Sal Albanese, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson answered questions and critized the current system, claiming it is out of touch with parents.
Albanese, a former City Council member, said that a balanced curriculum is essential in New York City.
“School should be a happy place,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a place where kids are stressed out in kindergarten or second grade. It’s out of control.”
Albanese said that sports is important to academics, because in many schools a member of a team can only participate if they pass a certain amount of classes. Albanese joked that if it weren’t for sports, he would have been a much poorer student.
Although Albanese was speaking to a community made up of mostly middle-class families in Cobble Hill, he said that issues with education can also be linked to financial issues.
“When I talk to parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Sunset Park, they know that poverty is the problem,” he said.
Liu has been hosting education town hall meetings throughout the city, and this forum was another opportunity for him to discuss his distaste for standardized testing and his desire to institute more pop quizzes in the classroom.
He also blasted the Department of Education (DOE) for co-locating charter schools in public schools, and then referring to them as new schools. Liu said these co-locations are to blame for much of the overcrowding in city schools.
“I’ll admit, as a member of the City Council I was fooled because I was excited that the DOE was opening up all these new schools,” he said. “When I’m mayor and I announce that there is going to be a new school, there’s going to be an actual building that comes along with it.”
All of the candidates stated that they would push to ensure that class sizes in early grades would be kept to a minimum of 20 or less.
“We need a mayor who understands that smaller class size is important,” said Thompson. Thompson claims DOE has outsourced millions of dollars in contracts to outside organizations.
“We need to bring that money back in house and use it correctly,” he said.
De Blasio was back on his home turf, having represented the area in the City Council.
“We have this huge number of people who care deeply about their neighborhood school,” said de Blasio. “We have an administration who does not understand the concept of a neighborhood school.”
Both de Blasio and Liu said DOE is run too much like a business.
De Blasio also called for a change in mayoral control of the school system. He said it is important that a mayor be criticized for his decisions, but currently Mayor Michael Bloomberg runs into no interference with DOE.
“I do believe that mayoral control can work as long as it is democratized,” said de Blasio, “if stakeholders are given a meaningful role.”