Monday, September 08, 2008

Educational Flaws and Political Ceilings

Betsy Gotbaum has come in for her share of ridicule in her role as Public Advocate, but the work of her commission on educational governance doesn't deserve any similar opprobrium. This view is highlighted in last week's Andy Wolf column in the NY Sun: "The panel does recommend some useful reform here, and the legislature should take heed. There is a recommendation that the city comptroller be given full audit power over the Department of Education, something he does not now have. A quirk in the law that fails to properly define exactly who can oversee this huge expenditure of public funds, has left the department largely to its own devices and has led to a vast increase in expensive no-bid contracts."

What does deserve ridicule, however, is the mayor's efforts to bogart opponents of his one man rule. As Wolf points out: "So adamant is the mayor about the governance issue that he convened a meeting of about 100 supporters from the non-profit and philanthropic communities earlier this week to unveil a $20-million dollar initiative to "sell" the public on continuing unfettered mayoral control." But Wolf is right-educational success, if it is indeed present, doesn't need a multi-million dollar PR campaign to insure its perpetuation.

And the cold facts here are revealed by the results of the NAEP tests-national exams that are generally, unlike the state derivatives, 100 proof: "If the mayor's "success" with education was unequivocal, there would be no need to supplement publicly-funded public relations efforts with this privately-funded campaign. But the "proof" of his results is largely based on New York State standardized testing which has been criticized as inflated when compared with national benchmarks such as NAEP and the SAT." Not to mention, the remediation industry known as the city's community colleges."

The crying need for checks on mayoral excess relates to the self serving aspect of the entire governance system: "Moreover, the panel suggests "the need for an independent source of data concerning the performance of the school system," noting that "the finding is a pragmatic recognition of the fact that a public official who runs for office on the basis of his or her past performance has built-in institutional incentive to present things in the best possible light." They propose that the Independent Budget Office be given oversight over school performance."

Which brings us to Wolf more ominous suggestion of the linkage between the mayoral control issue and the mayor's dalliance with extending term limits: "Which brings us to the term limits question. The zeal to preserve the current system of mayoral control suggests the mayor is indeed prepared to ignore the twice-expressed will of the public and join with the Council in overturning the current two-term limitation."

We're not sure about the correlation between the two issues, but perhaps they are both linked to the mayor's natural hubris. In any case, Wolf is right: "The just and appropriate response here would be yet a third referendum on the matter, a better place for the mayor and his friends to invest their $20-million to influence the public. If the mayor leaves, the city will go on, as it did after the departure of such celebrated mayors as LaGuardia, Koch, and Giuliani."

Indeed, it is time to end the "L'√Čtat, c'est moi" regime of the Bloombergistas. If Gloria Gaynor could survive, so can we all.