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New York City has a form of education governance called mayoral control, initiated by billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002, in which the mayor appoints most of the school board members and selects the chancellor of the system. Bloomberg claimed at the time that he knew how to solve all the problems of education, and he appointed an attorney with no education experience (Joel Klein) as his chancellor. Klein brought in McKinsey and a host of business consultants to reorganize the school system repeatedly. On the one occasion in 2004 when the city’s school board voted to oppose a decision by the mayor (who wanted to end social promotion for third graders, an idea championed by Jeb Bush), he (and the borough president of Staten Island) fired three dissenting members of the panel on the spot.
‘‘This is what mayoral control is all about,” Mr. Bloomberg said last night. ”In the olden days, we had a board that was answerable to nobody. And the Legislature said it was just not working, and they gave the mayor control. Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much. They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things that I believe in.”
In light of the mayor’s control of education, it came as a shock when the city’s “Panel on Educational Policy” voted 8-7 to oppose the mayor’s plan to continue testing 4-year-olds for admission to the highly coveted “gifted and talented program.” Both the mayor and the chancellor admitted that the testing program was a terrible idea, but insisted that it should be given just one year more. A majority of the panel thought that it made no sense to do the wrong thing “just one more time.” Children in the gifted program get extra enrichment that should be available to all students.
In an extraordinary rebuke to Mayor Bill de Blasio, a New York City education panel early Thursday morning rejected a testing contract — halting, for now, the controversial practice of testing incoming kindergartners for admission to gifted programs.
With testing originally scheduled for this spring, it’s unclear how admissions to the city’s gifted and talented programs will move ahead.
The rejection was an unusual flex for a panel that has little formal authority, is mostly appointed by the mayor, and has acted largely as a rubber stamp for his education policies. Approval seemed like a forgone conclusion when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that the entrance test would continue for one more year. But that required the Panel for Educational Policy to approve an extension of the city’s contract with the company that provides the entrance exams, at a cost of $1.7 million.
Instead, the vote failed 8-7, despite City Hall’s intense lobbying behind the scenes and the appointment of a new panel member just a day earlier. The rejection came even after Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan appeared at the virtual meeting, promising future significant reforms to the gifted program. In the meantime, the city proposed several admissions tweaks aimed at creating more diversity for the incoming kindergarten class.
New York City is one of the only school districts in the nation that uses a test given to preschoolers to determine admission to elementary school gifted programs. Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have both criticized the exam, but intended to use it this year while pursuing long-term changes.
“This is a very challenging topic. As a pedagogue, as a principal, as a parent, I can say with certainty that there is a better way to serve our learners than a test given to 4-year-olds,” Carranza said at Wednesday’s meeting. “That’s why we want this to be the last year this test is administered.”