From arguing that mayoral control of the public school system has failed to slamming the city for closing institutions like Jamaica High, legislators from all corners of the borough were quick to criticize Mayor Bloomberg’s educational policies at the Queens High School Presidents Council’s inaugural legislative breakfast last week.
“The system is broken; we know this,” Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said at last Friday’s gathering at the council’s headquarters in Flushing. “The system is broken; what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do to plan for the end of mayoral control? It’s locked out parents; it’s locked out teachers; it’s locked out students; it’s locked out legislators.”
The state Legislature gave Bloomberg control of the public schools in 2002, allowing him to oversee the city’s 1.1 million students in an effort to root out corruption that the mayor and other legislators said had been sewn into a system dominated by community school boards. However, since then many have became vehement critics of mayoral control, saying it has created a system in which concerns voiced by parents, teachers and legislators are routinely ignored.
“The mayor’s turned the education system into a political bully pulpit,” said Dermot Smyth, Queens’ political action coordinator for the United Federation of Teachers.
State legislators again voted in 2009 to allow mayoral control to continue, which will sunset in 2015 if the Legislature does not again approve it.
Questions such as Comrie’s were why members of the Queens High School Presidents Council, which represents the borough’s 78 high schools, said they held the breakfast that was attended by numerous legislators, as well as parents and other civic leaders.
Council President David Solano said the information discussed during the breakfast was meant to not only spur dialogue among legislators, but to prompt parents to “go back to your schools and have a pulse on what’s going on.”
During the program, Solano and past President Jane Reiff gave a presentation titled, “Why children and schools are not college ready.” Reiff and Solano argued that the city has focused on increasing test scores by students not performing well while ignoring top-scoring pupils.
“School progress reports are based all on the tests; it’s all about the tests, again,” said Reiff, who emphasized that there has been a significant decline in once high-achieving science programs in some of the borough’s best high schools. For example, she noted that Cardozo High School in Bayside made 47 submissions to the prestigious Intel science contest between 1998 and 2001 but zero between 2008 and 2011.
“Our top achievers have stagnated and AP classes are tougher to offer without funds and support,” Reiff said.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), the ranking Democratic member on the Senate’s higher education committee, agreed that far too many of the city’s students are going on to college without being prepared for it.
“I am appalled that 75 percent of students at community colleges need remediation in one of three areas — reading, writing or math,” Stavisky said.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) agreed.
“The mayor and chancellor have tried to justify how good they’re doing,” Weprin said. “They’ve dumbed down the top and falsified the numbers to make it look like the bottom is going up … All they care about is if the students bubble in the right answer on standardized tests.”
A number of legislators addressed the city’s policy of closing large neighborhood schools and replacing them with smaller, boutique institutions.
“The Department of Education makes a decision to close a big school because they want to close big schools, and they back the statistics in to justify that,” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck). “That’s happening at not just Jamaica High School, but at schools across the city.”
Instead of shuttering institutions that have been educating students for more than a century, as Jamaica has, Weprin said the city should give more support to the schools once they’ve been targeted for improvement.
“If you get the resources you need early on, you can accomplish a lot more, Weprin said.
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said shuttering schools stresses surrounding institutions.
“Closing schools is not the answer,” Clark said. “You destabilize all the others that are doing well.”
Melissa Hubbard, a parent and member of the school leadership team at Humanities and the Arts High School in Cambria Heights, also said that co-locating schools within a building, which the city often does in the schools it closes, “does not work.”
“They pit one school against each other,” Hubbard said. “And kids can’t do after-school programs when they’re traveling two hours to get to school.”