If Teaching Improves, Bloomberg Says Large Classes Are Fine by Him

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12:02 a.m. | Updated In the news on Friday, a statement by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that has provoked some controversy.

The mayor, speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this week, had a prescription for fixing city schools. According to an online news report by Marcia Kramer of CBS New York News, the mayor said: "If I had the ability, which nobody does really, to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them, and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers."

A video of the remarks has the mayor going on to say: “And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.”

The quote in the written article was originally compressed and incorrect, but was later updated to reflect what the mayor actually said.

Asked about the remarks on Friday, the mayor's office responded by saying that the complete quote from the speech showed he was emphasizing the need for quality teaching, at higher pay. Here's the fuller quote from his speech:

Education is very much, I’ve always thought, just like the real estate business. Real estate business, there are three things that matter: location, location, location is the old joke. Well in education, it is: quality of teacher, quality of teacher, quality of teacher. And I would -- if I had the ability, which nobody does really, to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them, and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.

The mayor was also asked about the remarks on Thursday at a news conference in Willets Point, Queens, and had gone on to explain still further:

The best thing you can do is put the best teacher you can possibly find and afford in front of the classroom. And if you have to have fewer because there’s only a certain number of dollars to go around, I’m in favor of that. As you know, we’ve raised teacher salaries something like 105 percent over the last ten years, whereas almost all other municipal employees have gone up 32, 33 percent, and that’s because I think we have to pay competitively to get the best teachers, and that’s really -- it’d be great to have lots of them and smaller class sizes, but the reality is you only have so much money, so teacher quality is the thing where we should really be focusing on.

At SchoolBook's request, Stu Loeser, the mayor's spokesman, made this statement:

The Mayor raised a hypothetical which he explicitly said could never actually happen -- if you could double salaries for good teachers while getting rid of bad ones, would you take that deal? People can disagree on the answer to that academic question. But we can all agree that slicing out the parts of his sentences about doubling salaries and it only being a hypothetical is not fair.

At a time when class sizes are on the rise — the teachers' union claims classrooms are more crowded than they have been in a decade — when so-called co-locating of schools is a hot-button issue among parents and other advocates, and when parts of Queens, Manhattan and other neighborhoods are bursting with children and not enough schools to accommodate them, Mr. Bloomberg's remarks were provocative.

The United Federation of Teachers president, Michael Mulgrew, told CBS New York that he puts the mayor's comment in the same category as his decision to appoint a former magazine editor with no teaching experience to be schools chancellor, the CBS report says.

"So the mayor thinks this is a good idea — in high schools to have class size in high schools of 70 kids," Mr. Mulgrew said. "Clearly the mayor has never taught. And probably the mayor’s having another Cathie Black moment," a reference to Cathleen P. Black, whose tenure as schools chancellor lasted only a few months.

On Friday, Gotham News published a report that puts Mr. Bloomberg's comments into the context of his previous statements, and points out where these remarks depart from his earlier rhetoric.

And Mr. Bloomberg was again asked to explain his remarks on Friday, during a question and answer session when he announced an expansion of Facebook in the city.

Nothing I said in Boston I haven’t said for the last 10 years.

If you were going to start from scratch, you want to go and get the best teachers and you have to pay them more to get them, which means you’re going to have fewer teachers. Nobody’s talking about laying off anybody. But I think we should pay our teachers well. And the teachers union should be very happy. Every other union got a third raise for their people, 33 percent over the last 10 years. The teachers got 105, 110 percent raise over the last 10 years. If that doesn’t show how much we care about teachers, I don’t quite know what does.

Asked about the impact of large class sizes, Mr. Bloomberg said:

I went to school in a class, five rows of eight. Everybody I know in my generation went to classes of 40 or more. And education by some people’s argument was as good then as it is today. Whether it’s better or worse, I don’t know. But I got through it.

In other news, The New York Times reports in more depth about the SAT cheating scandal that has rocked Long Island and has set off demands for heightened security by the College Board, which administers the exam. Jenny Anderson and Peter Applebome's report provides more details about the students who are accused of cheating, how the cheating occurred — and points out that the cheating was hardly a secret.

A more complete roundup of Friday's news can be found in Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post.

As eighth graders and their parents know, Friday is the final deadline for high school admissions applications. Good luck to all the students.

Also happening in the city on Friday:

Students at Public School 75 Emily Dickinson in Manhattan are being rewarded Friday morning for their healthy living habits, including their embrace of exercise, with a demonstration by double dutch rope-skipping teams from Japan and the United States. Competitors in the 20th annual International Double Dutch Holiday Classic, which will take place Sunday at the Apollo Theater, will "showcase their routines, lead students in a double dutch clinic and share tips in effort to prevent obesity."

Students in Harlem will hold an afternoon workshop on the connections between violence around the world, from the streets of New York to Libya. Nadav Zeimer, principal of Harlem Renaissance High School, is hosting what he calls an "expo on violence through art internationally." He invited Japanese visual artists who were inspired by this year's nuclear threat and the Libyan-American rapper Khaled M to perform. "Maybe our students need to see other violent situations in the world and feel a connection around the world," Mr. Zeimer said. The school's doors will open to the public at noon.

Metropolitan College of New York is hosting its second annual Chinese Education Conference, “Closing the Opportunity Gap: Preparing Chinese Students for College and Career.” Guests will include a delegation of education leaders from Shanghai. "The Shanghai group will discuss the ‘Success Education’ model, which has been used in China to significantly enhance academic achievement." Featured speakers will include Dr. Robert Teranishi, associate professor of higher education at New York University and special appointee to the Equity and Excellence Commission of the United States Department of Education, and Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership.