NEW YORK—Earlier this year Joe Williams attended the high school graduation of his oldest son. He was one of 1,200 lucky graduates of Brooklyn Technical High School, which is part of the New York public school system, but requiring competitive examinations for entry.
His son was a first-grader when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, and the education policies of the Bloomberg administration are all Williams has known as a parent. Williams has been paying attention. He is the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, an author and public speaker, and an award-winning education journalist for the New York Daily News.
The night before his son’s graduation at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center, Williams welcomed his third child into the world. With a new baby boy, and Bloomberg nearing the end of his term, he is focusing even more strongly on the future.
“I am looking at this from the perspective of what are the schools going to be like for my new baby?” said Williams at a Manhattan Institute policy discussion on July 9.
Williams has carefully watched the mayoral candidates talk about education—and he has been uninspired.
Much of the discussions have centered on colocation of charter schools with Department of Education (DOE) schools, closing underperforming schools, and most recently—Common Core Standards, a new way to test students. The issues have been lightening rods, passionately debated, and sharply divisive.
Bill Thompson, who received the endorsement from the United Federation of Teachers, has called for a moratorium on colocation of charter schools. Mayoral candidate and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former Congressman Anthony Weiner, would not support a moratorium.
Thompson has been an outspoken critic of school closures, and vowed to curb the practice if elected. Quinn said she wants to create a red alert system to provide support, making closure a last resort.
Williams agrees the issues of colocation and closures are important, but believes the mayor of the largest school system in the country will need to have a much wider lens from which to seek new solutions.
“People forgot, it’s not just about school closure, it is about trying to meet the demand and ease the anxiety of parents,” Williams said.
Williams said that as his children got older, the role of being a parent in the New York City school system became filled with anxiety. He said finding a good elementary school was easy, but it became more difficult to find a good middle school, and even tougher to find a good high school. His oldest son got into one of the most prestigious and selective public high schools in the city, but his next child may not be so lucky.
“If you are in charge of the school system you need to be able to say to the parent ‘I want to make sure we are putting more great teachers in the classrooms,’” Williams said. “I don’t hear anyone talking about great teachers and great schools. I hear them talking about Bloomberg, and it has become irrelevant at this point.”
Williams said he has looked at the education policy booklets issued by the front-running candidates, and feels their ideas, while good, do not present the big picture he would like to see as a parent, and as an education policy analyst.
“We have a pretty tall challenge and we have seen lots of small solutions offered,” Williams said.
A four-year term is a short time to turn around the New York City school system. Williams said the new administration could draw on some of the current successes by opening new schools and staffing them with quality principals and teachers.
The newest edition to William’s family will not even hit the public school system by the time the new mayor finishes a first (and possibly only) term. As the election season heats up, he hopes the candidates will listen to the concerns of the parents.
“I want to see them create the kinds of schools where teachers want to teach, and parents want to send their kids,” Williams said. “Sometimes we forget that is a herculean task when you have 1.1 million kids in the school system of 1,700 schools.”