New York’s departing mayor, Bill de Blasio, has spent eight years at loggerheads with law enforcement and school reformers. When he wasn’t siding with Black Lives Matter demonstrators at antipolice protests, the mayor was busy thwarting the expansion of high-performing charter schools, attacking gifted-and-talented middle-school programs and denouncing public high schools that admit students based on a standardized test score.
This was all done in the name of racial equity, but New Yorkers apparently have tired of wokeness-driven governance. Last month, voters opted to replace Mr. de Blasio with a former police officer,
who in turn has tapped education innovator David Banks to be the city’s next schools chancellor. Mr. Banks is a former teacher and principal who founded the six-school Eagle Academy network, which serves low-income black and Hispanic boys in New York City and Newark, N.J. Eagle Academy is a network of public schools that, like charter schools, operates mostly outside the strictures of the traditional public-school system, which Mr. Banks believes has long ill-served minority communities.
Unlike Mr. de Blasio, Mr. Banks has not called for dumbing down the admissions standards of the city’s elite public high schools to produce more racial balance. He wants to expand gifted-and-talented programs rather than phase them out. He is refreshingly outspoken about the city’s bloated and unaccountable school bureaucracy, which operates as though public education were, first and foremost, a jobs program for adults. That 65% of black and Hispanic students in New York never reach proficiency on standardized tests is “a betrayal” of those kids, he said last week, joking that “if everybody in the Department of Education went home and all the kids went to school, you could get those same results.” Or maybe he wasn’t joking.
The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s 800-pound public-education gorilla, did not endorse Mr. Adams in the Democratic primary.
the UFT’s president, was conspicuously absent from the news conference announcing Mr. Banks’s appointment. That chilly reception from the teachers union is one reason education reformers tell me they are cautiously optimistic about the Adams administration. One early test of the new mayor’s resolve will be how hard he fights to lift the cap on charter schools in the city, where no new ones can open even though more than 163,000 children are on waiting lists, according to the school-choice advocacy group StudentsFirstNY.
A related test will be whether Mr. Adams can find locations for any new charter schools that get approved. In New York, where space is at a premium, charter schools often seek to co-locate in buildings where traditional public schools are operating below capacity. Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor,
was a champion of charters and accelerated their expansion though this co-location process. One of the ways that Mr. de Blasio kept charter growth in check was by denying operators space in underused public-school buildings. A 2018 report by the Manhattan Institute noted that “in the last five years of the Bloomberg administration, 150 co-locations were approved, an average of 30 per year. In the first five years of the de Blasio administration, 59 co-locations were approved, an average of 12 per year.”
If there is a concern about Mr. Banks, it is his relative lack of managerial experience. New York’s school system is the nation’s largest, with 1,600 schools, 150,000 employees, a $38 billion budget and nearly one million students, two-thirds of whom are black and Hispanic. The pandemic has only added to the challenges. Over the past two years, Covid-related learning losses have widened the achievement gap between black and white students by a third. A new analysis from McKinsey & Co. finds that students in majority-black schools are now a full year behind their peers in majority-white schools.
The good news is that school choice has a proven record of narrowing these gaps. Low-income minority students attending such high-performing charter networks as Success Academy in New York City consistently outperform not only their counterparts at traditional public schools but also students in the state’s whitest and wealthiest suburban districts.
None of this is lost on prominent civic leaders who are eager to help Mr. Adams make good on his campaign rhetoric. Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire, has pledged to spend $750 million over five years to help expand the number of high-quality public charter schools. Two other philanthropists,
announced last month that they would provide the mayor-elect with paid media support to make his case for preserving gifted-and-talented programs in public schools. Voters weren’t the only ones waiting for Mr. de Blasio to get out of the way.
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