The new mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, the city’s first Democratic mayor since 1993, won his election in a landslide victory, gaining over 73% of the vote. His election means that there will be a traditional liberal, and one who has been outspoken about education issues, taking charge of one of the largest and most prominent school systems in the United States—one which is often discussed as a model for other large, urban school districts.
The previous mayor of New York City, political centrist Michael Bloomberg, was considered to be a friend of charter schools and corporate model school reforms. During de Blasio’s tenure (2009-2013) as New York City Public Advocate, he was outspoken in his criticisms of Bloomberg’s education policies.
Generally speaking, de Blasio holds to a traditional Democratic line on education, meaning he supports traditional public schools against charter schools. His own two children have attended or still attend New York City public schools. He also supports the expansion of pre-k and after school programs in middle schools and would raise money for these expansions by raising taxes on those earning over $500,000 per year. He criticized Bloomberg and his various education chiefs for their top-down approach to running New York City schools. He also spoke out against plans to take away students’ free access to metro cards, cuts to social services for children, and layoffs for teachers. He also opposed the policy of allowing charter schools to operate in rent-free buildings, a position that elicited a march of 20,000 people last October in support of the rent-free policy for charter schools.
This is all only background, however, to the controversy over who de Blasio’s choice would be as the new New York City school chancellor. The eventual choice was for veteran New York City school official Carmen Farina to take the post, but only after de Blasio apparently gave serious consideration to Joshua Starr, current superintendent of Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools, and past teacher and education official in New York City. The details are as of yet unclear, and according to the Washington Post article about the matter, people have only spoken in anonymity about their knowledge of Starr being offered the position, as well as being offered the number 2 position for a few years before taking over as number 1.
Still, none of this would be expected to be big news because Starr has a background in New York City schools and has the resume to prepare him for the job in addition to being a Democrat aligned in his education policy ideas with Mayor de Blasio’s policies. What makes this story noteworthy in terms of nationwide education issues and debates is the report that Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan directly advised Mayor de Blasio and his administration not to hire Mr. Starr because of his outspoken views against teacher evaluations aligned to student testing and against commencing with testing aligned with Common Core. While Mr. Duncan, and everyone else directly concerned in the negotiations, refused to comment on the story, the difference of opinion between Duncan and Starr (and those who agree with Starr’s position such as AFT President Randi Weingarten) is no secret.