Did the sidewalks and subways seem a little more crowded this morning? See more yellow school buses? That's because New York City public schools are open for the 2006-2007 school year. This year, the Department of Education is continuing to change, most notably with one-fifth of school principals becoming more autonomous (aka "empowerment schools") - they'll have more oversight over budgets, no more superintendents, but needing to meet DOE's performance goals. Here that principals with supers? You're not empowered.

This all part of Mayor Bloomberg's ambitiious plans to improve the state of public school education; of course, he touted raising the graduation rate during his reelection, but the rate is still very low - the city says it's around 53% while Education Week says it's 39%. Maybe that's why he's teaming up with Jeb Bush to talk about the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Daily News has an interview with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who discusses charter schools and the principals union. But the most interesting exchange is about that hot button topic, cell phones in schools.

Why do you support the cell phone ban?

KLEIN: Sometimes you want to do what's right. And what we think is, it's right for our schools not to have cell phones. And you know, frankly, I think a lot of people agree with us. A lot of people don't agree with us. ...

Some parents want their kids to have them, but our responsibility ultimately is to maintain safety and discipline in the school system. ...

I met a father up in Riverdale when I was getting some questions on this and he said, "You know, my daughter said she'd like to have her cell phone in school but she doesn't like the fact that other kids are taking pictures in the bathroom."

So I think this is one on which people have had some disagreement, obviously, and I understand that. But I think in the end discipline and a sense of order in schools is critically important.

The NY Times has a slideshow of kids heading back to school, with varying expressions of sadness, fear, and excitement about seeing friends again. Ah, those were the days. And days we're not looking forward to? Trying to get a child into pre-school.

Photograph of schools buses waiting for the fall from seth holladay on Flickr