seen candidates around the country who rallied for the support of educators and then turned their backs as soon as they could say the word “Pearson”....or something like that.

One speaker, Christine Quinn “the City Council speaker, broke ranks with Mr. Bloomberg on several issues. She said a plan to evaluate teachers partly on the basis of test scores should have a sunset clause, so that it could be reconsidered after several years.”

Another, William C. Thompson, “a former comptroller, said he believed that the mayor should not appoint a majority of seats on the Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member board that approves contracts and major policy decisions.” Basically, before the election, he believes that mayors should not have total control of decision making in education.

This is where the conflict of interest comes in...

We Don’t Run Schools...Just Control Them
Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, was recently asked to chair the campaign for William C. Thompson. Thompson was on the N.Y. City Board of Education for five years, and according to the N.Y. Times, “He was a frequent critic of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s data-focused approach to overhauling the nation’s largest school district.”

Thank goodness because most educators understand that running schools by “the numbers” has been a terrible way to improve them. Parents are close to a full revolt against testing, and the closing of schools “by the numbers” combined with a poorly designed school choice program has recently led to a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights which you can read about here.

It seems strange that someone looking for the support of the UFT would align himself with Ms. Tisch. After all, she oversees our present educational reform, which is built on the rock of test scores.

Tisch will say that she doesn’t understand why educators are so worried about high stakes testing even as she meets with the Board of Regents to decide whether to increase the weight of state test scores from 20% to 25% in teacher and principal evaluations for the school year that is already ending (2012-2013). Before we have evaluated the effectiveness of last year’s limited evaluation by test score program, the ante is upped.

Ms. Tisch does not see an issue with being the chairwomen of Thompson’s campaign, much like she does not see an issue with the implementation of the Common Core and increased accountability. “Asked if she foresaw any conflict between her role atop the state’s education board and her work as a political operative, Dr. Tisch demurred. She stated, “We set educational policy for the state,” she said. “We do not run the city’s school system.”

Run” the city’s school system is such an ugly word. It’s easier to control all the schools in New York State by setting policy that will force them to comply. With increased accountability and mandates that control every move that schools make, as Chancellor she certainly does run schools.

Having Their Cake and Eating it Too
Anyone running for office needs two things. They need the political muscle of large groups, such as teachers unions, and they need money to finance their campaign. Typically, teachers do not have an overabundance of money to finance a campaign, but wealthy people do. Those wealthy contributors, such as a Tisch, have a strong belief in the unproven Common Core State Standards, teacher and administrator evaluation using student test scores, and high stakes testing designed to produce large failure rates for students. Somehow, the desire to please the UFT and Ms. Tisch do not match.

If politicians really want our votes these days, they are going to have to work a lot harder than just saying the right things on stage. Over the past few years, educators have been left in the cold by politicians who sold us out for big business and contributors with an agenda, and rank and file educators (as well as parents opposed to testing) will not forget.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.