School & District Management

New N.Y.C., Boston Mayors Vow to Act Fast on Education

New mayors vowed action on education
By Lesli A. Maxwell & Alyssa Morones — November 11, 2013 5 min read
New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, left, joins Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the “Bull Pen,” the mayor’s main City Hall office, the day after his election win.

Control over public schooling in Boston and New York City promises to look different in both cities after voters last week anointed new mayors who have pledged to move quickly to make their imprint on K-12 education.

New York voters elected Democrat Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, in a lopsided victory over Republican Joseph J. Lhota, a former chairman of the area’s transportation authority. In a nonpartisan and much tighter race in Boston—the city’s first open mayoral election in 20 years—state Rep. Martin J. Walsh defeated City Councilor John R. Connolly.

Both cities’ school systems are under mayoral control. Both new mayors will select new executives to run the schools. And both cities still have enormous education challenges to tackle. Large achievement gaps—including in graduation rates—stubbornly persist between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers.

Changes in policy are likely to be most dramatic in New York, where the selection of Mr. de Blasio signals a likely shift away from some of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s more controversial education initiatives of the past dozen years.

Mr. de Blasio has promised to scrap Mr. Bloomberg’s A-F grading system for schools during his first year in office, halt school closures, and consider charging rent to some charter schools that share building space with the city’s regular public schools. He’s also pledged to elevate the role that community education panels, comprised of parents, play in major decisions, including how school buildings are utilized.

Lever for Change

Under Mayor Bloomberg and former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, the 1.1 million-student New York City system became a hotbed of change that included a rapid expansion of charter schools, closures of large, comprehensive high schools, performance pay for teachers and principals, and a citywide curriculum.

“A lot of reformers for a long time have used mayoral control as a win, as something that enabled many great things to happen,” said Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington research and policy-consultant group. “But the other side of the coin is that if [Mr. de Blasio] does what he said during the campaign, reformers could be ruing the day that they viewed mayoral control as a blessing.”

Some charter school operators and advocates, in particular, are on edge about Mr. de Blasio, and what his campaign positions might mean for the 200 or so independent public schools serving 70,000 students across the city.

Nina Rees, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, put out a statement congratulating the new mayor, but urged him to make sure that charters remain available to New York families.

Mr. Smarick suggested that the new mayor may take a less adversarial position on charters once he’s in office and the practical realities of governing set in.

“With that many families who have a stake in the city’s charter sector and the results that those schools are seeing,” he said, “it’s hard to imagine he’d do a 180 [-degree turn].”

In Boston, where Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been in office for two decades, the selection of Mr. Walsh, a longtime labor leader, may bring more subtle changes to the 57,000-student school system, which has generally experienced less upheaval in its school improvement efforts than other major urban districts. Mr. Walsh and his opponent, Mr. Connolly, both campaigned on ambitious education plans.

In Boston, Mayor-elect Martin Walsh, right, his girlfriend Lorrie Higgins, center, and Higgins’ daughter Lauren, left, celebrate Mr. Walsh’s narrow victory on election night.

On the Agenda

In addition to hiring a new superintendent for the Boston schools, Mr. Walsh will be charged with overseeing the most sweeping change to the district’s student-assignment process since the city ended widespread busing for school desegregation more than 20 years ago.

Mr. Walsh, who has been a state lawmaker for 16 years, has a strong record of supporting charter schools. He was a founding board member of one of Boston’s most successful charters, the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, and he favors lifting the state’s cap on the number of charters that can open in Boston.

Mr. Walsh also focused on his proposal to expand families’ access to prekindergarten programs. In addition, he said he would push to extend the school day.

In New York, Mr. de Blasio also campaigned on a plan to expand access to prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds in New York City by raising taxes on residents who earn more than $500,000 a year.

Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who was the secretary of education in Massachusetts from 2008 to 2012, said Boston voters benefited from having two mayoral candidates who put forth strong education platforms.

The election of Mr. Walsh, he said, puts “education at the top of the agenda at a time when Boston is in transition educationally and seeking a new superintendent.”

Fresh Start?

Teachers’ union officials in both cities said they are hopeful that the new mayors will also usher in amore collegial era of labor-management relations.

“We view Marty Walsh as a collaborator, as someone who would be willing to sit down and talk about things and has no wish to assert a ‘my way or the highway’ approach,” said Richard Stutman, the president of the Boston Teachers Union.

The union did not officially endorse either candidate, but in robocalls and email blasts in the hours leading up to the election it encouraged its 7,000 members to vote for Mr. Walsh, Mr. Stutman said.

The union has a recent history of adversarial relations with Mr. Connolly, who was the only member of the city council to reject themost recent collective bargaining agreement between the city and the teachers’ union, largely because the union did not agree to extending the length of the school day.

In New York, the United Federation of Teachers, which has about 200,000 members, had endorsed Mr. de Blasio.

Michael Mulgrew, the UFT’s president, said in a statement on the union’s website that “New York has elected someone who will show the rest of this country what public education can and should be.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2013 edition of Education Week as Boston, New York City Election Wins Signal Changes for Schools

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