The State of NYC Education

Friday, January 13, 2012

Beth Fertig, WNYC's education reporter and SchoolBook contributor, discusses the education proposals in Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City address.


Beth Fertig

Comments [42]

Posey from Manhattan

I see it as this, there is no way America is going to have everyone have the same education. It would be to much competition. with no hoods is the neighborhoods there is no balance to keep the private world something to reach for in America. I think this is wrong but it is the plan. we the people have had this conversation over and over, we play the game along with the HEADS OF STATE. two steps forward one step back. I think this is wrong. I think education offers self esteem and self worth. With this you have little humans that grow up to contribute in all the ways that we do know, from trash pick on new years eve to Doctors with-out-borders This is called a choice. I know this sound strange to think if were all educated in the same way why would someone pick trash pickup because were all built and wired different. we want different things. Why would someone want to wash your burger joint dishes? because he or she wants the freedom to focus on other things write for the public free paper not because he or she was deprived a good start to learn. Or a lack of self esteem and self worth. Equal Education. Not for America. Not yet

Jan. 13 2012 12:31 PM

Consider the formation (along the lines of the WPA) of the Greys, teams of teachers' assistants to assist in the classroom and under the direction of the classroom teacher. They would be made up of volunteer (or minimum pay) retirees who after a training program would be able to provide extra one on one help to our children.

Jan. 13 2012 12:13 PM
Cynthia from NYC-East Harlem

As the daughter of a teacher who was a product of NYC system through College and I myself a product of the NYC system I am a bit tired of the we need teachers who good & care. Most are just that but the way you hear the mayor talk they are the small minority. Conditions in the school are far more influencial on learning than "pay" - teachers are called - even though she is retired she is still a teacher in her heart & soul. The one who stay are dedicated because if you are not you would not put up with this. ALso are we teaching learning or repeatation of facts soon forgotten to pass a test. My cousin has taught in the system - early childhood for 15+ years only in underserved areas of NYC and would go anywhere else. She loves it - however Pre-Care/Daycare wants Masters but pays even less than Board of Ed and if we don't get them loving LEARNING then we face an even greater uphill battle

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. And as your caller said its not a BASIC education that is a right but a QUALITY on and that does not mean only being able to pass a test. Lets not get to the Korean model where so much is put on one test that there is round the clock studying and a high suicide rate-but hey they can take a test.

Jan. 13 2012 11:50 AM
Anthony from Hawthorne, NJ

Why is it that when we talk about how well children are educated we talk solely about teachers and how good or bad they teach? Besides teachers shouldn't we also be talking about how involved parents are with their kids after the school day ends? One of the many things I attribute to my successful education is not only the teachers I had, but also how every night my grandmother would sit down and do homework with me. For example if we were working on Math homework, each of us would have scrap paper to work on the question independently and compare our answers. If our answers differ we would go over our work to see where either one of us made our mistakes and correct it from there. Many times it was I who made the mistake but having her there with me and taking the extra time to figure out where I went wrong made a huge difference.

Jan. 13 2012 11:48 AM
Everton from Deer Park

Although funding is very important, the most important variable is parent involvement. If parents dont have the time or other other resources, it does not matter how much you spend. Parents have to be an integral part of a quality education.

Jan. 13 2012 11:43 AM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

Why can't this country figure out to educate it's children? Maybe there is another country whose model we could copy?

Jan. 13 2012 11:42 AM
Olivia from Westchester

Last Night I saw the documentary "American Teacher." As a retired teacher, I recommend it to all--parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens.

Jan. 13 2012 11:42 AM
inwoodita from nyc

Being a civil servant and not being remunerated according to performance is not a good idea. I'll give you the example of my national health service dentist in France. An American dentist told me I had 8 cavities and scheduled four visits. But I had to go live in France before I could do this, so I asked for me x-rays and went to a very good but public (not private) dentist in France. He looked at my x-rays and could not find 8 cavities. He couldn't find ANY cavities. In fact, I had none. When I told him how much I'd have had to pay for each filling, he understood. He told me that cheating wasn't worth it to him, that he didn't make that much money from putting fillings in people's teeth to make up cavities. He's a very very good dentist, though, and has no shortage of patients. In fact, he saw me as a favor due to a cancellation, or else I'd have had to wait a while for an appointment, he was so busy.
The moral of the story is: make it so people can request teachers, and when people show enough LACK of interest in a teacher, drop that teacher. Let the students and parents do the choosing. And keep paying the teachers equally, while maintaining their benefits and security so that the job and the recognition itself are the rewards of the teachers' performance. A good teacher deserves benefits and tenure, but should be discouraged from cheating. Paying for test results always results in cheating. It's human nature. Every teacher I had in HS cheated. I'm talking proctors not staying in the room during Regents, teachers actually nudging students when they filled in wrong answers, and teachers making clown faces during multiple choice ((for the wrong answers) on AP tests. The higher the pressure, the more the cheating. I was in AP classes. Our teachers didn't even need to cheat, but they were so worried about their quotas that they did, surprising us all.

Jan. 13 2012 11:04 AM
RJ from prospect hts

An observation: Whenever the proven dumbing-down of standardized tests, and the failure of the the mayor's programs to improve those test grades during his entire tenure (, are mentioned, the response from the mayor and former chancellor Klein was (and is) "we increased graduation rates." Well, um, yeah: Raise the children's "grades" and more of them will graduate. And as far as those official graduation rate numbers, NYS Comptroller DiNapoli recently reported that many students were "discharged" rather than reported as "dropped out" (, making the number of children still in school and likely to graduate even larger.

All put together, the mayor's "education legacy" will be at least one generation of painfully, harmed, educationally damaged young people and adults.

Jan. 13 2012 10:57 AM

On comparison of teachers and doctors...

How effective are doctors? If doctors were really effective, would heart disease be the number one killer of Americans? Would diabetes be on the rise and obesity be classified as an epidemic? How much money is wasted treating these diseases? If they did THEIR jobs, they'd TEACH their patients healthier lifestyles so they'd get healthy and stay healthy.

Seems it's easier to fix the acute problem their cure the chronic disease!

Jan. 13 2012 10:43 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan


Not bad.

Jan. 13 2012 10:32 AM
William from Manhattan

If I were a teacher, I'd be furious with my union. I'm sure that most teachers do heroic work in difficult settings, but their union does a terrible job of representing them to the public. The teachers union has become a popular symbol of obstructionism, while most people still deeply respect individual educators. If the union could propose meaningful reform measures in a manner that resonated with the public, it would steal the initiative from its adversaries. Instead, the union simply reactively objects to wave after wave of proposals for reform without promoting reform measures of its own that have had any traction with the media or the public.
Teachers should impose performance reviews for their union leaders. If they did so, they'd fire the lot of them, and we'd all be better off.

Jan. 13 2012 10:32 AM
helen from manhattan

It is too hard to compare success of a doctor to success of a teacher. A surgeon can choose their patients, keep their "numbers up" by not accepting a disaster scenario. A teacher is forced to take these problem students and then are held accountable for the students failure.

It is not a teachers duty to raise our children, parents need to take this responsibility on themselves. A teacher is very important but they aren't the parent, and for many of these problem children, they are forced to become parents.

Jan. 13 2012 10:31 AM

Clearly statistics point out that kids from wealthier backgrounds and in 'better' schools are going to end up performing better on the testing, and their teachers will end up getting these bonuses more than those teaching kids in the roughest neighborhoods.

Why not after the 2 year period and "highly effective" rating, switch those 'great' teachers to the worst schools and see if we can bring up scores as effectively.

Jan. 13 2012 10:30 AM

Exactly which teacher in the life of the student is responsible for success? Is it the current teacher or a former teacher? How do we know this? What this means is that teachers will cherry pick and students who need education won't get it because teachers will avoid those who will bring down the average. This is a well known failing idea because teaching is a special profession where our class fits all sizes. How does a teacher in a struggling school compete with a high end school that selects its students. I'd suggest the mayor put this money into teacher development and not into a pot to separate and divide. The mayor's sole purpose here is to destroy the teacher's union, not to improve teaching.


Jan. 13 2012 10:29 AM

It is one thing to talk about "civil rights" in terms of liberty, justice, freedom, etc. but it takes on an entirely different meaning to say that every human being is entitled 20+ years of publicly funded education (or any other service) merely for being alive. Entitlement fails to encourage either efficiency or excellence.

Jan. 13 2012 10:28 AM

Incentives work... so I'm told.

So, give the students "merit pay" to encourage their success. The money can be given to them in small parts and the balance can be put in their higher education fund (including for trade programs to become an electrician, plumber, computer/ internet etc).

Students will respond to much less money than the teachers will, possibly for even 1/100th of the cost.

Given the students a promise of a scholarship can only help them so much. A small stipend at the end of each semester means a lot more than a gold star or an "A" on the report card.

Controversial? Yes, sure. And it would have problems. But as was noted by Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address last week, the students don't have an organized union campaigning and lobbying.

Jan. 13 2012 10:28 AM

One of the chalenges for teacher evaluation is accounting for successful teachng that does not bear fruit immediately. An English class that engenders a love of reading may not boost test scores in the year the class is taken, but if the students become readers their overall academic perfomance including test scores may be far better years later than they would have been otherwise.

Jan. 13 2012 10:28 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

As a teacher I can say that the problems with the NYC system are much, much larger than merit pay. First, Bloomberg's corportization of the school system has been a disaster - 50% still don't graduate and of the percentage that do, 20% need remedial math and English in order to take a basic class at a community college. The idea that testing kids to death = education is a formulation only a banker would come up with, certainly not someone interested in actually educating their population.

Second, the UFT is really only interested in making sure there are as many teachers on the payroll as possible (obviously because the more teachers there are, the more money UFT can collect from dues). Teacher tenure is a huge problem but to eradicate the dysfunctional tenure system would mean breaking the union. I'm not anti-union, but I am anti any union that is more interested in paying its executives high salaries (UFT execs make enormous salaries - four times the average teacher) at the expense of educating our kids.

Third, there are many, many horrible teachers in the NYC system; teachers who have no business being in a classroom but managed to get tenure under leaner and more lenient times. Young, functional teachers come into the system and take one look at what is going on and if they have any intelligence (emotional and intellectual) they get out as soon as possible. There is enormous ageism (though the dysfunctional older teachers claim that this is against the older teachers, in fact it's against the younger ones). Higher pay would certainly help, but it won't compensate for the level of dysfunction that one finds in the DOE. It's simply staggering on every level.

If we're really serious about educating our kids (which, frankly, I don't believe we are), then we need to deal with all of the above. Unfortunately, the reality is that mostly it's poor kids who have to deal with this horrible system and this fact alone precludes anyone at the top (whether they are in the DOE or the UFT or the mayor's office) from really giving a damn.

Jan. 13 2012 10:27 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

These calls from teachers and the overall discussion has underscored the fundamental problem with the current education debate: Most of us, including the naked imperial Mayor, have inadequate appreciation of teachers. And by "appreciation" I mean understanding of what they actually do and, in turn, the requisite regard for them.

Jan. 13 2012 10:26 AM
pat daniels from harlem

how about merit pay for cops? bus drivers? sanitation workers?
how about unionized architects and doctors with limits on what they can earn? try putting limits on what a lawyer can earn and see how far that gets you... merit pay for parents that get their kids to go to school?

Jan. 13 2012 10:24 AM
Brooklyn Teacher

I don't understand why or how this is even a question anymore. All of the research is clear: merit pay for teachers does not work. The evaluations are inherently flawed and the practice is counter-productive. I just don't understand why it is even open to discussion when there is so much research that clearly indicates it does not work.

Jan. 13 2012 10:23 AM

@Christine & Martin

Spot on....we shouldn't blame teachers for what our declining uber-conservative, overly curative culture has permitted in the realm of government irresponsibility. In the capitalist state, it's "government's fault" and the cure is the market, but the teachers get blamed because someone will always be left holding the bag.

Education declined in lockstep with the 80's "revolution." We threw out the baby with the bath water.

Jan. 13 2012 10:22 AM
FJK from Brooklyn

My wife is a teacher, and while I am not a teacher, I am an attorney with an interest in education policy and my wife and I discuss education on a daily basis. The one thing that drives me crazy is the utter ignorance of policy makers when it comes to evaluating "success" in the classroom. It is idiotic to evaluate students, and in turn teachers, on student performance on a single standardized test. It is well known to any person with even a passing interest in education policy that all children learn differently and begin their education from different starting points. While I support teacher evaluations, it is the process of evaluation that distresses me. A teacher should be evaluated by his/her individual student's progress. If a student is making personal progress throughout the school year that is a success. We cannot expect a student whose parents take no interest in education to perform on an identical level with a student whose parents take an active interest in their child's education.

Jan. 13 2012 10:21 AM
Alison Paul

What about teachers who teach subjects in which there are no state assessments? physical education, foreign language, art, music. Push in reading teachers, special ed, etc. There are many teachers who work hard and make a difference but the merit based on test performance would not impact them. This is a big flaw.

Jan. 13 2012 10:19 AM

Come on, Mr. Lehrer -- doctors, lawyers, designers are not _salaried_.

There is a very well developed economics of when performance-based pay works. In work environments where it is _difficult_ to verify performance quality, there is a very strong case _against_ merit pay.

In the case of doctors, designers, lawyers, it is far far easier to identify and verify good performance and the causes of such performance. Teachers, by contrast, deal with the issue of personal issues of students, class size, funding, socio-economic status, family issues, and on and on — very high noise, as economists would put it.

Moreover, once you put in place performance-based pay, you incentivize moral hazard — hidden action to deceive the boss — and diverted action, to easier students, teaching to the test, etc. All this is well-established.

The real motive behind 'moderate' (read "conservative") and right-wing demands for performance pay is the fact that teachers are an easy target. Needless to say, Bloomberg and company do not endorse performance pay for Wall Street execs (who see _increases_ for _poor_ performance).

The three-year to tenure model _is_ a problem. Professors in universities have seven years. It's hard to see how three years is sufficient to see which teachers are good.

The basic fact is that the US is a country that denigrates education. Raise pay across the board, start treating teachers with respect and honor — as they are in Asian countries and parts of Europe (not Britain, but yes Germany and Scandinavia) — and you'll get a different class of teacher. But the wealthy know they can send their kids to private school, so the oligarchs have no incentive to do what is right.

Jan. 13 2012 10:18 AM
Bobby G from East Village

I have my disagreements with the Mayor, but I gotta believe that he values education and good teachers. The Teachers Union should start making some accommodations or they will lose in the court of public opinion. Their intransigency has already cost the school system $58 million. It's time to clear out the dead wood.

Jan. 13 2012 10:18 AM

Bloomberg should sell advertising space in public schools to corporations to finance the out of control teacher wages.

Also, any top down teacher-evaluation reform is bound to fail. its like reganomics, doesn't work.

Jan. 13 2012 10:17 AM
Anna from New York

In all other professions, the professional CHOSES to work with his CLIENT. A lawyer can choose not to take a case if he feels he would lose the case. A doctor can choose not to treat a patient if the patient may die. A teacher does not get to choose his or her students. Until a teacher can choose the students he wants to work with, this pay idea can not work.

Jan. 13 2012 10:17 AM
Susan from Upper West Side

A highly effective manager isn't the manager who simply fires those that are performing effectively, it is the manager that can inspire even those who are struggling to perform better. To give an example, when I first worked in Niger, everyone complained about the community health worker - from the high level Ministry officials to International Aid Agencies. Even Peace Corps Volunteers thought they were terrible. They had terrible pay and very few tools. Lo and behold, three projects worked together to enable these community health workers to become very effective. The Nutrition Communication Project and Helen Keller International provided tools to develop innovate social marketing improve the vitamin A status of children -- including some very hilarious local plays by the health care workers. At the same time a Quality Assurance Project (don't ask me what that really means) worked with them to develop their own evaluation and assessment tools. These dispirited unmotivated workers were completely transformed. I was incredibly impressed with how excited they were when someone finally trusted them and valued their input into the process of improving the health care system. Bloomberg could learn a lot from this experience. So could those who want to blame blame blame teachers. Who would ever want to become a teacher these days?

Jan. 13 2012 10:16 AM
Brooklyn Teacher

Your suggestion that merit pay for teachers is akin to the pay system of professionals like lawyers is misguided. A parallel system of pay would mean each individual teacher's salary would be determined when HIRED, based on resume, recommendations, experience, education, and so forth. This proposal, on the other hand, is for REWARD pay, as determined by very misguided evaluations.

I am absolutely against merit pay for teachers because the determinants for it will never be the true determinants of good teaching.

I am a highly effective, highly educated, highly committed public school teacher of 8 years, at a school with nearly 100% of students living under the poverty line.

Jan. 13 2012 10:16 AM
Rachael from Brooklyn

Simply putting aside the question of whether students should be tested so much (and I don't believe they should), these tests on which Bloomberg wants to base 40% of the teacher evaluations ARE NOT DESIGNED to be used to evaluate teacher quality. It's an abuse of test data.

Jan. 13 2012 10:16 AM
jgm from NYC

Read Kristof in the NYT Jan. 11 He says it all!!!!

Jan. 13 2012 10:15 AM

WHAT teachers make 50%+ more than professionals!

Jan. 13 2012 10:13 AM
marco from New York

This is a perfect example of bureaucracy at its worst: defend mediocrity at all costs. Most of these people should be in Board of Ed "rubber rooms."

Jan. 13 2012 10:13 AM
Sharon from UES

Brian you mention doctor's being "professionals." While I have all the respect in the world for doctors our healthcare system is broken too. We have doctors earning massive amounts of money, some of us on in the 99% don't agree our privatized medical system makes sense anymore.

Jan. 13 2012 10:13 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

And what happens if a teacher is rated 'highly effective' for a third year? Do they get another $20K? Or is there some 'ineligibilty period' where the teachers performance is not measured? Sounds kind of scammy but I have no experience with NYC schools. My mom used to teach in them but left to teach in our home town in the 60's.

Jan. 13 2012 10:12 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

@Christine from Queens

Spot on....we shouldn't blame teachers for what our declining uber-liberal, overly permissive culture has permitted in the realm of parental irresponsibility. In the welfare state, it's "nobody's fault", but the teachers get blamed because someone will always be left holding the bag.

Education declined in lockstep with the 60's "revolution." We threw out the baby with the bath water.

Jan. 13 2012 10:00 AM
Rosalie Friend from Brooklyn

Mayor Bloomberg does not seem to understand that schools are not businesses which try to make a profit for shareholders even at the expense of others. Schools must serve a public good - prepare children to be educated citizens and workers who can think for themselves, for the sake of the broader society. Children and their families are not customers; children must go to school whether or not they want to learn.
Teaching requires amazing skills, and research says that it takes from three to seven years to be able to attend to 25-30 students at once, not only maintain order, but engage them in learning. Children differ in background, temperament and goals.
The mayor is proposing merit pay even though a recent experiment in NYC run by a respected researcher was closed down early because it was found that the teachers in the group that was not offered bonuses worked every bit as hard as those who were offered bonuses.
Charter schools also do not work. Very few are doing better than public schools even though they serve fewer children with learning disabilities and fewer English language learners. The charters, on the whole, are not showing higher student achievement than the public schools even though the charters can send children who do not suit them back to the public schools.

Jan. 13 2012 10:00 AM
David from Stuyvesant Town

Bloomberg fetishizes Principals and Administrators. He doesn't understand that the already great power that Principals have over teachers can and does have a corrupting effect on individual teachers' evaluations. Just 1 quick point from personal knowledge: I know of one public school principal who, year after year, kept all the behavior problem kids out of her personal friend's class, which she improperly declared to be the school's "gifted and talented" class (the school had no such program). So year after year, that teacher's evaluations reflected a class full of nothing but high-achieving, well-behaved kids, and all her colleagues' evaluations, importantly, *year after year,* reflected all the more troubled kids who were funneled to them. Teachers need even stronger checks and protections against evaluations than they have now, not the other way around. Bloomberg typifies an American problem: everyone and his politician brother is an expert on education. Except educators.

Jan. 13 2012 09:59 AM
Jane Jameston from brooklyn

Is he setting himself up to run for some kind of office?

must be, why else would he harrase a bunch of powerless workers.

Jan. 13 2012 09:41 AM
Christine from Queens

When will Bloomberg and the media understand that school reform should not be a "political" issue to make a name? Politicians are interested in elections, ratings and short term solutions. Teachers are in the classroom for 25+ years. It is interesting that we have a culture of "awe" and "admiration" for firemen and policemen - we call them heroes- meanwhile teachers are perceived as a bunch of incompetent, lazy, inefficient civil servants with easy jobs that finish at 3pm. Nobody mentions 150 students, whose work you are supposed to correct every night, call 1/3 of the parents, every night, update a personal file on each student,every night, have a creative lesson plan every day,make copies for students who have no books, every day (with broken photo copying machines)-while it is FORBIDDEN by the establishment to talk about the incompetence of parents, the quality of the students who can insult, f--- , disrespect, taunt, threaten and attack teachers while the institution will not support teachers because teachers are supposed to have the "classroom" under control, and it is the "teacher's fault" that the students misbehave- not the parents, not the social environment, not their personal histories. It is a broken system, and teachers alone can not and should not be blamed for it.
It is the closest thing to a totalitarian regime that I have witnessed. It is unjust, it does not work, but those who do not conform, speak up, cheat (grades) or put on an act when "visitors" come, loose their job or they (administrators) make life miserable, because their jobs hinge on "statistics". Why are we surprised that gang membership has increased and continues to increase? What job is out there for these illiterate, poorly trained, undisciplined youngsters? We will pay as a society for this deservice; you can be sure of that.

Jan. 13 2012 09:09 AM

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