Council Speaker Christine Quinn called for a less testing in New York City schools, tablets for all city students instead of textbooks, and better communication on school closures and co-locating traditional and charter schools.
In a speech at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, the Democratic mayoral hopeful outlined an education outlook that adopts most of Bloomberg’s policies on charters and school closures, but with a more cautious, communicative approach.
“I don’t think it’s a structural question. I think it’s government’s perspective and vision is the problem,” Quinn said of community tensions about education decisions. “Whoever the mayor is, the buck stops with. And the mayor needs to say that the system, as it relates to coordination and input and discussion, has to change.”
Another thing she wants to change, Quinn said, is the city’s reliance on testing. “I hope that doesn’t become our defining factor anymore,” Quinn said She said that city students spend too much time preparing and taking tests. She called for eliminating “field testing,” the practice of trying out new questions or tests on certain school children.
Quinn also said decisions on school closures should be based on a broader set of data to gauge student performance.
She called for a new “red alert system” to flag troubled schools earlier, and to give them better resources and tools to improve.
“We’ll give them the time they need to turn things around, not just wait a year and pull the plug,” Quinn said. “Instead of treating school closing like a goal in and of itself, we should see it as an ultimate last resort when all else has failed.”
Quinn also proposed replacing textbooks with electronic tablets in all New York City schools, a cost she said would be covered by eliminating the $100 million annual expense of buying textbooks.
Quinn only mentioned teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, once by name during her remarks, which topped an hour. For the most part, she avoided the thornier debates that have pit the union against Bloomberg, including the Thursday deadline for the city to reach a deal with the union on teacher evaluations or risk losing state funds.
“To both sides I say lower the temperature, stop the name calling, stop the finger pointing and remember that we all share the same goal,” Quinn said.
In her Q&A with Clara Hemphill of Inside Schools, Quinn elaborated on charter schools. Here is an excerpt of the conversation:
Would you push for a broad expansion of charter schools?
I mean, one of the things that discourages me about the whole charter school debate is it becomes such a high-pitched, sucks all the oxygen out of the room, debate. Charter schools exist. They’re going to be part of our system. They are never going to serve the majority of New York City schoolchildren. It is simply not possible. I think the level we’re at is a good level and I think we need to stop fighting over them and we need to recognize that the real potential where they could help all other children in these laboratories of innovation has never been met….
Would you make them pay rent?
If you make charter schools pay rent, that’s the end of charter schools. (audience member: good!) I don’t agree. I don’t think we want to make charter schools t definition of our system. I think we’re at an appropriate level but I don’t think we should pull that option, because for some parents, it’s an option that they have embraced. Now is the co-location system working for charters or bringing district schools, in and out of district schools, working? For either situation, no. And you know co-location isn’t working because the proponents of charter schools say it’s not working, and the opponents of charter schools say it’s not working. But we have to find a way to continue to do co-locations for district districts, and district charters, that’s not going to stop, but we have to find a way to do it right, transparently, with real parental and community input.