Many parts of this city—from rezoned neighborhoods to green roofs, from smokeless bars to new stadiums—are going to bear Mayor Bloomberg's stamp for a long time. But no aspect of city life has seen the constant and intense focus the mayor devoted to the city's public school system, over which he secured control early in his tenure.
Having published tens of thousands of words about the mayor's initiatives, from affordable housing to anti-poverty efforts to counter-terrorism to rezoning, this might sound strange coming from City Limits, but some elements of the mayor's legacy can be reduced to fairly simple statements. Bloomberg made great strides to improve the public's health. He vastly improved environmental awareness and made the city greener. He oversaw a continued drop in crime that few of us expected—and approved the use of tactics that raised deep civil liberties issues and alienated some communities. He favored big business at every opportunity. He gave the private sector a much larger role in the public's business. And so on.
His impact on schools is a lot harder to reduce to a sound bite. It's a great irony for this data-driven and accountability obsessed mayor that it's difficult to size up how successful his most important work has been. That's in part because of the sheer number of changes he and his team have implemented, and also because New York's efforts have been part of a broader wave of national school reform. It's also unclear what yardstick we're supposed to use. If the schools got better, but are still not nearly good enough, is that a win, a loss or a draw? If our kids fall short of national standards, but do better than other cities, is that failure or success?
In an attempt to sort out those questions, we decided to revert to a medium that many of us associate with our own time as students—the filmstrip. We hope it's entertaining, but it's not meant to be flip. It's more a reflection of our feeling that, when it comes to sizing up all that's happened over the past decade, we're all a lot more like students than experts.
Take a look. Unlike when you were, say, a second grader in Mrs. Calendar's class at Holmes School, you don't need to advance the frame when you hear the “beep.” Just pretend someone else is.
The film ends with the grades we give the mayor for his handling of the schools. Some may feel the measures are too generous; others will say they're too harsh. We tried to use the same tough standards the mayor and his education advisers have applied to schools, teachers and kids.
Once you've watched the filmstrip, you can offer your own views here:
The people running to succeed Mayor Bloomberg have been pretty critical of his work; details of what they'd do differently can be harder to hear (we gather them here). None of them— if elected—will likely stake as much of their reputation as Bloomberg did on how one million children perform.
But thanks to Bloomberg's winning control of the schools, they'll be judged on that performance whether they like it or not. Hopefully the standards will be as tough for them.