City Limits asked readers and members of the city’s education community to fill out a survey about the policy, which is set to expire at the end of June. We heard from nearly 90 respondents, including dozens of current and former parents, educators and advocates. Here’s what we found.
Mayor Eric Adams visited Albany last week in a bid to convince state legislators to renew the current term of mayoral control of New York City’s school system.
The policy–which has been in place for the last 20 years, and gives the mayor the power to appoint most members of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, as well as hire and fire the schools chancellor–will expire at the end of June. State legislators have just a few days left in their current session to act on it.
As Adams asks the legislature for four more years of what he prefers to call “mayoral accountability,” many stakeholders in the education community say they have issues with mayoral control, according to an informal survey about the policy that City Limits asked readers to fill out over the last several weeks. Here’s what we’ve heard from respondents so far.
The vast majority of respondents indicated that they were opposed to an extension of mayoral control. Of the 88 people who opted to complete the survey as of last Wednesday (May 18), 87.5 percent, or 77 people, responded “no” when we asked if state legislators should extend the current policy. The 11 others responded “yes,” indicating they were in favor of an extension.
The survey was distributed on social media, in our weekly newsletter and in this call-out on our website. The “yes” or “no” question about an extension was the only required question in the survey, but others were included encouraging respondents to describe their relationship to the New York City education community and to explain the reasoning behind their opinion on mayoral control.
The 88 respondents included dozens of current and former parents and grandparents, 11 current or former Community Education Council members, 16 people who identified themselves current educators or DOE employees, as well as advocates, a social worker, a school nurse and an occupational therapist, among others.
In an interview with City Limits earlier this month, State Sen. John Liu, chair of the Standing Committee on Education, said the legislature will probably end up amending mayoral control to maintain “accountability” while increasing parental engagement. (The current policy, established two decades ago, replaced a previous arrangement where decisions fell to a seven-member Board of Education, with input from 32 elected school district boards—a system Mayor Adams has described as rife with “patronage, corruption, infighting, failing our students.”)
“It’s unlikely that we’re going to simply allow the law to expire without any action, because that would bring us back to the pre-2002 system. Nor is it likely that we’re going to do what the mayor and the governor wants, which is a four year extension with no changes,” Liu said. “I expect the solution to be one that allows the mayor to retain control and therefore be held accountable by the public, by parents, by legislators and at the same time, provides a stronger, more meaningful mechanism by which parents can inject their input and have responsiveness from the Department of Education.”
Liu says the legislature’s decision will be based on community feedback.
“We’ve listened to all forms of communication, whether it be by email, or by telephone,” Liu said. “I have had people drop in, we’ve had organizations meet with me in person as well as by Zoom. And we try to keep up with the social media communications, although that’s not a perfect way to do things. But we’re listening.”
Here is what our survey respondents said about the issue in the optional short response section.
In favor of an extension
One educator responded that they favor an extension of mayoral control because of Adams’ new, phonics-based approach to teaching reading. That initiative, unveiled earlier this month, will for the first time screen all city students for dyslexia—a learning disability the mayor dealt with himself as a student. “We are going to do things differently,” Adams said in announcing the new plan. “This is our opportunity to really move the needle on something that has been impactful for our children for a long time.”
The respondent said they think Adams is off to a good start, and should be given a chance to lead the system—the same argument the mayor himself has made.
“I need mayoral accountability to continue the work that we have done in the last few months, and I think there’s an appetite to give us the mayoral accountability that we need,” Adams said in a press briefing last week.
Two other respondents in favor of continuing the current system said they think centralized leadership is necessary for efficient decisions to be made in the nation’s largest school system. Others said they want Adams to remain in charge for the sake of consistency, as students are struggling to recover from over two years of disrupted learning due to the pandemic.
Two said they favor mayoral control, because without it, New York City schools may not have fully reopened for in-person instruction this year. Others said they favor the policy because it allows them to hold the mayor accountable.
The most common theme for why people answered “yes” was because they said it is better than any alternatives they were aware of.
Respondents opposed to an extension mentioned a couple of common themes. Some said they were opposed to mayoral control because they feel it is undemocratic, and that one person should not have executive authority over a system as large as the Department of Education.
Respondents also mentioned the diverse needs in different neighborhoods and school districts across the city, which they suggested requires more ground-level leadership. This was the most commonly shared reason for those opposed, who said the system does not allow for the education community to adequately participate in school policy decisions.
Some said they believe mayoral control is a racist policy since more white, affluent school districts have democratically-elected school boards, while mayoral control has been used to take away community control in predominantly Black and brown school districts like New York and Chicago.
Others referenced what they considered negative results of mayoral control for the last two decades, like the expansion of charter schools and the focus on standardized testing. Some said they feel the policy results in an education system that is “too political,” and where consequential decisions are made too suddenly.
Some respondents said they’re opposed to mayoral control because they think the mayor –– who has no education experience –– is not qualified to lead the education system. They said educators, families and students should be the ones with decision-making power.
When it came to suggested alternatives, some respondents suggested returning to the community school board model that was in place prior to 2002. Others suggested extending mayoral control for a minimum amount of time –– like one year –– with the purpose of preparing a viable alternative when that short extension expires. These folks said they hope the legislature commissions a task force to evaluate mayoral control and create a new system.
The state legislature has until the end of June until the current policy expires, though lawmakers are expected to wrap up the current legislative session in just a week.
In a policy paper released last week, education experts with the New York Civil Liberties Union proposed reforming the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on major educational decisions; the majority of the panel’s members are appointed by the mayor.
The NYCLU suggested allowing other elected officials, like the city’s public advocate and comptroller, to appoint their own PEP members, and said that a majority of the seats “should be reserved for people with demonstrated ties to public schools, like current or retired educators, public school parents, staff, and recent graduates.”
“The flaws of our mayoral control system have been widely understood for two decades. We don’t have to keep ignoring them,” the report reads.