Four years after undertaking the most profound reorganization of the New York City schools in decades, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last week announced another round of major changes that will give principals more power, fund schools more fairly, and eliminate the administrative regions he created to slice away at bureaucracy.
In his annual State of the City address on Jan. 17, the second-term mayor, a Republican, said rising test scores and an improving graduation rate in the 1.1 million-student district signal that it’s time to expand on the first generation of reforms, which included new curricula and expanded high school options.
“During our first term, we brought stability, accountability, and standards to a school system where they were sorely lacking,” he said. “With this strong foundation now laid, we can take the next steps forward, creating great schools where all students can succeed.”
The administrative structure the mayor set up in 2003, in a bid to create what he called “one unified, focused, streamlined chain of command,” will be eliminated. City schools were divided into 10 regions, supervised by regional superintendents who oversaw 10 local superintendents, each responsible for a cluster of schools. The city will revert to a system in which 32 community superintendents oversee their schools and report directly to the chancellor.
The mayor said the regional offices had stabilized the school system and were no longer needed. But Democratic state Sen. Carl Kruger, who led a group of lawmakers in a 2003 lawsuit that halted Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to shutter the community-district offices, saw the move as an admission of defeat.
Seen as Retreat
“It’s clear he’s taking a step backward,” Mr. Kruger’s chief of staff, Jason D. Koppel, said of the mayor. “It’s clear that the [regional system] put in too many levels of bureaucracy and took parents out of the equation.”
Mayor Bloomberg said the city would expand systemwide its work to give principals more power over hiring and firing staff, controlling educational programming, and managing their schools’ budgets. Principals can have their schools join the “empowerment” initiative, receiving more authority in exchange for delivering certain performance outcomes, or they can partner with outside groups or district administrators for support in shaping their operations, according to district documents outlining the changes.
In exchange, principals will be evaluated more rigorously by their community superintendents, and their schools will get letter grades based on student performance, attendance, and parent-teacher-student feedback. Schools with higher letter grades will be eligible for bonuses; those with lower grades could be subject to intervention.
Mr. Bloomberg also focused on teacher quality, saying teachers will no longer be able to earn tenure automatically after three years. Instead, their principals will have to certify that they deserve tenure, and those decisions will be reviewed by the city department of education.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the local teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, said Mr. Bloomberg had done nothing more than articulate what is already in the teachers’ newly approved contract.
Noting in a statement that the address was “a speech with no instructional initiatives,” Ms. Weingarten said she hopes the mayor will give some attention to pressing issues such as lowering class size, improving school safety, and giving teachers more authority to shape instruction.
Another cornerstone of the plan is to phase in a funding system that would base monetary allocations on the number and needs of each school’s students, rather than on the number and experience level of its teachers. Mr. Bloomberg intends it to narrow spending gaps between schools.
A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. to Scrap Regions, Give Principals More Authority