On education, the mayoral candidates vie to be the un-Bloomberg

The candidates talk about education on Monday. (Dana Rubinstein)
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During a Monday afternoon candidates forum, the politicians vying to replace Mayor Bloomberg roundly criticized what they described as his autocratic approach to education, calling for more parental involvement, more respect for teachers, and a less acute focus on testing.

"I think we're stalled and we need a very, very serious reset,' said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who's running for mayor as the progressive, outer-borough candidate.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the very early frontrunner, is a close ally of the mayor's, but she's clearly calculated that education is one policy on which it's politically advantageous for her to differ from him.

And so Quinn's appraisal of his record on education was only marginally more positive than de Blasio's.

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She said the rhetoric towards the union needs to be dialed down. 

"We have to stop vilifying teachers," she said.

She also criticized the administration's belief in the primacy of testing, or what she described as "our overfocus on high-stake testing."

So did Comptroller John Liu and former comptroller Bill Thompson, while Manhattan Media C.E.O. Tom Allon took issue with what he perceives as a lack of adequate teacher training.

Nearly all of the candidates on stage also seized on the mayor's selection of unpopular education commissioners with little formal educational experience, like Joel Klein and Cathie Black. 

Asked if educational experience would be an absolute prerequisite for education commissioner if they were mayor, all of them said yes.

Except for Quinn, who said, kind of.

"I think you need somebody with educational experience, educational know-how, but I don't want to rule people out who might have different types of experiences, like running large educational not-for-profits or things of that nature," she said.

There was one Bloomberg policy that the candidates agreed was worth preserving: mayoral control of schools, which Albany approved in 2002. 

The legislation enabling it expires in 2015, and all of the candidates said they would support its renewal, with tweaks, of course.

The lone exception was Allon, who's running a very long-shot Republican bid for mayor.

He declined to answer the question, saying all that mattered was teacher quality and the question of mayoral control was "academic."