November 10, 2007


The great experiment: Bringing accountability and competition to New York City's struggling schools (The Economist, 11/08/07)

On November 5th, the mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, announced what is in effect the final piece in their grand plan to charterise the entire city school system. As charter schools remain politically contentious, though, they have been careful not to use that phrase in public. [...]

Even New York's previous reforming mayor, Rudy Giuliani, failed to improve the city's disastrous schools, despite several attempts. When he ran for election in 2001, Mr Bloomberg said the school system was “in a state of emergency”. The graduation rate in 2002 was alarmingly low, 51% of students compared to a national average of 70%. Most New Yorkers thought the system impossible to fix.

To do something about this, Mr Bloomberg demanded, and got, the thing that Mr Giuliani had with the police but not with the schools: mayoral control. As soon as he had it, the new mayor promptly moved the schools headquarters from its sprawling building in Brooklyn to be next to the heart of his government in City Hall. He hired Mr Klein, and they set about changing things—initially by taking decision-making away from the patronage-heavy local school boards, and then by decentralising it to accountable principals, and by actively piloting experimental charter schools that could be models for others. A new “leadership academy” was created to train principals. Big schools with poor graduation rates were closed, and replaced with smaller ones, often several sharing the same building once occupied by a single big school.

Many of these innovations were paid for by wealthy philanthropists, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, Eli Broad from Los Angeles and sundry hedge-fund managers who have been cajoled into handing over millions of dollars at the annual Robin Hood Foundation auctions. Mr Klein says that this private source of funds was crucial in paying for experiments that might have involved huge political battles had they been paid for out of public funds. The hope is that in future, such reforms might be more widely supported.

Even before this week's reforms, progress has been sufficiently impressive that the Broad Foundation declared New York the most improved urban school district in the nation. Some $500,000 in Broad scholarships will be distributed to graduates. In 2002 less than 40% of students in grades three to eight (aged eight to 14) were reading and doing maths at their grade level. Today, 65% are at their grade levels in maths and over 50% in reading. Graduation rates are at their highest in decades. Last year the city outperformed other New York state school districts with similar income levels in reading and maths at all grades. The gap between white and minority students has been narrowed.

Where was Rudy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 10, 2007 6:29 AM

I am not an education expert but something is all too obvious about the "experiment" which I find most interesting and no, it isn't OJ's silly slam at G.

It seems as though uber liberal Bloomberg has undertaken reform of the managerial aspect of running a modern public school and has some success to show for it.

The fact he has union support and has seemingly in no way addressed the seniority over merit plague brought on by the unions leads me to believe he will have limited success. But hey, its a start.

Posted by: Perry at November 10, 2007 8:39 AM

First things first. As a proud, laconic New Hampershireman, you should know that.

Posted by: ratbert at November 10, 2007 2:59 PM