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Bureaucracy in the New York City Department of Education Essay

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Updated: Jun 25th, 2020


Bureaucracy refers to “a system of administration based upon organization into bureaus, division of labor, and a hierarchy of authority” (Bruce 35). Bureaucracy is aimed at establishing a habit for a large body of activities. Opponents of bureaucracy consider it as composite, inflexible and unproductive. On the other hand, proponents of bureaucracy claim that it helps to streamline operations and eradicate favoritism. Nevertheless, bureaucracy may infringe on people’s freedom if not well managed. Bureaucracy is prevalent in the New York City Department of Education. Some pundits claim that it denies school principals the power to manage their institutions (Bruce 38).

Bureaucrats in the Department of Education have imposed employment contracts that inhibit the removal of unnecessary or unproductive personnel and curb the rate of employee absenteeism. Indeed, bureaucracy is a major impediment in the NYC Department of Education. It hinders the development of schools since all projects have to be approved before they are discharged. This paper will discuss the nature of bureaucracy in the New York City Department of Education and how it stalls the growth of learning institutions.

Nature of Bureaucracy

One of the factors that have led to the New York City Department of Education becoming quite bureaucratic is the explosions of rules and guidelines. When considered individually, perhaps most guidelines have a core of consideration. However, holistically, the rules and directives have established a system so intricate with approvals, rules, checks and balances and regulations. Thus, it has become hard for the education department to exploit the available talents or make feasible decisions.

Bureaucracy has led to the centralization of decision-making processes (Bruce 39). Today, principals no longer act as the chief executive officers of their schools. The central bureaucracy makes crucial decisions. In New York City, school administrators no longer work as instructional leaders and managers. Instead, they follow and implement decisions made by the central bureaucracy. Bureaucracy has hindered the development of management talent. Indeed, most principals have to refer to the guide books whenever they want to initiate projects (Gail and Jimmy 49). Bureaucracy has inhibited their decision-making capacities.

Bureaucracy hinders transformation in learning institutions in New York City. Gail and Jimmy allege, “We are confident that if an educator is not tenacious or persistent enough the red tape barrier will not be cut” (51). One is forced to consult multiple education officials before implementing any transformative project. In most cases, principals give up due to numerous conditions that they are supposed to meet before they are allowed to go on with their projects. A majority of the principals would like to install security cameras in their schools for safety purposes. However, a principal cannot install cameras without consulting the district technology director. In other words, bureaucracy has made it hard for learning institutions to initiate projects aimed at helping both the learners and the teachers. In New York City, education stakeholders have been conditioned to believe that revolution has to come progressively (Gail and Jimmy 53).

Whenever stakeholders give suggestions on what ought to be done to improve education, it is not difficult to find bureaucrats opposing the idea no matter how profitable it might be. In other cases, officials from the Department of Education request the stakeholders to present their suggestions in the form of proposals. The officials require the stakeholders to present proposals as a way to discourage them. Indeed, most projects see the light of the day only when the bureaucrats see their importance. Most innovative education pioneers get frustrated and abandon their ambitions.

Education stakeholders have been trying to introduce changes aimed at tailoring lessons to the needs of different students in the New York City. Besides, they have endeavored to guarantee the accountability and freedom of school principals. Nevertheless, the introduction of Common Core-aligned tests has made it hard for the stakeholders to realize these goals. The Department of Education did not consult teachers or train them in the novel standards (Ruggiero 503).

Therefore, the new standards have not only affected the quality of teaching in the state, but also have had a tremendous toll on students, families, and teachers. To make the matters worse, New York City has come up with an evaluation system that rates teachers based on how students perform on standardized assessments. The system has subjected students to inadequate assessments aimed at measuring teacher’s performance. Most teachers have termed the new standards as too restrictive and arduous to both the teachers and students.

There have been allegations that bureaucrats in the department of education misuse financial resources aimed at helping to improve the performance of the public schools. The federal government supports public schools through a project dubbed Race to The Top. The project aims at equipping learners with requisite skills so as to compete in the global market (Meier and Stewart 159). Unfortunately, a significant share of the money ends up in the pockets of bureaucrats. Some bureaucrats in the Department of Education direct the money into projects that do not add value to students. Unions always lobby for financial assistance whenever the New York State Senate is in sittings. The unions allege that the funds go a long way towards assisting the disadvantaged students (Meier and Stewart 167).

Nevertheless, whenever the Senate releases funds, bureaucrats in the Department of Education hijack them. There are too many consultants in the department of education (Meier and Stewart 162). Consequently, it is even difficult to know the roles of some of the consultants. In addition, the Department of Education has multiple irrelevant contracts that consume funds aimed at helping students. There are multiple administrators in the NYC Department of Education. Moreover, the department has innumerable fringe benefits (Meier and Stewart 164). In other words, there are numerous workers who are not directly involved in class work that take advantage of financial resources intended for teachers and students.

Bureaucracy in the NYC Department of Education makes it difficult for principals to change policies that are no longer productive. Indeed, bureaucracy turns a scoundrel into an idol and vice versa. In most cases, teachers are punished for acting against the established rules even if their actions were aimed at helping learners (Meier and Stewart 169).

Teachers are supposed to remain in school during workdays and only engage in matters pertaining education. Engaging in other activities even if they are intended to help one or many students amount to insubordination and may attract dismissal or suspension. Cases of teachers being suspended for not complying with the outdated and bureaucratic school rules are common in the New York City. For instance, a teacher was suspended for sending emails aimed at helping a student on a workday (Ravitch 76).

The school principal could not assist the teacher since he did not have authority over the rules. An official from the Department of Education found the teacher guilty of executing her project during the workday. Bureaucracy in the NYC Department of Education does not enable the school principals to deal with rogue or failed workers. On the contrary, bureaucrats are quick to punish teachers and other staff members that aim to help students.


Bureaucracy in the NYC Department of Education has relegated school principals to the position of chief compliance officers. The principals have no power to make decisions on matters that affect their institutions. Instead, they are supposed to uphold all administrative and state laws that govern public education. Bureaucracy does not give principals a chance to initiate transformations aimed at improving education standards. Moreover, Principals follow long processes before their projects are approved.

Consequently, they terminate most projects prematurely due to frustration. The NYC Department of Education has set bureaucratic requirements that make it extremely hard for teachers and education stakeholders to concentrate on their primary mission. Currently, the New York State is witnessing a reduction in tax revenue and increase in healthcare and energy costs. Thus, it is evident that schools will soon be compelled to operate with a tight budget. It will be hard for schools to accomplish their projects with the current state of bureaucracy. Therefore, there is a need for the federal and state governments to establish an environment that discourages political interference of learning institutions. Besides, principals and teachers should be empowered to handle the academic needs of their students.

Works Cited

Bruce, Bimber. School Decentralization: Lessons from the Study of Bureaucracy, New York: Harvard University Press, 2012. Print.

Gail, Sunderman, and K. Jimmy. Increasing Bureaucracy or Increasing Opportunities? School District Experience with Supplemental Educational Services, New York: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

Meier, Kenneth and Joseph Stewart. “The Impact of Representative Bureaucracies: Educational Systems and Public Policies.” The American Review of Public Administrations 22.3 (2009): 157-171. Print.

Ravitch, Diane. The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2007. Print.

Ruggiero, John. “Efficiency of Educational Production: An Analysis of New York School Districts.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 78.3 (2007): 499-508. Print.

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