The Politics of Education Leaves Out Parents

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are battling over the future of New York City’s school system.

Each is trying to prod the legislature into enacting a law favoring his approach to the financial crisis. Interestingly, as these two political titans clash, a group with the deepest concerns about education—the parents of one million school children---is virtually ignored.

It seems to be par for the course. The issue of education is politicized, as the big guys duke it out.

The immediate question is: how will teacher layoffs be handled?  Cuomo has just proposed a revamped process for evaluating teachers. It’s something state officials have been working on----but it’s not ready to be introduced yet. 

Under existing agreements with the teachers’ union, if the budget doesn’t allow for as many teacher positions as we presently have, the last hired will be the first fired. Bloomberg wants the Legislature to abolish that idea and give city administrators the power to evaluate teachers and decide who goes and who stays.

City education officials call the Cuomo approach “a sham” and “not a good faith effort.”The governor has not taken a position on the mayor’s bill but Bloomberg says “we need legislation that allows us to lay off teachers this year using merit.” Cuomo, his spokesman says, is now “aggressively pushing his own bill.” But the Governor’s office doesn’t expect that bill to be ready until the next school year.

A parent leader isn’t happy with the approach of either the mayor or the governor. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters says she agrees with Cuomo that “we need a better evaluation system for teachers.”

“But the main thing is we shouldn’t be rushed. And it’s important to realize that neither Albany nor City Hall is getting any input from the parents. If our governments took our kids seriously, they would consult with the parents. Too much of what’s going on seems to be for public relations value. There’s too little concern for the children.”

Haimson, a public school parent who has been pushing for smaller class size for many years, has the right idea. Instead of arguing the pros and cons of firing teachers, we should be concentrating on the needs of the children. Political posturing won’t help them.

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