Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Mayor Bloomberg's Education Reform

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education address at New York Urban League's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium - January 15, 2003

I want to congratulate the New York Urban League and its president, Darwin Davis. For over a year now, I've proudly worn the Urban League pin on my lapel every day. The pin's message about marrying equality and the Big Apple is I think what New York is all about-and what I was elected to enhance.

The League has a long and proud tradition of service, especially in the area of education. And I look forward to continuing to work with the League -- on behalf of New York City's children, and our children's' parents.

And you should know, at a national level, last night I had dinner with U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige. I thanked him for President Bush's recent proposal to increase Federal investment to help schools serving our neediest children and meet high academic standards.

I also had dinner last night, and I wanted to welcome here this morning, State Education Commissioner Rick Mills to our city, welcome Rick. I know you all share with me our appreciation to him for his leadership in this State.

Let me also thank the All-City Choir. Their voices are the voices of our city's future. They are strong and clear voices, full of hope and, as the song says, "a new day begun."

They remind us that no job in our city is more important than giving all our young people the guidance, education and opportunity they need -- to realize that hope, and achieve their potential.

To give our children the education they deserve, New York City spends $12 billion annually and employs roughly 100,000 public servants. This has made some of our city's schools vibrant centers of learning, with dedicated and hard-working teachers and staffs. Unfortunately, these schools are the exception, and not the rule. In a majority of cases, the quality of public education we provide is woefully inadequate.

And, as a result, too many of our children's futures-and our city's future-are in jeopardy.

Fortunately, our Governor and State Legislature have recognized this threat, and have had the foresight to task us with fixing this disgrace.

They have given us the responsibility and extraordinary opportunity to rewrite that bleak scenario -- and to chart a new course of success for all our public schools.

Today, I will share with you a frank, and I think accurate, portrait of the current system's fundamental failings...and also outline the essential next steps we are taking to reverse them.

I can think of no more appropriate occasion to do so than the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Because it was Dr. King's remarkable gift that he could passionately and fearlessly indict what was wrong with our society... and also inspire and mobilize us to rise above our shortcomings.

Dr. King regularly reminded us that an injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere. It is one of his most oft-quoted statements.

Similarly, if Dr. King were here today to survey the current state of New York City's schools he would, in the same vein, warn us that illiteracy permitted anywhere threatens literacy and learning everywhere.

He would unflinchingly focus our attention on the yawning gap --between the unmatched cultural and academic riches of New York on the one hand -- and the failure of too many of our schools on the other. Because that gap is the deepest shame of the greatest city in the world.

He would remind us, for example, that while the Schomburg Center is justly renowned as a resource for research, learning and attracting scholars from around the world to its incomparable library and archives--unless we make immediate and fundamental changes in our schools, the treasures of the Schomburg, or of any other center of higher learning, may forever be utterly beyond the grasp of children who are, even now, sitting in classrooms not ten minutes walk from this very auditorium.

This morning we are in Community School District Five. Central and West Harlem lie within its boundaries. The most recent State and City standardized tests tell us that more than three-fourths of the students in elementary and middle school in District Five cannot read, write, or perform math at grade level.

I mention District Five simply because that's where we are today. I could just as easily have cited the dismal performance record of many other local districts.

In some middle schools, ninety- five percent or more of the students don't meet the basic standards of competence expected at their grade levels.

In ten other districts-districts incidentally in which African American and Latino children make up 88 to 99 percent of enrollment-more than two-thirds of students fail to meet standards in reading, writing and math.

Who's at fault? We hold students and teachers accountable for their performance in school-and we should. Setting high academic standards is the right thing to do.

But when entire schools are failing, accountability cannot stop with them. There the problem is systemic. When we look to those responsible for this disgraceful state of affairs, we need go no further than our own mirrors. We are all responsible-and we are all part of the solution.

Education is an area in which there is a tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses, and hearken back sentimentally to an era when "things were better."

But in our schools, as many educational experts have written, there is no Golden Age to reclaim. The "good old days," sadly were never anything but the old days.

True, just as it does today, the public schools in years gone by had examples of excellent schools, inspiring teachers and exceptional students.

At their best, they produced Secretary of State Colin Powell and opera diva Beverly Sills... polio conqueror Jonas Salk and impresario Joseph Papp...actress Lorraine Bracco and former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan... Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Surgeon General Richard Carmona, and our own Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

But it was also a school system that mirrored the requirements of an industrial age economy-one in which, for every single exceptional student tracked and groomed for academic achievement, scores dropped out to take jobs in sweatshops and on loading docks. Others graduated to take clerical or factory jobs that no longer exist, or that have now radically higher educational requirements.

The old system arguably served its time. But that time has passed.

In an information age global economy as we have today, all of our students must learn to read proficiently and critically...write fluently and persuasively...understand and employ mathematical concepts and analytical reasoning...and perform effectively in the collaborative settings that have become the new workplace norm.

Today, the specific, testable, and measurable ability to meet these requirements must be a condition of student promotion and graduation. Anything less cheats our students. For that reason, we will not tolerate social promotion in our schools.

Speaking at a college commencement some 42 years ago, Dr. King told the graduates that "We are tied together in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly... If we are to realize the American dream, we must cultivate this perspective."

It is in that spirit that I ask all of us to recognize that we are one city, with one common future-and that the fulcrum on which that future will turn is our public school system.

Over the last five months, Chancellor Klein and his team at the Department of Education have made a good beginning.

They have, for example, instituted a system to identify, measure, train and support the excellent school principals we urgently need.

They've made our schools safer for students and teachers, so that learning can go on in an orderly atmosphere free of fear, with Ben Tucker, Chief Executive of the Office of School Safety, focusing on serious offenses, and a new zero-tolerance for disruptive children in the classroom currently being implemented.

They've made a makeover of the scandalously expensive and time-consuming process of school construction and repair. Combined now, on a functional basis, are the Division of School Facilities and the School Construction Authority. This structural change alone will save hundreds of millions of dollars and years of planning.

They've supported the development of charter schools that foster educational creativity and provide broader public school choice. Our dream is to see many new charter schools formed in the years ahead.

To meet the challenge President Bush and Secretary Paige have given us to "leave no child behind"... they've instituted a centralized, patronage-free transfer system giving parents the fair and solely merit-based ability to move their children from failing schools.

And perhaps most importantly, under the banner of "Children First," Chancellor Klein's team has made an extraordinary outreach effort soliciting the views of parents throughout this city. They've heard from some 50,000 parents and community residents in face-to-face encounters, or via e-mails throughout New York City's many diverse neighborhoods.

Today, we take crucial steps on the road to creating a school system that is new in form and spirit-one in which educational excellence will flourish. To effect that change, we will immediately focus on three core elements:

First, ending the bureaucratic sclerosis that prevents resources and attention from going where they are needed: the classrooms.

Second, ensuring that every student acquires the skills in reading, writing and math that are the foundations of all learning.

And third, giving parents the tools, and the charge, to become full and active partners in the education of their children.

The school governance reform legislation enacted last year cleared the way for us to undertake these next steps.

It put an end to decades of diffused and confused educational administration, in which the buck stopped nowhere.

It gave us the opportunity to begin with something very close to a blank slate, freeing us to think anew and act anew.

Now we are preparing to build on what was done, and what was learned. As the first of these three core elements, we are finishing clearing out the Byzantine administrative fiefdoms that multiplied under the old Board of Ed.

Today, we are ending the remaining burden of a two-tier, "Alice In Wonderland" structure, one governing elementary and middle schools, and another separate one responsible for the high schools-both tiers diverted from education by operational as opposed to instructional responsibilities.

And both divided by more than 40 separate bureaucracies at the citywide and community school district levels, with budgets totaling millions of dollars, employing thousands of people in duplicative and unnecessary administrative jobs.

Chancellor Klein is eliminating this system. By the beginning of the next school year, these notorious bureaucratic dinosaurs will be extinct.

In their place -- will be one, unified, focused, streamlined chain of command. The Chancellor and his team will organize the individual schools into this new education management structure, one dedicated to instruction, and instruction alone. It combines k-12 in one seamless system. It gives operational duties to non-pedagogical staff. It streamlines the accountability chain.

At the heart of this new structure, under the supervision of Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Diana Lam, will be ten instructional leadership divisions, called Learning Support Centers.

Each Learning Support Center will be guided by one of our top ten best educators, selected by Chancellor Klein and his staff on the basis of extraordinary past achievement. These Regional Superintendents will sit together at the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Building -- where they can coordinate policy and provide direct accountability from the top on down.

These Learning Support Centers, physically spread throughout the city in city-owned or already-leased buildings, will each in turn house ten Local Instructional Supervisors, who will in turn directly oversee no more than a dozen close-by elementary, middle and high schools through the on-site school principals.

In other words -- on the instructional side, accountability and responsibility goes directly from one Deputy Chancellor to ten Regional 100 Local Instructional 1200 80,000 one million, one hundred thousand students...who we are here to serve!

Those chosen to be Regional Superintendents or Local Instructional Supervisors are among the cadre of Superintendents, Deputy Superintendents and Principals currently employed in our system. They are our pedagogical experts, and will focus on instruction, and instruction alone.

To shoulder the operations burden and keep the educators focused on education, this defined instructional accountability configuration will be served by a handful of specialized, well-managed back-office support centers under Deputy Chancellor for Administration Kathleen Grimm, performing budgeting, information technology, human resources and other administrative functions.

These roughly half a dozen "off-line" Support Centers will each have responsibility for separate geographic areas of the city and be housed in Learning Support Centers. Each will be run by a single Regional Operations Manager and populated by some of our current operational staff. They will function more efficiently -- and at a fraction of the sums now wasted in redundant administrative wheel-spinning.

In other words, on the operations side, accountability and responsibility goes from one Deputy Chancellor to six Regional Operation Managers instead of the current 40 or so. We expect a significant reduction in non-pedagogical staff over the next few months as this centralized structure is implemented.

Unclogging these administrative arteries will also permit us to reorganize the individual schools around their core mission: classroom instruction for students, not jobs for bureaucrats.

Freed from the dead hand of bureaucracy, principals will become instructional leaders-a sea-change on the front lines of the system: the individual schools.

To those who object to these reforms, my answer is simply this: Children and parents are not concerned about protecting bureaucrats; they want quality schools, and that's what we're going to deliver.

The savings we accrue in this process of centralization of operational services will go to the students. For example, by moving operations employees out of classrooms currently used as offices and conference facilities, we will free up at least 8,000 classroom seats in space now occupied by local bureaucracies. This is the equivalent of a dozen new schools.

In other words, simply by bringing the school system's administrative functions into the 21st century, we can gain nearly as much classroom space as will be built in the City's current five-year capital program.

Going in the other direction, on the instructional side, by this reorganization, we can take our best specialists in reading and math, and move them out of their district offices and put them full time where they should be: with the students, in the schools, teaching.

This reformed management structure will be the engine for achieving educational excellence in all 1200 of our schools. A new, coherent, systemwide curriculum for teaching reading, writing and math will be the fuel that drives this engine-and that is the second core element we are instituting today.

One of the consequences of decentralization has been a baffling profusion of approaches to teaching the three "R's" throughout the city.

In some instances, innovative programs have taken root and worked-and they will be allowed to continue to work. Pardon me you English teachers, but if the school "ain't broke," we're not going to make the mistake of trying to fix it.

That is why the roughly 200 "successful schools" will be allowed to operate with less bureaucratic influence than they currently receive.

Because they're doing it right, they will enjoy discretion in choosing their curricula, training their teachers, and setting their budgets.

These principals, assistant principals and teachers have shown they know what their mission is and how to accomplish it. Their student bodies are getting what they have a right to-a great education. Stay the course-and God Bless!

Our goal is to have 1200 such schools. But now, unfortunately, the vast majority of schools lack high-quality instruction and professional development, frustrating teachers and shortchanging students.

And too often, students and teachers who move from school to school are distracted and discouraged by having to adapt to entirely new teaching methods and curricula-frequently, in mid-school year.

The experience of other urban school districts shows that a standardized approach to reading, writing and math is the best way to raise student performance across the board, in all subjects. And beginning with the next school year, that is what we are going to implement citywide.

It's time to have a unified way of teaching our children.

In September, we will bring coherence to the way the majority of our schools teach reading and writing, so that citywide, our teachers will all employ strategies proven to work. For these schools, the Chancellor's office will dictate the curriculum and pedagogical methods.

Beginning in September, there will be libraries in all classrooms in all schools for students in grades 4 - 9. Many elementary and middle schools have classroom libraries-and such libraries must become the standard in all our schools.

Bottom line: Starting in September, every day, every elementary and middle school student will be surrounded with books that challenge and motivate them.

We will also provide support for struggling readers.

>From kindergarten through 3rd grade, we will have a reading and writing program that takes a comprehensive approach, and includes a daily focus on phonics.

Every young student will receive a minimum of 135 minutes of daily literacy instruction, and an hour of math. As the student gets older, in grades 3 through 8, the emphasis on math will increase relative to learning to read.

And what about children with special needs? They require special programs. The re-structuring we are announcing today must include the reform of the vast special education program created over 25 years ago.

In addition, as we develop a new curriculum for our students, the special needs of children who do not speak English must be addressed as well.

The panoply of programs in places across the schools needs to be more effective. Given the interlocking effects of Federal and State law, however, as well as the extensive litigation involved, I have asked the Chancellor to provide me with a separate plan on how we can better support these special populations within the next 60 days. Given Joel Klein's legal background, no one is better qualified to navigate the legal labyrinth that constantly frustrates change.

Cutting class size-especially in all our middle schools-is another critical key element. Beginning in September, the size of all middle school classes in English will be reduced from the current standard of 33 students to no more than 28 students.

Next, we've made the commitment to provide our teachers with the best teaching materials available-and we will. No teacher, no matter how competent, can teach without books and supplies... safe and clean classrooms... and adequate security.

Our schools spend almost three billion dollars a year on goods and services. Let me repeat that for understanding. Apart from paying the salaries of teachers, aides, principals and administrators, there is another three billion dollars spent on things like books, supplies, food and transportation, in support of classroom activities.

Yet we don't always purchase wisely, making sure we get the most value for the school system's dollar. We've also heard terrible stories about children sitting in classrooms without basic supplies and textbooks, or about books and other classroom materials that arrive weeks or months after the start of the school term. Those days have ended. Change can and will happen.

Already, we've instituted and continue to implement purchasing policy and system changes that are saving the schools millions of dollars on commodities. At the same time, we are focusing on ways to use electronic commerce to speed up the process of sourcing and delivering basic supplies to the schools, so that our children have the books and materials they need to learn when the classroom bell rings each September.

We do not have to wait for a consultant study or a report to be developed to make these changes. We are doing this now, and next September will be different from the past years. We already are making high-quality professional development become more part of the working culture of every school. This too will pay enormous dividends. The better trained we are -- the more our children will learn.

Our intent is to create a system of 1.1 million students who are great readers and writers. Nothing could be more important. It is the school system's top priority.

The third and perhaps most critical core element in the new school system is to make the roles and responsibilities of parents greater. Parents must be equal partners in education.

The clear message Chancellor Klein and his team have heard from the public school parents of New York is that parents of New York, is that parents want more access to, and information about, their children's schools. They want regular communication. And they want to be treated with respect.

The new school system will achieve those goals. The entire school system, from principals up to the Chancellor, will be held accountable for effectiveness in engaging parents, and responding to their concerns. Every school will become parent-friendly. Administrators and teachers will be expected to exhaust every avenue in making parents part of the school environment.

In each school there will be a "parent coordinator," whose sole job will be to engage parents in their children's education, and be the ombudsperson in the school.

Parent engagement also will be a significant factor in principal performance reviews. This will ensure that it is viewed as a core responsibility, not as an "add-on" or optional activity.

Many parents' schedules incidentally, make it difficult for them to come to their children's' schools during the workday. Therefore in all of the Learning support Centers throughout the city, we will set up community-focused parent service offices, each open at least two nights a week and on weekends, and each with the ability to work on the issues of any school in the city.

The governance structure of the entire school system also must become parent-oriented. That's why tomorrow, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Chancellor Klein will testify to the Joint State Legislative Task Force on Education that our current ineffective and politically driven community school board system must be abolished.

They will urge that district boards be replaced by new "Parent Engagement Boards," on which only parents of children attending that local school may serve-and protected from being compromised by local politicians as has happened every time in the past.

We not only want parents to become more involved in the education of their children... we challenge them to accept this role.

War, it has been said, is too important to be left to the generals. That's also true of education. Fixing our schools is too important to be left solely to the teachers and school administrators.

You elected me to do a tough job and make difficult choices. Being a parent is a tough job, too, especially in today's society. There's no ducking it.

At home, the buck stops with the parents. And it's up to the parents to get their children to school on time... to make sure that homework gets done... and to speak up when their child needs extra attention at school.

We can do more to help parents and students shoulder their responsibilities. And they'll get that help, in the form of a citywide system of school-linked youth, family and health services... counseling... and opportunities for after-school and extracurricular activities for their youngsters, as much as we can afford.

Guided by a new citywide system that the Chancellor will announce, there'll be new partnerships between the schools and the community organizations that deliver these services. They'll be part of a new social compact in New York-a compact devoted to creating 1200 great public schools.

But before the parents earn the right to complain about "the system," they must first do their part. After all, it's their child!

Then, there's students. They also face tough responsibilities. We need to challenge them to make the right choices and hold them to high expectations.

As they get old enough to know better, they must assume greater responsibility for their own success. After all, in the end, it's their lives.

Our Department of Education employees must do better. By and large, they are well-qualified, hard-working and dedicated to our youth. But the results are not what we want-and together we must do a better job.

Lastly, we, the people of New York, must do our part. We must have the courage to stand up to the apologists, to the entrenched self-serving special interests, to the self-promoters and doubters and the apathetic. We must make the commitment-financial, moral and political. After all, it's our future too!

The movement of freedom that Dr. King led and that we will forever honor him for, was, at bottom, just such a compact.

It was also a movement of individual actions. When we celebrate the civil rights era, we pay tribute to the personal decisions of thousands of ordinary men and women to take control of their lives and, by doing so, change society.

Today, we are at the dawn of a new movement-one that will liberate the next generation of New Yorkers from the devastating consequences of continued educational failure.

I challenge all New Yorkers to join me in embracing and nurturing that movement with the same kind of social compact, and daily individual acts of dedication and decency that made the civil rights movement one of the finest chapters in the American story.

The right to a quality education is just as much a God-given and American right as the right to vote or be treated equally. This movement to fix our public school system is another link on the civil rights railroad to equality.

Let me leave you with one last thought- we've outlined the next administrative and policy reforms the City will take to support that movement. Now, in the words of the song that began this morning's program, let us march on-together-until victory is won.


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