Few things are as endearing in a politician as a self-deprecating sense of humor. Do any of us recall a moment (OK, except for the evening of 9/11) when we felt warmly about then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani when he wasn't in drag? It's a struggle. In every day parlance, Bill de Blasio is a bit more fluent with the laugh lines than his immediate predecessors, but his performance this weekend at the annual Inner Circle dinner was still a welcome break from a decidedly unfunny couple of weeks, with buildings blowing up in Harlem and the charter school issue blowing up in the mayor's face.
There was little effort to be funny when the mayor spoke Sunday at Riverside Church. There, the goal was to do what City Hall had failed to do until now, which was articulate—or at least do so loudly enough to be heard over the well-funded charter-chain campaign to discredit the mayor—de Blasio's education vision and how charter schools fit into that.
If the mayor's speech were one of the essays my 10-year-old is writing to practice for the upcoming ELA exam on which he and his not-colocated, unionized charter school will be judged, it'd get a six out of seven (no one seems to give As and Bs anymore, except on the DOE school report cards).
He laid out a sound rationale for why he blocked the three colocations involving Eva Moskowitz schools (while approving five others of hers):
We made some decisions in the last weeks, striving for fairness. But I have to tell you I didn’t measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city. So let me start to right the ship now. We want children to have good options. But good options have to serve both the children they are intended for while not displacing or harming other children in the schools to which they may go.
There’s a charter school with 194 children. It’s a good school doing good work, and we are going to make sure those 194 children have a good home this year. But we will not do it at the expense of our special education children.
And he had some good analysis of how the charter school idea had morphed from being a test kitchen for general public schools to being thought of as some sort of alternative system to them:
The original notion of the charter movement was to innovate, to create laboratories for new and better ideas that then they could be brought into the whole traditional public school system. That’s a positive vision that we have to reengage. The idea is not to create separation – the kind of competition that works for some and leaves others out. The idea is to create a fullness, a totality, a completeness in which our charter schools help to uplift our traditional public schools. Six percent of our children in the charters – they are our children. We need them to succeed. 94% of our children are in traditional public schools – they are our children. We need them to succeed.
There was some want of supporting details. For instance, the mayor didn't mention the word "rent" in his speech, as in "I want to charge some charter schools rent because…" But the talk was still a clearer statement of the mayor's principles than had emerged to date during the dust-up with the Eva Empire. Watch the mayor's speech or read the text here.