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Mayor Bloomberg under fire for choice of N.Y. schools chancellor

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's pick to oversee New York's public schools lacks education experience. The ensuing firestorm has revived debate over whether mayoral control is a remedy for ailing schools.

December 07, 2010|By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times

After winning reelection to a third term last year, Bloomberg touted a "historic" surge in student scores on state tests, crediting his ambitious overhaul. But in August, the state Department of Education revealed those scores had been significantly inflated by state officials, who had also made the tests so easy that students could pass some parts simply by picking random answers on multiple-choice questions. At a Bronx elementary school, the recalibration prompted a literal flipping of results — from 81% of third-graders meeting math standards to 18%.

Though few parents pine for the days when they had to navigate 32 district bureaucracies, polls show that many New Yorkers are not quite comfortable with one man and his minions holding so much power.

Ernest A. Logan, president of the principals union, said he, like most New Yorkers, agreed the mayor should run the system, but had in mind a more collaborative model. Although Logan praised Klein for his "honesty and accessibility," he said educators were frustrated that for all the chaos and accountability demands, New York students — particularly blacks and Latinos, who dominate the system — have not made greater strides.

"They had money and resources," Logan said, noting that the budget has climbed about $1 billion a year during the Bloomberg years. "I would have thought we'd have been much better at closing the gap."

But Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City Council member now running a charter school company, said the mayor couldn't be expected to fix everything, and praised him for taking on the challenge and enabling transparency. She noted that parents now can go online to find out everything about local schools, from test scores to the arts budget.

"When you judge the mayor and mayoral control you have to understand this is a beast of a system," said Moskowitz, who has talked of running for mayor someday. "It's like running a small country."

During the three years left in Bloomberg's term, Black will face many thorny problems, including the achievement gap between minority and white students, and the reality that two-thirds of pupils read below grade level in one out of every four schools. The teachers union contract has also expired.

Although Black lacks experience in education, one of her strong suits is said to be as a listener.

"Even if she pretends to listen, that'll be an improvement," said Marilyn Katz, a Bronx parent who attended an emotionally charged rally Thursday night on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse protesting Black's appointment. "I just can't believe Bloomberg couldn't find somebody, anybody, who'd spent time in a public school to run the place."

Her critics also note that like Klein and Bloomberg, Black sent her children to private schools and lives on the tony Upper East Side. Of course, none of that matters because Bloomberg has made up his mind. She is his choice.

"There will be one person in charge," Bloomberg said shortly after she won state approval. "Make no mistake about that."

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