• David Rogers
Part of the Springer Studies in Work and Industry book series (SSWI)


Transformational Leader Charter School School Choice Small School Union Contract 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
As reported in Chap. 1, mayoral control of the public schools was already in effect in several large cities before it began in New York City in 2002 (Henig and Rich 2004). Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg’s predecessor, had proposed it when he was mayor, but the state assembly rejected the idea (Gehring 2002). A state legislator interviewed for this study put it this way:

Giuliani said he was only interested if we eliminated the central board and community school boards and made education a mayoral agency, with the chancellor as commissioner. Basically Giuliani wanted the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel. But he was not liked or trusted by the assembly, and there was no action.

In addition, some legislators feared that Giuliani did not strongly support public education, citing his interest in vouchers and other forms of privatization. He had proposed a voucher program for which the overseer would be City Hall, not the Board of Education (Walsh 1999; Hendrie 1999a).

The voucher initiative put Giuliani in conflict with the City’s school chancellor at the time, Rudy Crew, who strongly opposed the idea. When Giuliani argued that the “whole system should be blown up and replaced with a new one,” he antagonized Crew, city educators, and the Democratic-controlled state assembly to the point where these stakeholders objected to all his proposals (Hendrie 1999b). Crew, the chancellor from 1995 to 2000, soon resigned (Johnston 2000; Barrett 2000; The New York Times, September 13, 2006).

How and Why Bloomberg Succeeded Where Guiliani Did Not

From the start, Bloomberg’s relationship with state legislators was opposite that of Giuliani’s and the end result was that Bloomberg, who took office in January 2002, was empowered 6 months later with mayoral responsibility for the city’s schools. Mayoral control in this instance ranged from selecting the chancellor to converting the Board of Education into a city agency (Gewertz 2002c).

To win over the Legislature, Bloomberg marshaled an effective negotiating team in Albany, led by his deputy mayors Marc Shaw and Dennis Walcott. He also formed a task force of business, legal, and civil rights leaders who strongly supported his efforts. Walcott, a former head of the New York Urban League and member of the Board of Education, met with caucuses of Black and Latino leaders to encourage their support of mayoral control. Shaw was an effective negotiator in Albany.

Some of Bloomberg’s advisors, it should be noted, urged him to agree to incremental changes, saying it was unrealistic of him to expect that he would be given all the authority he was requesting. Reportedly, he told them that he had no intention of compromising, and he amazed them with his success. As one insider explained:

We didn’t think he would get it all or even try to get it all, but he would not compromise and kept saying he would not cut a deal and he didn’t.

The governance changes included dismantling the central board and replacing it with a relatively powerless 13-member advisory panel, eight of whom the mayor chose. The five he did not appoint were parents, one from each borough, chosen by their respective borough president. Most important, the panel would be “barred from daily management, in a nod to the widespread frustration over the prior Board of Education’s attempts at micromanaging the system” (ibid.).

Bloomberg selected a chancellor to serve at his pleasure and by June 2003 he planned to eliminate the school boards, subject to approval by the US Department of Justice. (That approval was given after the department determined that the voting power of minority groups was not weakened in the new governance arrangements.)

Notwithstanding the effectiveness of the mayor’s lobbying effort, one might still question why Bloomberg was so successful in obtaining authority to transform school governance. One explanation that many close observers shared was that most New Yorkers had lost any remaining confidence they might have had in the schools by the time of Bloomberg’s election. Story after story had appeared in the press over the years about corruption and nepotism on community school boards under decentralization. Mayor Giuliani had expressed much dissatisfaction (some would say rage) with how the schools were managed and had turned against two chancellors in a row, Cortines and Crew. Meanwhile, the performance gap persisted between the poor and middle class.

Ravitch, who would become a later critic of mayoral control, was quoted as saying: “There was little opposition to this [mayoral control] because the status quo has no defenders” (ibid.). Even Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), whose members faced uncertainty about their future job rights under mayoral control, voiced wholehearted support.

No other mayor in recent memory had given such high priority to the schools. Bloomberg, with no prior experience in public office, much less in the maelstrom of New York City politics, said unequivocally before and after his election that he wanted to be evaluated as mayor largely on how he was able to turn around the public school system. As part of his preparation to run for mayor, he reached out to people who knew about the city’s schools and youth service agencies and could brief him on problems and priorities. Like many New Yorkers, he realized the impact schooling has on one’s life chances and, more generally, the city’s economy and that of the nation. Moreover, in support of human services and the city’s minority residents, Bloomberg met immediately after the election with the heads of the UFT and the United Hospital Workers Union, the latter of which has a significant representation of minorities in the city’s labor force.

Use of Management Concepts

One difference from previous governance changes in the New York schools is that management concepts from the private sector drove this one. Chancellor Joel Klein turned to management consultants, including academics, for advice on how to proceed. Past chancellors and boards had also used consultants, but not to this degree. The consultants helped shape Klein’s early decisions on organizational design, on setting up systems of accountability to evaluate schools and classrooms, and on preparing the way for principals to become, in effect, CEOs. This included training them in leadership skills and attempting to radically amend the contracts and working conditions of the school custodians, teachers, and principals to give the principals increased flexibility.

Unlike his predecessors, Klein spoke the language of management and organizations in public statements describing his change efforts. Although he spoke before many audiences – education interest groups, the City Council, the Carnegie Corporation, parent and civic groups – he made one of his most prominent speeches at the 2006 meeting of a leading association of business school professors, who specialize in organizational theory and research (Klein 2006). No other schools chancellor had articulated his views to such a specialized audience.


Much of the first year of mayoral control was spent putting in place a new organization and senior management staff. In June 2002, the state legislature passed the new mayoral control law. A month later the mayor appointed Klein as chancellor. By early September, Klein had appointed his senior management team.

A few key elements in the start-up stand out. First, Bloomberg had strong support from critical constituencies, namely, the teachers union and the state legislature. Weingarten, whose union opposed Bloomberg in the election, praised him, saying that he had “inspired the city with his leadership” (Gewertz 2002a). The fact that the Democratic-controlled legislature granted him the power it did, after it had consistently opposed mayoral control in the recent past, was an extraordinary act of endorsement.

Second, Klein, though an outsider in the sense that he had never worked in the schools, was knowledgeable about New York, having grown up in the city and attended its public schools. Most recently he had been the divisional CEO of Bertelsmann, the publishing conglomerate, as well as former Assistant Attorney General in the Anti-Trust Division of the Justice Department. The fact that Klein had been a CEO no doubt contributed to his emphasis on management and organizational change initiatives. The city had never before had a CEO as chancellor. Professor Robert Berne of New York University, a political scientist and expert on school finance, called Bloomberg’s appointment of Klein “a gutsy, out of the box move” (Reid 2002).

Signaling his sharp break with the past, Klein appointed a senior management team of almost all “outsiders” who had little or no experience in New York City’s public schools. Early in 2003, one insider said:

I’m not sure that us old guys with experience from the past are really that important in this. Yes, we have judgment that is worthy of being called on, but Klein is doing well [without us].

Another disagreed:

Klein’s predecessor, Harold Levy, identified strong inside people and then leveraged their skills. Some were able, but this regime under Klein seems to assume that those who were there in the past have little to contribute.

One important appointee who soon became quite controversial was Diane Lam, the new Deputy Chancellor for Curriculum and Instruction. Lam had previously been chancellor in Providence, Rhode Island, Dubuque, Iowa, Chelsea, Massachusetts, and San Antonio, Texas. Her conflicts in each city with local groups, including the teachers union, were widely known, especially in San Antonio, where they were so intense that the city bought out the rest of her contract for $800,000 to get her to leave. Klein commented later that Lam’s differences with local groups in those cities, especially with the teachers’ unions, showed that she was a transformational leader whose style would fit well with his. It did to some extent, but it also led to her alienating parent groups and educators by her autocratic leadership, her policy pronouncements on curriculum, and her critical comments on the gift and talented programs (Kolker 2004). As it turned out, scandal defined Lam’s tenure in New York. In March 2005, after just 18 months on the job, she resigned after city investigators stated that she had tried to secure a job for her husband in the schools (The New York Times, March 9, 2004).

Outside Consultants and Insiders

Early in Klein’s tenure, with the assistance of new young management consultants and lawyers, he redesigned the school system to include the following: (1) a new regional structure that consolidated the 32 decentralized community school districts and boards into 10 regions and 6 operating centers; (2) a new standardized curriculum and progressive pedagogy in all but the 200 highest performing elementary schools; (3) a salaried full-time position of parent coordinator in each school to serve as the principal’s outreach and to give parents a voice; (4) a principals’ leadership training academy; and (5) an end to the policy of automatic or social promotion of third grade students, later extended to fifth and seventh graders (The New York Times, February 9, 2004).

Headquarters implemented these new structures and policies in a top-down way through the regional offices to the schools. When critics contended that this new regional system was simply replacing an old bureaucracy with a new one, the chancellor and senior managers argued that they were shifting resources from administration to the schools and that strong leadership was required to change the dysfunctional old system into an effective new one.

A number of reactions from powerful groups inside the New York City school system accompanied these changes. The teachers and principals unions complained about not being consulted in the planning of these strategic decisions. They saw themselves as being downgraded in respect and power. Their complaints were valid, in that the mayor and chancellor had indeed centralized power, reflecting a view that the unions’ power in the past was one of the system’s most glaring weaknesses.

Small Schools, Charters, and School Choice

In 2003, the mayor and chancellor began offering parents and students more school choice within the system, especially at the high school level. Their plan called for creating 200 small high schools, with the first ones to open in fall 2004 (Cavanagh 2003). By the fall of 2007, there were more than 200 new small schools, with Gates funding supplemented by grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Open Society Institute.

A critical turning point in the mayor’s and chancellor’s reform efforts was a new strategy of school autonomy, initiated in September 2004 and directly related to a broader small schools initiative. It started with 30 schools that were insulated from the centralized control of headquarters and regional offices. Roughly half the schools were new and most were small. They became part of a new autonomy zone, established under the direction of a headquarters administrator and former principal, Eric Nadelstern, who developed the idea. Headquarters announced the initiative as the start of a multiyear push for small, personalized schools (Hendrie 2004).

The other component of this choice strategy was the establishment of new charter schools, having even more autonomy than the original autonomy zone ones. They often had their own funding, were free from headquarters controls regarding curriculum, and their teachers were not bound by the union contract. As of fall 2007, there were 67 charter schools in New York City. Both the mayor and chancellor have lobbied vigorously with the State to lift the cap it had imposed that allowed only 100 charters statewide, and the then Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his intention to allow another 150. Strong opposition came from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the parent union of teachers, and NYC’s United Federation of Teachers. Both unions were dismayed that charters had moved away from the original vision of Albert Shanker (former president of the UFT and later of the AFT). His original vision was that new schools should be opened that are free from stifling bureaucratic controls and that was a precursor to modern day charters. Union leaders felt that charter advocates perverted Shanker’s vision into one that was anti-union and anti-public-school and was at least implicitly demonizing the union contract. Recently, the union has opened two charter schools to demonstrate that it is open to charters and that the union contract does not hamper charter school effectiveness (Hendrie 2005a).

Since 2004, the number of charters, small schools, and autonomy zone schools has increased steadily, and in January 2007, the mayor announced plans to restructure the system so that all schools were more autonomous. In other words, instead of just having a separate group of newly autonomous schools, the entire school system would be the equivalent of an autonomy zone (Gewertz 2007).

The overall dynamic in the first 5 years of mayoral control is that many stakeholders supported it initially in the abstract, but as it was implemented, they complained about the substance of the changes and the failure of the mayor and chancellor to consult with them. Teachers, principals, parents, and many city and state legislators were among these stakeholders.

In brief, mayoral control proved to be a gigantic complex change-management undertaking. The remainder of the book is devoted to providing an understanding of that complexity.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag US 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Rogers
    • 1
  1. 1. Emeritus Professor of Management Leonard N. Stern School of Business New York University NewYorkArgentina

Personalised recommendations