We are both proud members of the New York state Assembly, representing districts in the Bronx and Brooklyn. We are also all former teachers. We don’t agree on every issue, but on this one we couldn’t agree more. For our students, our educators and the New York City, we need to pass a multi-year extension of mayoral control of our schools.
It’s been more than a decade since we handed control of the city’s schools back to City Hall and the results are clear. We have seen an era of sustained progress in the largest school system in the nation. Our conclusion: Stability works. Leadership works. A long-range strategy works. We are moving forward and we cannot afford to move back.
The past three years provide ample evidence that the current system is working. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s leadership, we have seen profound improvements. We have added a new grade to the system – as we write this 70,000 four-year-olds are getting an important head start on their lives, while their parents save money on daycare and gain the time to work or pursue their own education.
Appointing an educator to head the department has led to improvements in making sure every child, in every zip code, has a school that can help them succeed. We are seeing improvements throughout the system, from endeavoring to bring every third grader to reading on level, to Algebra for every middle school student, to AP for every high school and more.
Test scores are rising in every borough, in every district and among every demographic. More students than ever before are taking and passing Advanced Placement exams. Graduation rates are continuing to rise and black and Latino students are making greater gains than ever before.
Those kinds of reforms and improvements simply wouldn’t be achievable without the leadership of a strong, elected executive. The mayor can create a sustained strategy, assemble vast resources using the power of the purse, and is directly responsible to voters for achieving results.
Handing control of the system to community school boards sounded like a good idea over 40 years ago, but it proved to be a failure. It was designed to make the system more responsive, but parents didn’t know whom to hold accountable. The hope was that local leadership would be careful with resources. Instead, there was significant mismanagement and zero continuity.
We remember; we were there. Assemblyman Benedetto spent three decades as a public school teacher. Assemblywoman Bichotte taught math in public schools.
We don’t pretend mayoral control is an answer in and of itself. The mayor has to exercise his or her control and produce results. But therein lies the point: If a mayor does a bad job with schools, parents and teachers and communities will see it and they will take their concerns straight to City Hall and more importantly, to the ballot box. Let’s face it, you can’t fool parents.
We have all been teachers and we have learned a powerful lesson. When it comes to the largest, most complicated school system in the country, we need mayoral control. Let’s pass a multi-year extension as soon as possible.
Michael Benedetto and Rodneyse Bichotte are members of the New York state Assembly.