When Mayor Michael Bloomberg took his first oath of office in January 2002, the students who are slated to graduate this June were, plainly, clueless: As first-graders, they had no idea that they would become guinea pigs for wholesale education reform – unwitting participants and, supporters say, beneficiaries of the “education mayor's” protracted experiment in urban education. It's fair to say, their parents didn't know, either. Next June, as the mayor enters the final stages of his third and last term, most of these students will graduate from high school – some ready for college, but most not.
Within a few seasons of Bloomberg taking control of the city and its schools, the members of the class of 2013 would become some of New York City's earliest early-testers—on the ground as Bloomberg and his long-serving Chancellor, Joel Klein, installed standardized testing in grades 3 through 8. Today, these teens are also the first crop to have encountered DOE's policy prohibiting social promotion – that long-critiqued but widely practiced policy of passing of students up the grades, whether or not sufficient academic progress had been made. They are the first to go to schools that have been graded for performance – and shuttered for “failure” or inadequate gains. They are the first generation to be rewarded financially, in some districts, for taking advanced-level work, like AP classes in high schools – and the first to see those incentives removed, when the experts who'd pushed for the practice discovered it didn't work.
Many went to small, themed high schools that, in a signature Bloomberg policy, were crafted to replace large “failing” high schools. Their schooling was overseen first by district superintendents, then by regional administrators, then by “school support organizations” and finally by a set of networks—the administrative infrastructure that accompanied Klein's near-continuous revampings of the school system.
No group of students has been shaped as directly by Bloomberg's time in office.
Over the current academic year, City Limits will follow a few members of the class of 2013, from different kinds of schools in different neighborhoods, to see how this group of young people navigates the final hurdles of their public school careers, and to look back with them on how a mayor's reform agenda looked from a student's desk. Meet the Class of 2013: Bloomberg's Babies, nearly all grown up–and some, at least, going off to college and launching their lives.
A second start
Shane Thompson is a 17-year-old senior at the High School for Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow, on the Wingate Campus in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.