Schools Chancellor David Banks’ unseemly retreat hurts NYC kids


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Beware: Schools Chancellor David Banks is now in full retreat on his (and Mayor Eric Adams’) reform agenda.

The day he was introduced as the next schools chief in December 2021, Banks called it “outrageous” and a “betrayal” that an “agency that has a $38 billion annual budget and yet we have 65% of black and brown children who never achieve proficiency.”

Yet there he was testifying in Albany the other day, not standing up for more charter schools, which have a great record of bringing minority kids to proficiency, but . . . asking for more money.

Yes, the Legislature last year sandbagged the city with a new class size mandate that only applies to Banks’ Department of Education. He could need to hire 7,000 new teachers when all the requirements kick in, so it wasn’t wrong for him to ask lawmakers to get him the cash. But the hand-wringing — along with blather about prioritizing wellness, partnering with parents and other empty feelgood — sends the message he actually can’t cope within that “outrageous” budget after all.

Despite fast-falling enrollment that suggests he’ll need a lot fewer teachers down the line, anyway. Then again, he does have to fund the string of new hires for the central bureaucracy he made last year.

Maybe he’s demoralized after last year’s debacle, when the City Council (after a United Federation of Teachers panic campaign) forced him to restore budget trims for schools where enrollment had gone down.

And maybe he’s finding that City Hall isn’t doing its job in ensuring his policies can survive the Panel for Education Policy: Last month he nixed a planned PEP vote to OK three charter co-locations in The Bronx and Queens, apparently because the mayor’s own appointees to the board had gone shaky in the face of another UFT-orchestrated panic.

Then again, he’s been shaky on issues fully within his power, too: Soon after taking over, he opted against a last-minute replacement to the lottery system for “selective” middle schools produced under the prior chancellor. Worse, he later left it up to district superintendents to decide whether to allow merit-based competition.

As a result, the city’s now lost most of its once-elite middle schools.

And a similar snarl has parents furious about admission to Gifted & Talented programs.

Even the drive to shift reading instruction systemwide to an effective phonics-based approach, instead of the discredited “balanced literacy” scheme Banks himself has long denounced, seems mired in the bureaucracy.

We get it: Real reformers in this town have to fight a ton of special interests and other nay-sayers. And City Hall’s political team seems unable to deliver with the Legislature or the City Council.

But New York City’s kids and their families need a champion as their chancellor, not a cheerleader or caretaker: Someone who’ll fight every day on their behalf and never retreat in the face of opposition, no matter how powerful.

The mayor and chancellor need to have a serious conversation about what’s needed for Banks to be that champion, or he might as well change his name to Bankrupt.

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