In New York A Tale of Two Democrats

As election week dawned on Monday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the Coalition School for Social Change in East Harlem to announce an exciting and expensive public school improvement plan for 94 of New York City’s struggling schools.

Chalkbeat NY reported: “Mayor Bill deBlasio announced a $150 million plan on Monday to flood more than 90 of the city’s lowest-ranked schools with supports for students and staffers…  De Blasio made clear that these 94 schools will face consequences if they do not meet certain targets.  Even as he rebuked the previous administration for ‘casually shuttering’ schools that were never given adequate assistance, de Blasio said the city will  ‘close any schools that don’t measure up’ after three years of intensive support.  ‘We will move heaven and earth to help them succeed… but we will not wait forever.'”

According to the NY Times, the program’s primary reform is wraparound social services to address the needs presented by children in poverty. Such schools with social services provided right in the school building are known as Community Schools.  Some schools will begin offering health, mental health and dental services.  Students will receive an additional hour of instruction, teachers will receive extra training, and schools will be encouraged to provide summer school. The program, envisioned for three years, will add $150 million for school support and improvement—$39 million in the first year and $111 million in the second year.  Funding for the third year is still being negotiated.

Chalkbeat NY describes the plan: “Following the so-called community schools model, the city will bring physical and mental health practitioners, guidance counselors, adult literacy teachers, and a host of other service providers into these schools.  They will also add an extra hour of tutoring to the school day and receive money for new after-school seats, summer programs, and more additional teacher training.”  Carmen Farina, the chancellor, is currently evaluating principals.  Teachers are to get added training, and new guidance counselors will be assigned later in this school year.  Each of the 94 targeted schools must develop its own improvement plan to be submitted to the chancellor this spring.

Compare the Democratic NYC mayor’s public school improvement plan to the attitude of New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat who has been running for re-election. Sounding like a mouthpiece for the (Milton) Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, last week Governor Cuomo—in a meeting with the editorial board of the New York Daily News—announced his plan for the public schools: “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies—and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.”  He said he plans to install “real performance measures with some competition, which is why I like charter schools.”  Then he attacked teachers: “The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations—I get it.  I feel exactly the opposite.”

Cuomo—who, according to the NY Times, in the past four years raised $45 million in campaign contributions (many from wealthy business interests and hedge fund managers associated with Democrats for Education Reform, the pro-charter PAC, and with Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools)—flooded the airwaves, led his Republican challenger throughout the campaign, and was in no danger of losing yesterday’s election.  We can expect to see a continuing battle between Cuomo—a believer in test-and-punish,  and de Blasio—a proponent of support-and-improve.  These two Democrats are diametrically opposed when it comes to public school policy.

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