Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sought during his three terms to make the city’s sprawling public-school system a showcase for get-tough policies such as closing schools deemed to be failing and using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.
Educators around the country are now watching this year’s race to succeed Bloomberg because several candidates say they would overturn those policies if elected.
“[New York City] is seen by many national school reformers as among the leaders in pursuing a particular set of reform strategies,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College at Columbia University.
With 1.1 million pupils and a $24-billion annual budget, New York City’s public-school system is the largest in the nation. And Bloomberg has left his mark on it.
Since winning mayoral control of schools from the state Legislature in 2002, Bloomberg has closed more than 140 struggling schools and replaced them with hundreds of new schools.
He raised teachers’ salaries but fought their union over merit pay for top teachers and the use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.
He trumpeted rising achievement on the statewide standardized tests, though those claims were called into question after 2010, when officials said scores had been inflated because the tests had become too easy to pass.
The candidates who attended the debate were all critical of the mayor’s education policies.
“It’s not the schools that have failed,” Comptroller John Liu said. “It’s the administration and the Department of Education who have failed these schools.”
None of the Republicans attended the debate; most of the criticism came from Democrats.
At least seven candidates said they would lift a ban on cellphones in schools, which Bloomberg has insisted he won’t do.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is leading in the polls but did not attend the debate, has steered for the middle ground. She told a UFT conference that the next person to head the school system should not necessarily be an educator, drawing boos.
Leaders of the education reform movement that sees New York under Bloomberg as a model are watching warily to see if a new mayor is less interested, say, in promoting charter schools or in fighting the union.
Andy Smarick, who wrote a book championing charter schools and vouchers, said candidates are just being “bombastic.” “I’m not at all convinced that their governing will match their rhetoric,” he said.