By Mallory Simon
In the biggest experiment in nearly 30 years, Bloomberg has proposed sweeping changes which would alter the ways educators teach, parents stay involved and students learn.”I commit to you … that I will make the schools better. I cannot promise that it will be easy, and I cannot promise it will happen overnight,” Bloomberg said in June. “But I can promise you you will see, in the very near future, that we are going in the right direction.”Bloomberg has called for standardized curriculums for failing New York City schools with rigid time frames set up for each subject, the elimination of community school districts, the addition of phonics to the curriculum, establishment of parent liaisons for each school and the replacement of community school boards.The changes have evoked responses from communities, teachers, parents and public officials ranging from praise to complete outrage. United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised Bloomberg's changes as the first positive steps to helping NYC children.”It will be hard, but it's the first time we are seeing real change focused on instruction for kids – reading, writing, math and safer schools,” she said. “Hallelujah.”Standardized curriculumOut of 1,200 schools in the entire system, only 200 will be able to keep their existing curriculums. This is because of their success rates in the past academic years. Of the rest of the schools which didn't perform well, the schools will be able to either re-write their curriculums or choose from selected curriculums made available to them.The different curriculums offer both flexible and demanding schedules. Any given day third-grade students across the system would read the same book at the same time, or it could merely ask that 45 minutes be spent on reading that day.Advocates for the change say the standardized curriculum benefits children who are forced to change schools and will allow all students to receive uniform benefits of the system.”A uniform curriculum is not a script which says, 'Today you say hello, children,” Weingarten said. “It creates the same general scopes and sequences.”Critics such as former Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew worry the standardized curriculum neglects the specific needs of children.”Not all New York City schools and not all urban schools and not all children need the same prescription,” Crew told the New York Times.No more community districtsAnother target of the school changes were the community districts. Bloomberg said he would replace the districts he referred to as “bureaucratic dinosaurs” with 10 Learning Support Centers. The restructuring of the community districts would bring change specifically to the administrative roles within the school system.Bloomberg was forced to compromise and keep school districts with community superintendents, but they have far less control and discretion.Each support center would have a regional superintendent who would oversee educational issues. Below them superintendents would be instructional supervisors who would oversee 12-15 schools ranging from elementary to high schools in a neighborhood.Operational centers would be created to take care of the budgetary, monetary and administrative issues surrounding the schools, which Bloomberg argued would create a “significant reduction in non-pedagogical staff.” Parents, teachers and staff within the system say concerns arise about knowing who is responsible for what, and who to go to for help.Community school boards replacedThe school boards were replaced in July by community education councils for each district, with the members voted on by officers from area parent- and parent-teacher associations. The new groups have similar duties, but unlike with the old boards, members must have a child going to school in the district they represent.Bloomberg billed the change as a way to further empower parents, but some critics have said those with extensive knowledge of the education system have been forced out and worry that the Department of Education will bully the new councils.In order to create a bridge between parents and educators, Bloomberg created a parent coordinator position at each school. Earlier this summer, however, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said many of the coordinators did not return phone calls from parents, while others could not answer basic education questions.Class size and educationBloomberg has pushed for the addition of phonics to the general school curriculum. Phonics instruction would focus on students learning what sounds letters make and combine those sounds to make words.In addition Bloomberg would require an hour of math a day for children in kindergarten through third grade, increasing as the child gets older, more libraries, and the cutting of middle school English class sizes.Reach editorial intern Mallory Simon by e-mail at email@example.com.