Chancellor Walcott is right: we need to set a new tone to solve the problems confronting New York City’s public schools. For the past few months we’ve been distracted by issues that have prevented us from addressing the complex issues that truly affect the quality of education children in our city receive. We need a new tone and a new direction.
We’ve spent too much time debating whether or not we should layoff teachers based on seniority or on some measure of their ability, whether or not we have too many or not enough charter schools, and whether or not Cathie Black is qualified to lead the largest school system in the nation.
Chancellor Walcott has started out on the right foot. His messages to teachers have been constructive and conciliatory; he’s demonstrated that he is knowledgeable about the budget and he’s impressed members of the legislature with his command over the issues confronting the schools. He’s even made waffles for schoolchildren.
Now the hard work begins and the Chancellor will need more than a positive message. For all his strengths as a leader, Chancellor Klein left his predecessor a host of problems, and many of the key figures from his management team have departed. In his last year we learned that the huge gains in test scores that we thought had been achieved were not as impressive as originally reported. We also learned that 80% of public school graduates were required to take remedial courses when they enrolled at CUNY. The state of New York has identified 54 schools that must be transformed or turned around, and Mr. Klein left behind no strategy for providing meaningful help to these schools. The very fact that over 100 schools were closed under his leadership is the clearest evidence that many of the reforms that he and Mayor Bloomberg promoted were not effective in improving the schools needing the most help.
Under these circumstances Mr. Walcott cannot merely stay the course. He will need a new approach, one that will make it possible for Mayor Bloomberg to fulfill his promise to improve public education.
In the spirit of adopting a more constructive tone, here are a few friendly suggestions for the new Chancellor:
There is much more that can and should be done, but this is a good place to start. New York’s public schools don’t need a savior or a superman. We need a leader with the maturity and vision to draw on the talent and resources in this city to create the best urban school system in the nation. I hope Mr. Walcott can be that leader.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the school that Democracy Prep took over. Democracy Prep took over Harlem Day Charter School not Harlem Village Academy.