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New York City has the largest public school system in the country with over 1 million students and more than 1,100 schools. When he was running for mayor, Michael Bloomberg promised to overhaul the city’s education system and told voters to hold him accountable for the results.
After taking office, he won control of the schools, abolished the Board of Education, and began instituting policies like the end of “social promotion,” advancing students on to the next grade even though they may not be academically prepared.
Recent test scores show that city students are making improvements, but by any measure, the schools still face many critical issues. Many classrooms are overcrowded. Less than half of each high school class graduates in four years. And teachers in the city make less than their suburban counterparts and many leave or quit.
The state’s highest court ruled that the city’s educational system is severely underfunded. It ordered the state to spend an additional $23 billion to ensure a “basic, sound education” for each child. Lawmakers in the state have appealed the decision and have not increased funding. Some believe the city should pay a portion of the needed funding.
In February 2004, Mayor Bloomberg implemented a plan to end so-called "social promotion," the practice of passing students on to the next grade even though they cannot perform at academic standards. Bloomberg instituted standardized tests for 3rd and 5th graders that are required to advance. He now plans to implement the same tests in the 7th grade. Some criticize the plan, arguing it puts too much pressure on students and that single test does not accurately reflect a level of education.
Fernando Ferrer promises to increase the number of high school graduates from New York City public schools by 50,000 in four years. Within the next eight years, he wants to lower the dropout rate below the national level.
He plans to improve school buildings, hire more teachers, and create a centralized tracking system to monitor student progress and attendance, which he says will identify children at risk of dropping out. He also promises to provide a laptop computer for each high school student.
Ferrer, who often mentions that his wife is a schoolteacher, promises to give public school teachers a pay raise.
To pay for all of this, Ferrer proposes using the $23 billion that a state court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Although he hopes the majority of the money will come from Albany, Ferrer said city should pay about 25 percent of it.
To do so, he proposed a half a cent tax on stock sales on Wall Street. He argues that it makes sense to require Wall Street to contribute to education because “they are the industry that benefits most in seeing that New York’s children are educated to the highest of standards.”
Ferrer supports increasing the number of charter schools - institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding - as long as they do not take away resources from the pubic school system.
Ferrer said he would not reverse the mayor's action to end social promotion for third and fifth graders. But Ferrer said the real problem is that the mayor is too concerned about test scores.
"The problem in our school system is while the mayor is obsessing about some test score increases in the early grades, we're forgetting about collapsing scores in middle school and a dropout crisis - a level of dropouts of 50 percent and more in our high school grades," Ferrer said.
Even Michael Bloomberg’s opponents agree that abolishing the Board of Education and taking control of the city’s schools was a major accomplishment. Bloomberg has also instituted a citywide curriculum and increased city funding for the Department of Education by $2.5 billion since 2002. Bloomberg eliminated the policy of social promotion in the 3rd and 5th grades and points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg also created a Leadership Academy to recruit and train principals.
After giving the teacher’s a raise in his first year in office, Bloomberg and the teacher’s union were locked in a deadlocked over additional pay increases for three years. In September, the Bloomberg administration and the New York City teachers' union reached a tentative contract that calls for raises of 15 percent over 52 months, but requires teachers to work longer days, eliminates some seniority rights in staffing decisions and establishes a new master teacher position with higher pay.
Bloomberg supports the State Supreme Court ruling that city schools should get $23 billion in more funding. But he does not want the city to pay any more than it currently does. Bloomberg has argued that any increase at all in city education spending would require cuts in other areas that "would harm the very children this lawsuit is designed to help." Michael Cardoza, the Bloomberg administration's corporation counsel, has even said that the city would reject any additional state funds if it had to chip in part of the settlement.
Bloomberg says he is a “strong supporter” of charter schools, institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding. He has urged the state to increase the number that can be created. In the last three and a half years, the Bloomberg administration has opened 17 charter schools with 16 more set to open this fall. His five-year capital plan includes $290 million toward building charter schools in the city.
Mayor Bloomberg implemented a plan to end social promotion in the third and fifth grades. He points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg is now wants to require standardized tests in 7th grade as well.
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