Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Peter in Wonderland

Peter Vallone Jr. took to the pages of the NY Post yesterday and argued that the current mayoral control governance system over the city's schools-along with the crack oversight of the city council-was working just great, and he uses the old dysfunctional Board of Ed as a straw man: "When the defunct Board of Education controlled city schools, making a criticism was like throwing sand in the wind. Unaccountable panels of functionaries made decisions in a byzantine process. Everyone was in charge, many were to blame, but no one was accountable. The council can often be a harsh critic of the administration, but this system of oversight works much better than the old contrary relationship between the mayor and the board-appointed chancellor. That system made for high drama and good headlines but little improvement. Students and their problems were ignored."

Now, however, the buck stops at the mayor's feet: "I HAVEN'T always agreed with Mayor Bloomberg on education matters, but it's good to know he's in charge of them - at least I know where the buck stops. As a member of the City Council's Education Committee, which oversees the Department of Education, I can't overstate the importance of this fact. Even when you get stonewalled, the wall lets you know you're facing in the right direction. With work, you can chip away or knock it down."

Of course, Peter doesn't point out how the mayor's lack of transparency, the information hoarding and the no bid contracting, has generally made oversight into a pro forma exercise around a few highly charged but marginal issues such as cell phone use. Much of the end running that goes on seems to be operating efficiently-that is, it's made an end run around Vallone's consciousness.

So we read this morning the following from the NY Sun: "State school officials are asking the city's Department of Education to explain how it failed to reach its own goal of reducing class sizes by using a new influx of state money. State officials said 54% of city schools saw either class sizes or their student-teacher ratios increase in the last school years, despite a $106 million plan the department unveiled last year to reduce class sizes in high-need schools."

And this from the NY Post: "The number of teachers without classroom assignments at the start of the school year - but receiving full pay - jumped by more than 13 percent since last year, according to new data. The pool of teachers known as the Absent Teacher Reserve - which grew from 1,220 teachers last year to 1,395 this year - has grown annually since a 2005 teachers' contract amendment gave principals more say over hiring decisions."

But at least we can hold hearings on this, and get what? Misdirection and obfuscation; but we can feel better knowing exactly where the stonewall lies. Seriously, the current system does offer a number of improvements over the old structure, but we can do without panegyrics from our elected officials=folks who need to exercise better skepticism in these kinds of matters.