Open the process of selecting our next school leaders

12/13/2013, 1:38 p.m.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is more committed to inclusive democratic processes and a broader concept of education than outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been.

Nowhere is such commitment as needed than in the selection of our next school leadership—the chancellor and Panel for Education Policy (PEP). Their decisions will directly affect millions of students and parents and will profoundly impact the quality of life for our entire city.

The direction for education policy during the coming years is in need of substantive assessment and discussion. Polls of the primary constituencies—public school students, parents, teachers and principals—reveal great disagreement with much of what has been done in the past 12 years. Simultaneously, the basis for decisions during this period is being seriously challenged by education scholars, such as former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who has termed it the “Reign of Error,” because of its wrongful diagnoses of the causes of inadequate student performance and the incorrect prescription for fostering improvement. Others, including the nationally renowned Linda Darling-Hammond and Richard Rothstein, also speak of the need for a more comprehensive approach, one that expands on the principles of the unfulfilled 20-year Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

Such constituencies and scholars should be involved in the process of helping to choose those who will determine the direction of education policy during the next administration. We call for establishment of a mayoral-appointed search committee as part of the transition team that will solicit public discourse and advise on the following: the vision that is to undergird our school system; the job qualifications desired in the Panel for Educational Policy and Board of Education that will establish policies to fulfill that vision and a chancellor to help shape and execute those policies; and potential candidates who can implement that vision.

This search committee should thoroughly and vigorously engage for the next three months to delineate the principles for the conduct of the school system and to identify the best personnel to embody those principles. During this period, interim appointees made by the mayor for the positions of chancellor and PEP representatives would work to revoke the egregious “midnight” decisions of the past few months, especially regarding school closings and colocations, in order to allow their successors to define a new direction for the schools of our city. New York is home to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced urban educators and parent advocates anywhere. They should be prominently represented in the search committee and/or be asked to serve in the positions that will enact the vision they recommend.

By conducting appointments in this way, Mayor-elect de Blasio would demonstrate commitment to democratic procedures that are respectful of those who provided the overwhelming mandate for progressive change that he has just received.

  • Esmeralda Simmons—Former New York City school board member
  • Luis Reyes—Former New York City school board member
  • Dr. Donald H. Smith—Former chair, the New York City Board of Education's Commission on Students of African Descent
  • Josh Karan—Former president, District 6 Community Education Council
  • Sam Anderson—Retired professor of mathematics and Black history
  • Ellen Raider—Independent Commission on Public Education