President's perspective

Time for a truth commission

Below is an excerpted version of my prepared remarks for the Spring Education Conference on May 11.

One consequence of the lack of checks and balances on Mayor Bloomberg’s power over our schools is that we, the public, are constantly stymied when it comes to obtaining the facts. When this administration wants to impose a new policy on our schools — or score a political point — they just make the numbers fit and spin, spin, spin. But denying the public the truth, especially when it comes to our children, only serves to make us all angry — and, believe me, we are all very angry. We must find a way to put aside that anger and frustration.

The best way is to give the public the truth about how Tweed justifies the destructive step of shutting down a school. Is the decision based on facts, politics or pure ignorance?

The public needs to know the truth about co-location. They need to know how so many schools have fallen into disrepair. They need to know how so many high-needs children have unfathomably landed in a small number of schools.

So let me propose an idea. Let’s create a Truth Commission, a panel of independent experts, retired educators, parents and members of the public to obtain the facts and get those facts out to the public.

This would be the best way for the public to regain its confidence in the Department of Education. If we don’t do this, we’ll continue to be embroiled in controversy for years to come.

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Is there anyone here today who honestly believes that this form of mayoral control has worked?

We wanted mayoral responsibility. We got mayoral dictatorship.

That’s why we’ve proposed a thoughtful package of school governance reforms: Reform the Panel for Educational Policy so that no single individual can control it. Return to high school and community superintendents the power and independence they need to advocate for the interests of their schools. Give community education councils final say on all school co-locations in their districts. Make it a basic requirement that the next administration select a chancellor who is a qualified professional educator. No more waivers.

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The next administration must also develop a rational plan to reorganize our school system — including DOE Central: the Tweed Courthouse — or, as I like to call it, the Frankenstein Castle. The first order of business must be to take on the useless Division of Law and Accountability, a self-perpetuating, self-justifying bureaucratic swamp from which flows an endless stream of forms and reports that teachers spend untold hours completing at the expense of teaching children.

It’s time to drain the swamp.

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The new administration can take some steps from day one, such as expanding the community schools model. We’re using this model right now in six city schools, helping them to become community hubs that will raise academic quality while providing for the health and social needs of children, families and neighborhoods. I’m pleased to announce today that we’re providing a new round of grants so that the number of community schools will grow to 15 over the coming year.

Another major challenge for the next administration is the DOE’s absurd policy on standardized testing. It undermines what we stand for as a city when the decision on whether to admit a child to a gifted and talented program, a specialized high school or another type of school is based solely on a single standardized test. Changing this policy must be a top priority for the next administration.

And, let me say this to any new administration: Teacher evaluations must be about what happens in the classroom. We’ve got to put an end to the gotcha system promoted by this mayor.

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One other thing you should know is that when this union says we’re going to do something, we do it. Everything we said we’d do a year ago — bringing the Community Learning Schools model to New York, partnering with Apple on how to use iPads and other technologies to enhance classroom instruction, creating an anti-bullying program and hotline — we did.

Now, because of our union and the voices of so many of you, we have sparked a full-fledged debate about why it is crucial for teachers to have a curriculum in order to do their jobs effectively. Even though it’s not our responsibility to do so, it is our goal that by September of 2014, we will have a curriculum available for every teacher in our system. We simply can’t wait any longer. We’ve also put together teams of volunteer teachers to design lesson plans to go along with those curricula, which will be available on the Share My Lesson website — another initiative we promised a year ago.

All of this work will be designed by teachers for teachers — not by Pearson for their pocketbooks.

The public needs to understand that it’s time to give you, the educators, the tools you need.

Watch the full speech >>

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