Policy Directions for K-12 Public Education in New York City


The past decade of school reform in New York City has been characterized by effort to govern through markets, which rely on customer choice and outcomes-based accountability to drive innovation and student success. The array of such policy initiatives—whose key elements are reflected in the stated desire to move from "a great school system" to "a system of great schools" depends on the invisible hand of the market to foster innovation and sustain successful educational practices. There is, however, an alternative metaphor to the invisible hand: the helping hand. In this view, the primary policy instrument is capacity building, and the key responsibility of government is to provide the resources and supports to build the capacity of schools, school leaders and teachers to meet the complex social and academic needs of the students they serve.

For more than a decade, the primary policy levers have been mandates, incentives and system-changing (changing the governance and authority relations within school systems). Capacity building has been the least salient policy instrument in the current zeitgeist. Capacity building is at the heart of developing the skills and talents of individuals, through professional development and supports for schools, school leaders and teachers—strategies characteristic of high-performing school systems such as those in Finland and Singapore. The upcoming election serves as a time to examine and re-articulate our values and aspirations for how New York City can create a more inclusive, better-managed, and more successful system of preparing our children and youth for fruitful and productive adult lives.