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The state Legislature must soon decide whether or not to extend the landmark legislation that for eight years has given Mayor Michael Bloomberg control of city public schools. It would be unfortunate if the debate focused solely on city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who has ruled the city Department of Education with an iron fist.
In many ways, the public schools have improved under Klein. He was not afraid to take on the powerful teachers union. And there is no question standardized test scores have improved and more students are graduating.
But teachers, not just union leaders, say Klein has been a dictator unwilling to listen to anyone who dissents. They want a return to the days when community school boards ran the schools without interference from the chancellor.
The good old days, of course, were not all good. Some school boards were terrific and the schools in these districts prospered. Other districts were disasters, with infighting, corruption, low test scores and miserable graduation rates.
The state’s creation of a powerful executive to oversee the school system has brought success to districts that had struggled the most. Unfortunately, many activist parents believe their voices are no longer heard.
It should be possible to address the shortcomings of the current system without scrapping it. It is far from certain that Bloomberg and Klein will be around for the next four years. The Legislature should amend the current legislation to strengthen the role of the community in shaping the school system.
There must be a way to ensure the chancellor will listen and respond to reasonable criticism and dissent. No one person can have a monopoly on good ideas for public schools.
The school system cannot be run with the same centralized control found in the NYPD and FDNY. The chancellor must engage in dialogue with parents and teachers.
It is unfortunate the fate of the chancellor system is in the hands of the Legislature. We hope they will find a way to preserve what has worked well in the chancellor while making room for other voices to be heard.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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