In 2013, community service and organizing groups, advocacy organizations, school reform proponents, civil rights groups, and teacher organizations launched a citywide effort to replace the Bloomberg administration’s market-based education policies with more progressive, equity-based reforms. The groups coalesced on several principles:
The effort to reverse the Bloomberg reforms should develop a progressive vision and platform to improve educational outcomes for all the city’s students, rather than simply condemn the past decade of failed reforms.
The coalition’s effort should avoid anointing one candidate. Since the coalition’s broad membership would inevitably back competing candidates, choosing a standard-bearer would risk splintering the effort.
The coalition should launch both a grassroots mobilization to generate an education vision and platform from neighborhoods across the city and a series of debates, forums, rallies, and demonstrations to influence all the candidates to adopt the vision and platform generated by the grassroots effort.
- The effort, if successful, would have clear national ramifications. Reversing the Bloomberg policies would send a clear message that market-based change had failed to transform the nation’s largest school system.
To implement these principles, the campaign, called PS 2013, formed two coalitions: A+NYC, made up of fifty community-based organizations, advocacy groups, school reform organizations, and civil rights institutions, and New Yorkers for Great Public Schools (NYGPS), some thirty-five community organizations, labor unions, and churches.
A+NYC mobilized a citywide public engagement effort of neighborhood-based workshops that sought participants’ visions of good classrooms, good schools, and a good school system. The coalition then converted a school bus into a mobile outreach van and a portable voting booth which visited neighborhoods throughout the city. NYGPS mounted a mobilization strategy to insert critical issues – ending school closings, reducing suspensions, increasing state funding, de-emphasizing standardized testing – into the mayoral campaign, while pressing all the candidates to adopt the vision and platform emerging from the A+NYC effort.
From Vision to Victory
The mayoral campaign’s arc is now both history and legend. Bill de Blasio, the city’s Public Advocate, rose from an almost unknown contender to become the campaign’s front-runner, an ascent powered by his opposition to stop and frisk, his insistence on a wealth tax to fund universal citywide pre-kindergarten, his advocacy for afterschool programs and community schools, and most important, his vision of transcending “the tale of two cities” New York has become. Given the similarities between the A+NYC and NYGPS reform agendas and de Blasio’s education platform, it’s clear that the two groups’ efforts significantly influenced the new mayor’s education policies.
De Blasio’s First Hundred Days
On April 10, Mayor de Blasio completed his hundredth day in office. A+NYC’s work included a Roadmap with recommendations focused on the mayor’s first hundred days. How many of the Roadmap’s priorities has the new mayor engaged?
Mayor de Blasio focused enormous energy on initiating universal pre-K, a core Roadmap recommendation, and secured most of the necessary funds through recent passage of the new state budget. (That budget also increased per pupil state funding.) He appointed a chancellor, Carmen Farina, committed to “collaboration, equity, excellence, and democratic participation,” as the Roadmap called for, and has begun building the infrastructure for a citywide expansion of community schools. Farina is developing citywide parent training initiatives and has “prioritized first-rate teacher and principal training,” key Roadmap recommendations.Farina has also focused on improving middle schools and supporting collaborative school exchanges, as well as ending the reliance on testing results for student promotion/retention decisions. She has pledged to improve arts education and staffing throughout the city. Chancellor Farina’s team is addressing the Roadmap’s recommendations for redesigning the accountability system and creating interventions to help struggling schools improve. But some key Roadmap areas still await action, such as the call for “reducing the use of suspensions, school-based summonses, and arrests” and cutting back on the New York Police Department’s role in schools.
The Mayor’s Big Challenges
The mayor has suffered some serious setbacks in pursuit of his education policies across his first hundred days. Neither Governor Andrew Cuomo nor the state legislature supported his proposal for a city wealth tax to finance his pre-K program, and both entities ignored his request to expand funding for citywide afterschool programs. The mayor’s efforts to increase equity within the charter school sector energized a fierce wave of opposition from charter school proponents, including much of the city’s Wall Street wealthy. This counter-attack, which the governor enthusiastically supported, resulted in legislation folded into the new state budget that prohibited charging rent to charters and required the city to provide free space for charters in city school buildings or pay for privately secured space.
The fierce attacks on de Blasio’s proposed charter school changes temporarily eclipsed the expansive vision of school improvement that helped propel him to mayoral victory. As the furor ebbs, the mayor needs to reassert his equity focus on improving the outcomes of the school system’s least well-served students. As de Blasio argued in an education speech at the city’s Riverside Cathedral, his administration needs to transform classroom and school instruction so that the huge numbers of city students who currently fall behind by third grade, languish in middle schools, drop out in high school, or graduate unready for college and careers can become successful students. Achieving this transformation, at scale, would make a key contribution to ending “the tale of two cities” in schooling outcomes that was a centerpiece of de Blasio’s successful mayoral campaign.
PS 2013 Education Roadmap
The Education Election: Community Organizing for a Progressive Education Agenda in the New York City 2013 Mayoral Campaign
Voices in Urban Education 39. Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2014).
Restoring Sanity to Student Promotion Decisions
by Norm Fruchter, Gotham Gazette (4/29/14).