Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mayor Runs on Schools, but Verdict Is Still Out

2% of our nation's children are in NYC public schools, so it's pretty important how the system is doing.  I generally give Bloomberg good marks for caring, mostly trying to do the right thing, and acting with urgency.  Given the enormity of the problem, I'm willing to forgive some execution mistakes -- I'd rather have speed than perfection.
This sums it up:

"To not have stability in the system, to start all over would be terrible," said Eva S. Moskowitz, the chairwoman of the City Council Education Committee and a persistent critic of the mayor's policies who nonetheless endorsed him.

Even critics admit that Mr. Bloomberg has had an impact on the schools that his recent predecessors at City Hall could hardly have envisioned. He and his chancellor, Joel I. Klein, have left virtually no part of the system untouched.

They dismantled the central bureaucracy and the 32 local school districts. They sold 110 Livingston Street and moved the headquarters to the Tweed Courthouse behind City Hall, allowing officials to trot back and forth.

They adopted uniform reading and math programs for most schools, imposed strict promotion rules tied to test scores in third, fifth and seventh grades, created an enhanced summer school and Saturday tutoring sessions for failing students.

They hired more than 1,000 parent coordinators and gave each one a cellphone. They opened more than 150 small high schools to replace the unruly behemoths that were failing at an alarming level with four-year graduation rates as low as 23 percent.

They assigned literacy and math coaches to train teachers in most schools. They welcomed charter-school operators, opening about two dozen of the privately operated, publicly financed schools. They created a principal-training academy financed by $75 million in private donations, and they began major projects for special-education students and non-English speakers. And, moving so rapidly, school officials admit, they made mistakes at every turn.

The discipline process broke down, allowing violent students to return to class unpunished and prompting a remarkable mea culpa from the mayor. The new small schools worsened crowding in big schools and brought fights over space and resources.

The special-education system, long dysfunctional, became even more chaotic and confusing. At one point, dozens of sites used by dropouts to prepare for equivalency degrees were closed without notice, leaving students already at risk with nowhere to turn.

"This," Ms. Moskowitz said, "was the gang that couldn't shoot straight."

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