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Lhota Applauds Bloomberg's School Reforms

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 01:04 PM

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota started his education speech on Thursday lauding what he called Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "incredible results" in the classroom and accused his rivals in the mayor's race of being too scared of the United Federation of Teachers to embrace them.

"I'm willing to cooperate with the UFT. I'm willing to sit down with them and negotiate, but let me tell you, I'm not going to give them a back rub in an election year like so many other candidates," Lhota said.

He called it immoral to keep a failing school open, and said he would like to double the number of charter schools in the city. He called for merit pay for teachers and a longer school day and school year.

But in a split from Bloomberg, Lhota said would only appoint a chancellor with a background in education.

Below is the full speech:

This morning I will discuss my views of the state of our schools and my vision for education reform. This will be the first of many policy speeches that I will make throughout this mayoral campaign about reform and I want to thank ABNY for allowing me the opportunity to present my vision for the future of our City’s education system.

For nearly two generations, and five mayoral administrations, Democratic and Republican, the City has recognized our education system as dysfunctional. We decentralized the power at the Board of Education. When that didn’t work, we centralized the power at the Board of Education.

Finally we got to the root cause of the problem and acknowledged that it was the Board of Education that was the problem. It was unaccountable.

In 2002, after years of pressing the State Legislature, the executive in City Hall was given authority over our education system. The Mayor would finally be responsible and held accountable.

Mayor Bloomberg assumed this responsibility and told New Yorkers that he should be judged on his governance of the Department of Education. Let’s take a look at some of the results over the last 11 years:

In 2002, 37.3% of our students, grade 3 through 8 were meeting standards in math. Now, 60% of these students are meeting these goals.

In 2002, only 39.5% of New York children passed Regents exams. Now, 70% of students pass the Regents exams. Students scoring 65-100 on English proficiency increased from 61% to 90%

The percentage of students who graduated from high school within four years increased by over 10 percentage points, while the number of kids dropping out of high school within four years was almost cut in half.

These results are incredible. I had the privilege of serving in the Giuliani administration during the historic reduction in crime. Elected officials - - City, State and Federal - - were falling all over themselves to join in taking credit.

Many had the right to claim some level of credit. The leadership of Speaker Peter Vallone in shepherding the Safe Streets law, the State legislature for enacting the law, and the Clinton Administration for pressing the crime bill were all helpful in putting in motion a mechanism to reduce crime.

The lexicon used by Mayor Giuliani, “Quality of Life,” was adopted by virtually all elected officials.

So, I look at the great success of the Bloomberg administration with the education system in our City and I ask, “Where are the other elected officials? What are they saying? Where is the support of these officials for the achievements of Mayor Bloomberg. Why aren’t they rallying around him?

The answer is: They are afraid. This morning I will discuss my views of the state of our schools and my vision for education reform.

This will be the first of many policy speeches that I will make throughout this mayoral campaign about reform and I want to thank ABNY for allowing me the opportunity to present my vision for the future of our City’s education system.

For nearly two generations, and five mayoral administrations, Democratic and Republican, the City has recognized our education system as dysfunctional.

We decentralized the power at the Board of Education. When that didn’t work, we centralized the power at the Board of Education.

Finally we got to the root cause of the problem and acknowledged that it was the Board of Education that was the problem. It was unaccountable.

In 2002, after years of pressing the State Legislature, the executive in City Hall was given authority over our education system.

The Mayor would finally be responsible and held accountable.

Mayor Bloomberg assumed this responsibility and told New Yorkers that he should be judged on his governance of the Department of Education.

Let’s take a look at some of the results over the last 11 years:

In 2002, 37.3% of our students, grade 3 through 8 were meeting standards in math. Now, 60% of these students are meeting these goals.

In 2002, only 39.5% of New York children passed Regents exams. Now, 70% of students pass the Regents exams.

Students scoring 65-100 on English proficiency increased from 61% to 90%

The percentage of students who graduated from high school within four years increased by over 10 percentage points, while the number of kids dropping out of high school within four years was almost cut in half.

These results are incredible

I had the privilege of serving in the Giuliani administration during the historic reduction in crime. Elected officials - - City, State and Federal - - were falling all over themselves to join in taking credit.

Many had the right to claim some level of credit. The leadership of Speaker Peter Vallone in shepherding the Safe Streets law, the State legislature for enacting the law, and the Clinton Administration for pressing the crime bill were all helpful in putting in motion a mechanism to reduce crime.

The lexicon used by Mayor Giuliani, “Quality of Life,” was adopted by virtually all elected officials.

So, I look at the great success of the Bloomberg administration with the education system in our City and I ask, “Where are the other elected officials? What are they saying? Where is the support of these officials for the achievements of Mayor Bloomberg. Why aren’t they rallying around him?

The answer is: They are afraid.

Unlike the critical support the prior Mayor had from the certain police unions, Mike has no such support from the teachers’ union.

If you support reform, then somehow you are painted as being anti-teacher.

I stand here today and affirmatively state that nothing could be further from the truth.

When Compstat was initiated and every measurable statistic of crime and police activity was measured, no one claimed the Mayor was anti-cop.

So why can’t we measure and track test scores like we do other major statistics?

Why can’t we relocate the very best of our teachers to the very worst of our schools?

The Governor mandates that teachers be subject to an evaluation system, and the union objects. It refuses to sign an evaluation system with the Department of Education. The result, the City lost $250 million in State aid.

Historically, elected officials have held up the adoption of State and City budgets fighting for an increase in education funding. So when we lose a quarter of a billion dollars, where were these same elected officials? Were they standing with the Mayor?

NOT ONE.

On the very day that the City lost the State Aid, three candidates for Mayor, three individuals for your support to be our City’s chief executive, and manage our education system and assume responsibility for over a million students ran to a press conference. Not to stand with the Mayor, not to stand with the children or the parents, but to stand with the UFT and its leadership.

You have no idea how much I enjoyed serving as Chairman and CEO of the MTA. So many people have asked me what made me decide to leave the MTA, and take on this journey to be the next Mayor. It was examples of like this, seeing dedicated public servants, abandoning kids, abandoning their fiduciary duty to our City and, racing to union headquarters. This reinforced my candidacy, my decision to run, for Mayor.

When I see things like this I conclude that all of the City’s great successes over the past 20 years are fragile, and the improvements in our education system over the past 11 are even more fragile.

Now that I have given you the past, let me discuss my vision for the future of our City’s schools.

There are two things that you should know about me.

First, my father instilled in me the belief that a problem always presents an opportunity - - a chance for change, a prospect to do better, an opening for reform.

No matter what the problem is or what the crisis might be, I instinctively believe that my cup is always half-filled, never half-empty.

It’s an optimism that says that a dilemma always provides opportunity.

And second, I believe in the Athenian Oath.

Two and a half thousand years ago, the leaders of ancient Athens took an oath - - the Athenian Oath.

These leaders pledged at the beginning of their term in office that they would turn-over their “City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to them."

This should be the goal of everyone who enters public service.

This should be the goal of every candidate running for Mayor..

To leave our City greater and more beautiful than we receive it.

And this pledge will apply to the entire City - - every agency, every department, every borough, every park, every neighborhood, everything.

But how does a Mayor leave the Department, the former Board of Education, greater than when they received it?

First the Mayor must prioritize. And my #1 priority will be our students.

Teachers and their union are important, but they are not the #1 priority. That perch belongs to the students.

Parents are a priority, but they are not #1.

Again, the #1 priority, at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, will always be the students.

While I believe in empowering teachers with the best pedagogical tools, our classroom curriculum is not about teachers.

While I believe, and strongly believe, in collective bargaining, our education system is not about our unions.

Our education system is about the students. End of story.

If students are not learning, if students are not improving, then we are failing in our mission - - in our oath to do better.

So, how do we do this?

First, we must continually measure and quantify our schools.

Second, the Mayor must empower and uplift teachers.

Third, the Mayor must give schools the flexibility to manage and teach to the needs of their students.

Finally, the Mayor must work with the unions to ensure that students come first.

A Mayor will not be able to transmit New York in greater shape without first understanding the City they inherit. And no Mayor, or any of the citizens, will know whether the City’s improving without constantly measuring and analyzing its services.

We measure everything in this country. And centuries-old efficient and effective leadership tells us that if you can measure it, you can improve it.

Unfortunately, I am going to use a sports analogy. How do you determine whether a baseball player is good or bad? Improving or failing? Winning or losing? You look at the numbers.

Batting average, RBIs, hits and homeruns.

ERA, strikeouts, walks, wins and losses.

Only by assessing numbers can one determine the quality of the performance.

Compstat proved this. Compstat was the only way City Hall could bring safety and security to a city that was written-off as ungovernable, unmanageable.

That’s why it is critical for City Hall to bring similar methods of analysis and evaluation to the Department of Education.

Let me be clear:

I don’t want to measure performance and evaluation for the purpose of mudslinging with the UFT.

I don’t want to measure and evaluate school performance to punish teachers.

Just the contrary: I want to measure and evaluate our education system so that I can improve schools for the benefit of our #1 priority - - the students.

I want to measure and evaluate our schools so that I can be held accountable.

This is why it is paramount that we continue strong mayoral control over New York City schools.

I have always believed in mayoral control -- strong mayoral control. I believed it and lobbied for it when I was deputy mayor. I believe in it as a mayoral candidate.

Anyone who suggests that they will weaken Mayoral Control is dead wrong, and afraid to be held accountable. This is not what you or anyone else should want in a leader.

The cost of that control is that the Mayor must be the one to answer to parents and the citizens of this City should their policies be found lacking.

I welcome this responsibility and will never shy away from it.

Still, strong mayoral control does not mean central control. The mayor needs input from teachers and parents, because successful education policy requires school level guidance.

I will make sure that the Chancellor holds frequent town hall meetings to listen and seek advice from parents, teachers and principals to gain the knowledge necessary to manage the system

It’s been 11 years since the Mayor gained control of the New York City education system. It has changed, and I believe it has changed for the better.

Based on the results that I mentioned earlier, Mayor Bloomberg should be credited - - should be applauded - - for what has happened since he took control from the Board.

I want to improve on these numbers. I want more kids graduating within four years, and even fewer kids dropping out. I want more kids passing Regents.

This is where our teachers come into play.

The key to improving the quality of education for our children begins with our teachers.

Teachers need to know that when I am Mayor, City Hall will be their greatest advocate.

I believe that teaching is more than just a job, more than just a profession - - it is a calling, a noble calling. People who want to educate our young children should be held up by society and thanked for wanting to train young minds. Teaching is the catalyst that allows our civilization to advance.

I want to help teachers. I want all teachers to be great teachers.

If they are evaluated to not be great teachers, but have the calling to educate young minds, I want to give them the tools and the training and the professional development to become great teachers.

I am willing to wager that the vast majority of teachers are excellent, and among those who are not, there is the potential for greatness.

We need to uplift teachers. Teachers are the solution, not the problem.

Teachers need to know that when I am Mayor, I will be their greatest advocate, an advocate even stronger than their union. Teachers need to trust in Mayoral control.

Look at the improvements since Education moved from 110 Livingston to Tweed.

Our teachers are getting paid more, and our teaching corps has more experience.

The City is spending billions on teacher professional development.

Teacher salaries have increased 43% since 2002 while the number of teachers with over five years experience has increased from 61% to 75%. Teacher absenteeism has even declined.

Most important, we are making more money available to teachers in the classroom. The average expenditure per student rose from $11 thousand in 2002 to almost $20 thousand today - - it has almost doubled.

Let no one say that teachers and our schools are being financially shortchanged.

There is still more work to be done.

I believe that the new teacher evaluation system installed by State Commissioner King will improve our teachers and our schools.

Instead of the old system where teachers received either a satisfactory or unsatisfactory rating, the new system will create four possible evaluations - -Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Unsatisfactory.

I know some teachers fear the evaluation system - - Do Not.

It is not meant to punish teachers. It is intended to improve the quality of teaching in New York.

Remember, my goal is to uplift teachers, not beat them down. This is my commitment. I want to give New York City children the best possible teachers. Again, if you desire to be a great teacher, I will provide the training and professional development to make it happen.

I will support proposals to shift greater funding for teacher training - - to improve the quality of our teachers.

If a teacher is highly effective, that teacher should be rewarded. That’s right - - Merit Pay.

I know that many people reject the concept of rewarding the best teachers. They come armed with studies and complaints. They bellyache that merit pay relies too much on test scores, and argue that it did not work when they last tried it in New York City.

When New York City tried merit pay before, most schools distributed bonuses equally to all teachers. This approach doesn’t work.

Teachers are not entirely equal. Some are highly effective, some are not. A bonus system that rewards both the best and worst is not an effective merit pay system.

The highly effective, should be rewarded with a bonus. The unsatisfactory teacher should be rewarded with training. If a teacher improves from unsatisfactory to highly effective, they deserve a bonus, especially if we are calling on teachers to improve through a new evaluation system.

To those who dismiss bonus compensation in New York City, I say look across the river to Newark. Governor Christie and Mayor Booker worked together to create merit pay system funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The fund rewards teachers rated highly effective. Even Randi Weingarten, former head of the NYC UFT, now head of the national American Federation of Teachers, was even pleased with the outcome in Newark.

If Booker and Christie can create a bonus system that earns the respect of a union chief, then New York City can do the same.

But evaluations and bonus pay are not enough to help teachers succeed.

While I believe that Mayoral control is the cornerstone of successful education policy, Mayors do not teach. Teachers teach. My goal is to ensure that teachers and schools understand the core curriculum and acknowledge that students need a lifetime foundation of knowledge and skills - - A Common Body of Knowledge.

Testing is a method through which we can assess a student’s progress. But a test is not an education. A test is merely a measure.

I hear too many teachers complain that they are teaching to the test. I am sympathetic to this complaint. Teachers should be providing students with knowledge, a foundation upon which they can build the rest of their lives - - A Common Body of Knowledge.

In the spirit of flexibility, I want an educational system that provides vast choices to teachers, parents and children.

We live in a competitive world; a world that is getting flatter with improvements in technology and communication. Our children will be competing not just with other Americans, but globally. Like European and Asian education systems, we need to provide our students with fundamentals at a younger age. We need to prepare them for being functional in the 21st century.

A child who does not understand the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic will fail when they face domestic and international competition; irrespective of their professions; regardless if they attend traditional or vocational high schools. A carpenter who does not understand angles will fail. A plumber or mechanic who cannot read trade publications and manuals will fail.

As Mayor, I will advocate for engaging kids educationally at an earlier age. I will also advocate for longer school days, and longer school years.

Pre-K programs in particular should not be glorified babysitting services. Pre-school kids should have a core curriculum that provides children with the foundational learning skills to move forward with their education.

Let me address school closures.

The only reason why a school closes is because it is not properly educating children. That school is failing our children.

To keep a failing school open is immoral.

This does not mean that a failing school building should remain closed. The school building should never close. Instead the school within should be immediately reconstituted with a better curriculum, better teachers, and a better principal. No building will be left fallow when I am mayor. No school building, or space within a school building, will go unused.

Understand this: I will not put a moratorium on school closures.

I am also a big believer in Charter Public Schools.

Over a decade ago, there were only 14 Charter Public Schools in New York City. Today, there are over 150 servicing 48,000 students. That’s a remarkable achievement.

I believe that Charter Public Schools are successful and they have the potential of improving the education of every single student. Parents want and deserve choices for their children. I will provide parents with choice, more choice.

I will call for legislation expanding the number and scope of Charter Public Schools. At a minimum, the number needs to double.

Parents want Charter Public Schools. The wait list is endless.

A recent Zogby poll found that 86% of respondents want more options when choosing schools for their children. Among African-American parents, the number rises to over 90%.

It is disgraceful that kids cannot attend a school of their parent’s choosing.

New York City can do better.

We need to make space available for Charter Public Schools - - whether it is through continued co-location, or finding space in closing Catholic schools.

Parents need choice, children need choice, and teachers need choice.

Opposition to Charter Public Schools is insulting to educational advancement.

I believe that those opposed to Charter Public Schools fail to grasp the intrinsic value of competition and, unfortunately do not put educating children as the #1 priority.

My own experience tells me that these reforms are necessary. As a Trustee of the City University of New York for the last 12 years, I can tell you that notwithstanding the vast improvements in public school education over the past decade, there is an urgent need for reform. I firmly believe that all students should be ready for college level work upon high school graduation. But last year, 80% of our high school graduates required remedial education in reading, writing and computing before matriculating in one of our seven community colleges.

80%. That’s four out of every five students that did not know the basics.

How did they graduate? We must stop failing our children.

To the UFT, let me say this: Help me to put students first. Help me to uplift and improve our teachers. Believe me when I say that I believe that teaching is a calling, not merely just a job, and that I want all of our teachers to be great and that I will provide the resources necessary to make your members great.

I will not pander to the union. I am willing to cooperate with the UFT, but labor should not expect me to give them a backrub in an election year like so many other candidates.

I challenge the UFT to help me implement a merit pay system.

I challenge the UFT to continue support the new evaluation system for teachers.

I challenge the UFT to help me expand Charter Public Schools.

Please help me put our children, our students, first.

I want to conclude by stating the obvious - - we must urgently implement further education reform. We live in a global environment and our children live in an ever-increasing competitive world.

We must provide our children with the best possible education so they compete and be successful. This is how society advances. I believe that this is a human rights issue.

Our education system is fragile. It needs more work. Now is the time to solidify it.

We owe to our children to work together for their benefit. Government, parents, teachers, unions must band together on behalf of the students. The students should be our first, maybe only, priority.

I take the Athenian Oath very seriously. As Mayor, I will improve upon the education system I inherit, and every day I will work to make it better.

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