Education in New York City

The current state of New York City public schools is unknown to those who research and report on it on a daily basis.

Six education reporters from four of the city’s major daily newspapers were panelists at Monday night’s Carol Gresser Forum on Issues in Education, a bi-annual event held on St. John’s University’s Queens campus.

The main topic of discussion regarded Mayor Mike Bloomberg and New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein’s plan to revamp the entire city’s school structure, and the lack of information that’s been made available to the public about it.

“[The reporters] certainly are among New York’s most knowledgeable people, regarding these days in particular a school system in transition,” said Jerrold Ross, dean of the School of Education, in his welcome remarks. “And they know how to ask the right questions so as better to inform the public about what’s happening.”

However, the panel members said they are finding it difficult to obtain information regarding the effects of the new educational system and its hierarchical organization.

“We always need somebody in a system somewhere to tell us something in order to write stories that are critical or positive,” said Nick Chiles of Newsday. “In this school system right now, there are very few people who are willing to tell us anything, whether they feel critical of the Chancellor or they’re his biggest fans. “People are scared to death [to talk].”

The panel blamed Bloomberg and Klein for withholding information from them, and consequently from the public.

“Nobody at the Department of Education seems to be authorized to talk to us, nor do they want to talk to us,” said Abby Goodnough of The New York Times. “There’s a bunch of people there who think it’s just good policy to tell the press as little as possible and you’ll get the most accomplished that way.”

Ellen Yan of Newsday also criticized the administration for the timeliness of what it does release. Parents do not always have adequate time to respond to what they receive before deadlines, she said.

“It’s not just a lack of information,” she said. “It’s also when the information comes out, it’s weeks too late.”

Questions regarding how the new organization would be monitored and judged as a success or failure were also raised, and were answered with uncertainty.

“I think that one of the most serious monitors needs to be the public and the press, and [the Department of Education] seems to have the feeling that the less that they tell us…the better off they are,” Chiles said. “And it’s only a matter of time before the press starts getting really nasty.”

“They’ve found all kinds of ways to get around the their legal requirement to

give us information,” added Goodnough.

Without details, reporters remain skeptical about the long-term effect of the new educational plan, though the panel could not fault its intentions. The information will have to come sooner or later, they said, since the plan will be implemented for the upcoming 2003-2004 school year.

“Institutionally, there’s not a whole lot happening right now,” Chiles said. “It’s a whole lot of wait and see.”