With Bloomberg's first term came mayoral control of the public schools—which have grown, over his tenure, into a conglomeration of nearly 1700 schools. Publicly funded charter schools, near nil at the mayor's first inauguration, have boomed, particularly since the state cap on charters was lifted in 2009. His tenure has seen the rise of data-driven accountability (and greater financial freedoms that flow from it), financial rewards for performance (for students, teachers, principals and schools), by-the-numbers school closures, and the long-haul drive to link teacher tenure to job performance, tied to student scores on state standardized tests despite criticisms about flaws in those exams.
The architects of New York's large-scale education reform, led for nearly a decade by Chancellor Joel I. Klein, tout New York's role as a reform pioneer. And indeed, many influential school reformers have left Tweed for other locales, to lead state and local education efforts where they carry out policies and reforms that mirror Tweed's ethos and practices.
In an effort to understand the enduring national impact of Bloomberg, Klein, and now-Chancellor Dennis Walcott's education reform agenda, City Limits took a look at where Tweed's alumni have landed.
Across the river and through the woods
A signal reform of Bloomberg-Klein's early years was the importing of talent from sectors outside of education; a Department of Education loaded with MBAs and lawyers meant that professional educators were outnumbered among the Chancellor's cabinet. Christopher Cerf had led a chain of charter schools, Edison Schools, prior to working at Tweed. When this legal powerhouse (he edited the law review at Columbia and later clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor) turned Tweed bureaucrat, he championed school choice—a frequent euphemism for charter schools.
As Klein's Chief Transformation Officer, Cerf was a crucial early voice in DOE's practice of closing "failing" schools—most often, big, beleaguered high schools in economically depressed neighborhoods—and replacing them with new, small schools designed to support struggling students and often organized, in some measure, around a unifying theme. "Rather than working to change the organization," Cerf said, "you shut the old organization down and transfer relevant parts to new organizations that you're building."
Cerf left the DOE in 2009 to help run the mayor's second re-election campaign.
He now heads the New Jersey state school system, to which he was appointed by Governor Chris Christie in 2011, and where he is responsible for 2,500 schools and 1.4 million children.
More recently arrived in Jersey are two Tweed Deputy Chancellors, Cami Anderson and Marcia Lyles. Anderson's reform resume is long and deep: Prior to working for Tweed, Anderson headed New Teachers for New Schools, an education reform group, and served as executive director of Teach for America, the controversial Wendy Kopp brainchild that puts graduates of elite colleges and universities in inner-city classrooms.
Anderson, who Newark mayor Cory Booker profiled in Time magazine as "a modern-day freedom fighter," headed DOE's development of non-traditional high school completion programs, including transfer schools and Young Adult Borough Centers, which permit older students to graduate before they turn 21. Anderson left New York for Newark in 2010, when she became that city's superintendent.
Lyles served as a teacher, principal and district superintendent in New York City before taking on roles as a regional superintendent and then Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning under Klein. She left Tweed in 2009 to head the Christina school district in Delaware. This year, Lyles became Jersey City schools superintendent. Some locals derided her selection as superintendent over popular interim superintendent Franklin Walker—and her inflated salary of (reportedly) $235,000 a year, well above the $175,000 a year her predecessor earned. NAACP leaders in Jersey City called her a Cerf crony: They share many reform goals, and emails uncovered by the Hudson Reporter refer to a "Cerf meeting" involving a Jersey City politician, Steve Fulop, that occurred just before Lyles' predecessor was ousted by a school board controlled by Fulop allies.
But New Jersey state education department spokeswoman Barbara Morgan, another Tweed alum, having served in DOE's press office, denies any Lyles-Cerf connection.
NYC ideas in the Nutmeg State
Garth Harries, recruited to DOE in 2003 from the high-level consulting firm McKinsey was, at 31 years old, another lawyer among DOE's "new educrats," so dubbed in 2004 by the New York Times. For five years, Harries was Klein's Chief Executive of Portfolio Development and New Schools—Klein's point man for school closings, which were presented to often enraged community members as faits accompli until demand and pushback from electeds forced public hearings. (Hearings persist but are largely ineffectual, as the mayor-controlled Panel for Education policy consistently votes to support DOE recommendations.)
An advocate of "choices for students and families," Harries told the Times, he oversaw "the creation of new school opportunities," via the large-school closures that dominated Joel Klein's early leadership and the reconstitution of small high schools, both significantly funded and warmly endorsed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which has since turned its efforts to teacher education and evaluation, when small schools didn't yield on their hoped-for early promise).
For Harries' last major act at Tweed, Klein asked Harries to study the city's provision of special education despite having had no personal experience, as a student, teacher, or policy-maker in the universe of special education, which includes some 165,000 city students. Harries conducted a long "listening tour" around the city in 2008 and 2009, drawing fire for his inexperience but eventually gaining the measured trust of many advocates. His resignation from Tweed in early 2009 to become the assistant superintendent of the New Haven school system came as a blow to the confidences he had assiduously cultivated: "The special education community has invested a lot of time in bringing Garth up to speed," Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, a non-profit group that supports challenged students in the city's schools and courts, said at the time. "I hope that will not be lost." Sweet's worries were realized when Harries released his recommendations—directing sweeping reforms in how schools provide special education services citywide and slated for citywide implementation this September—within days of his exit for New Haven, meaning he would not be around to monitor or adjust their implementation.