Tip O’Neill guaranteed himself political immortality when he said that all politics is local Not seeking immortality, we could take that phrase another step and offer the idea that when dealing with community/public policy problems of every kind “All solutions are political.”
To illustrate our meaning, let’s look at the national problem of education. Every attempt to deal with the failure of our public school system through changes in school leadership, school structure, changing classroom methodologies or curriculum etc. has failed or is failing. The problems are so bad that they seem to defy solution. But the reality is that none of the solutions offered have been political in nature. They have not involved the right people in the right way to make changes that work.
In New York City where no one solves any problem unless a political solution is found, the Mayor now says that he can do nothing about education unless he can select each member of the Board of Education. This positioning comes after he first tried a non-political “substantive reform” by selecting a career school superintendent as Chancellor, and giving that selection his total support. Disappointingly, his choice could ‘talk the talk’ beautifully but couldn’t do the job. Now, saying that the system is unworkable and a total failure, he talks about a political solution knowing that the New York State Legislature is the only body with the power to change the way a city’s Board of Education is selected.
Although he’ll clearly be involved in the selection of a new chancellor, the Mayor’s decision and his ‘lame duck’ status as a potential candidate for another office, essentially leaves the problems of education to the next Mayor. The teacher’s union response is to invite the Mayor to the table to work on the problems together – an invitation made after the Mayor’s ‘withdrawal’.
All of the above is about “playing politics” and not about finding political solutions.
Established 55 years ago by labor leaders and educators, the Liberal Party launched this administration and continues to admire its dedication, ability and work ethic. We feel an obligation to offer an entirely new demonstration model on education – and believe that it is a political solution that will work.
The continuing turmoil over education in New York has little to do with the selection of a Board of Education. We live in a continuing era of ‘strong Mayors’ who select and dispose of Chancellors of Education. Like it or not, consulted or not, the consent of the Board of Education follows. Additionally, voluntary Boards set policy on the recommendations of a chancellor and professional staff. As those genuinely familiar with education in New York and nationally know, the system at the classroom level is at fault. Unless the system changes at that level it doesn’t really matter how a voluntary Board of Education is selected or who the next superintendent or chancellor is, unless that person knows how to change the system.
And so a ‘strong Mayor’ is free to act, free to negotiate, free to end the intolerable waste of young lives and free to fix a broken system with big thinking.
Here are the steps we’d like such a strong Mayor to consider:
1. Seek a chancellor who is not a career superintendent caught in the job game of musical chairs and the revolving door of failure;
2. Hire an educator who understands and knows what to do about the fact that our schools are failing because teachers do not know how to teach today’s children;
3. Make New York teachers the highest paid teachers in the nation in return for the following union-instituted changes:
- a newly developed salary scale which rewards the “best” teachers first
- a reassignment of the “best” teachers to the most needy classrooms
4. Have the Mayor-union collaboration inform the area’s universities and colleges that the city will not hire the graduates of their schools or departments of education unless those graduates are properly prepared to teach.
5. Provide the most comprehensive, system-wide postgraduate program of professional development ever offered to in-service teachers. Lengthen the school year for teachers so that they have the time to fully participate in that program and absorb all the instruction they need.