Incremental Bill de Blasio vs. Transformative Eva Moskowitz: Coming to a Theater Near You?

This morning Chalkbeat reports on the rain-delayed rally run by Families for Excellent Schools and, more pivotally, the confrontation between those who believe that New York City public schools need incremental changes (as Mayor Bill de Blasio espouses) and those who think that the city school system needs transformative change (as FES espouses).

We see this conflict often in public education, whether we’re talking higher standards, harder assessments, school choice, teacher evaluations, seniority-based lay-offs. What are the risks and benefits to sweeping change? Do incremental changes “take” better in communities? How does one balance the psychic ease of small tweaks with the urgent needs of students currently receiving unsatisfactory education services?

As such, the dispute in NYC between Families for Excellent Schools and de Blasio’s administration is just another fractal in a recurring pattern.

The particulars: Chalkbeat reports that FES’s rally is “a potent weapon in the larger political battle the group is waging with the teachers union to influence education policy in the city and state. That battle has intensified as charter-school enrollment has grown to nearly 100,000 students and the city government under Mayor Bill de Blasio has cooled to the charter movement, which grew rapidly under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

The predictable tension of the annual rally (a cosmic chuckle that it was cancelled due to threat of lightning) has been heightened by several factors. One is Mayor de Blasio’s recently-released education plan that was criticized by the New York Times Editorial Board as “modest in scope,” lacking in detail, free of benchmarks and subject to “patronage boondoggle.” All in all, an affront to those who watch the chronic failure of the NYC public school system to properly educate its neediest children.

On the heels of de Blasio’s timid tweaks, FES released an ad that showed two schoolboys off to class: the white one on a trajectory to academic success and the black one on his way to academic failure, all by virtue of zip code and family wealth.

De Blasio called the ad “race-baiting” and demanded that FES pull it. Derrell Bradford of NYCAN responded:
Consider the facts. There are 478,000 minority and low-income kids in or queued for underperforming schools in New York City. These kids are more likely to get an ineffective teacher, a fact President Obama has crusaded against. Very specifically in the city’s Renewal Schools, where they need the most successful teachers, they are more than twice as likely to get struggling ones. These kids are more likely to have a teacher who expects less from them and as the City Council itself notes (but has done little more than issue an edict for the Department of Education to collect more data on it), they are vastly more likely to attend a segregated school. All of this even as integration is lauded as a key catalyst for minority student achievement.
In this example, De Blasio represents Team Increment and Bradford represents Team Transformative.

But, as always, it’s more complicated than any neat dichotomy; loose ends abound. UFT, an arm of Increment Cheer Leader AFT, is a big de Blasio donor.  De Blasio continues to box with Gov. Cuomo over the value of school choice while 43,000 NYC children sit on waiting lists. And a related string: word on the street is that Eva Moskowitz, former city councilwoman and founder of NYC’s most popular group of charter schools, Success Academy, is contemplating a challenge to de Blasio in the next mayoral election.

If Moskowitz runs, then us wonks will get to see a personification of American public education’s conundrum: Increment Man vs. Transformative Woman. Get out your popcorn.

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