What happens when the mayor is unable to fully exercise mayoral control of schools? The answer is what happened last week, when the Panel for Educational Policy turned down a policy of Mayor de Blasio’s — and, in so doing, crushed the hopes of thousands of the city’s most driven students.
Due to a lack of leadership and bureaucratic bungling, the city is unable to render this year’s test for students to get into the Gifted & Talented program. The PEP, in an 8-7 vote, denied granting a contract for the test. About 15,000 families who wanted to apply for the G&T program were left in the lurch by the move.
The PEP is not the City Council, a separate, elected branch of government designed to have an adversarial relationship with the executive. It’s meant to be a vehicle by which the mayor exercises his leadership of the school system. But in this case a majority of the members went rogue, turning a routine matter into a means to advance their own beliefs, contrary to what the officials who appointed them wanted. According to the Daily News, the mayor himself pressed the members to vote yes, while the bureaucracy offered one last-minute compromise after another. All that failed.
The move followed sustained criticism from some activists and parents over the exam, which is seen as yet another discriminatory device that mainly helps white and Asian students excel while leaving black and Latino kids behind. As with screenings for top-quality schools that are in demand and the Specialized High School Admissions Test in particular, the G&T exam must be removed in the name of equity, according to the school of thought predominant among our elected officials and intelligentsia today. De Blasio subscribes to the idea, and so does Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. So while the mayor said he wanted to offer the test one more time, his heart was never in it.
Asked by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer for his reaction to the PEP vote, de Blasio gave a wishy-washy answer that avoided any criticism of the panel or any recognition that his administration had come up short. He promised that families who want gifted education for their children “will have an opportunity to apply for those programs this year. We’ll work on the right methodology and we’ll announce it soon.” But talk is cheap, and de Blasio has made many predictions and promises that did not come to pass. What’s next for the G&T program is hard to say. We feel for those families working so hard to get the best for their kids.
The PEP cannot be allowed to morph into an unelected, pseudo-Board of Education if mayoral control of schools is to have any meaning. If last week’s vote starts any kind of trend, the state will have to rethink how city schools are governed yet again.