NEW YORK—Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott may not be running New York City’s public school system on January 1, 2014, when the next mayor takes office, but that doesn’t mean he does not care about its future.
Thus far, Walcott has been unimpressed with the Democratic mayoral candidates, issuing a critical speech in late May chiding them for wanting to reverse the work done under the Bloomberg administration.
At the time, his speech drew the ire of some of the candidates, and he did not respond. Tuesday, at a Manhattan Institute policy breakfast, Walcott finally answered, giving guidelines he feels the next mayor must heed in order to build on the successes the Bloomberg administration has seen in the past 12 years.
Walcott, who has two grandsons in the district, took no personal shots at candidates, but took the opportunity to underline the importance of education policy for the next mayor.
“The economic health and prosperity of our city is dependent on the strength of our New York City public school system,” Walcott said.
Walcott has been a vigorous defender of replacing failing schools, something the Democratic mayoral candidates have not seen eye to eye on. Bill Thompson has vowed to stop school closures, instead introducing a comprehensive system to support struggling schools.
Walcott acknowledged the policy has been controversial and difficult for communities, but he stands by it.
“Let me be perfectly clear. No one enjoys closing schools, especially when these schools have come to hold memories and meaning for a community,” Walcott said. He added only two percent of public schools need to be closed.
“It is unconscionable not to phase out a school with an endemic culture of failure and low expectations,” Walcott said. “Any would-be schools chancellor must have the courage to make tough decisions on behalf of our students.”
Common Core testing, a new form of testing city schools that began implementation this year, has created a stir. Students were tested using the new, higher standards, without being taught by the new method.
Walcott acknowledged the expected lower test schools this year, but believes the next administration cannot be deterred.
“We can’t shy away from the new rigor. We can’t be scared because scores may go down,” Walcott said. “We have to be tough in our standards and our accountability and make sure we hold our students to a higher level of performance.”
Christine Quinn has spoken positively about Common Core, but wants to see computer science added to the new Common Core Standards.
Walcott also said he wants the next mayor to continue to preserve autonomy for schools principals, which is considered an acheivement of the Bloomberg administration. Principals are now the keeper of their own budgets and are allowed to make hiring decisions based on needs, not unions, according to Walcott.
“Our principals will tell you how critical these freedoms are to their ability to lead their students to better outcomes,” Walcott said. “We must not turn our back and the clock to a time when district offices and union regulations undermined our principals.”
Walcott may have only been chancellor for less than two years by his term’s end, but he believes all the work his predecessors have done before him has laid a solid foundation the next mayor to follow.
“Halting the momentum of this extraordinary transformation when we are so close to the tipping point would be a tragedy,” Walcott said. “There is nothing more important to the future of our city than continuing to prepare our students to succeed in the 21st century.”