Bloomberg Strikes Pragmatic Tone in Address About Schools

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Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pledged his support to the Obama administration’s plan to give states relief from the most onerous provision of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, which would require all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

“We should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, but we’re not” going to reach all of the goals, Mr. Bloomberg said.

Speaking to reporters at NBC’s Education Nation summit on Monday, Mr. Bloomberg said schools ought to be judged more by than just how well their students do on standardized tests. He used the platform to make the case against a one-size-fits-all approach to gauge performance. And he pointed out the challenges faced by city schools — “a magnet,” he said, where students of different levels and abilities arrive virtually every day — to stress the need for different ways to measure success.

“Success in life doesn’t mean you get a Ph.D.,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “and we’ve got to make sure the education system recognizes other kinds of progress.”

Mr. Bloomberg, who persuaded the State Legislature to give him control of New York City’s schools nine years ago and pushed one of the nation’s most ambitious education reform plans, kicked off the first full day of the summit, where educators, policy makers, scientists, technology developers and even a sports star — LeBron James — convened to discuss how to improve schools.

He spoke for about 10 minutes, just before Melinda Gates and Warren E. Buffett, who have been major supporters of the same types of reforms he espouses.

His remarks painted a more pragmatic picture of assessing educational gains, and his tone stood in marked contrast to his address to the same group last year, when he delivered a feisty and boastful account of the "huge strides" that were taking place in New York City schools.

Today's comments — on opening new schools, including charter schools, as a means of offering choice to parents; on closing schools for poor performance; and on making it more difficult for teachers to get tenure — set the stage for remarks by the United States secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who has been a proponent of these measures and more.

At the summit, Mr. Duncan focused on the administration’s efforts to retool the No Child law by granting waivers from its student-proficiency requirements to states that implement academic standards geared toward preparing students for college and careers.

The states would also have to sketch plans to transform low-performing schools and develop measures of performance for teachers and principals.

“We’re trying to fundamentally change the federal law,” he said. The requirements resemble the administration’s blueprint for rewriting the law, which has not been acted upon since it was sent to Congress last year.

Mr. Duncan said the idea is to encourage states to set high standards for students, and to look at “growth and gain and progress,” as well as graduation rates, “to see if students are getting better each year,” he said.

“The current system hasn’t been fair,” Mr. Duncan added. “It has not rewarded good work in the way that it should.”

Mr. Bloomberg, in his remarks, highlighted one of the city’s latest experiments, a six-year high school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that will take students beyond traditional core subjects, teaching them about computer science and giving them the equivalent of two years of college work, qualifying them for an associate’s degree at graduation.

It is a partnership with the City of New York and I.B.M., and students will be first in line for jobs there.

He said the school, Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech, will help advance one of his long-term goals for the city, which is to diversify the local economy by investing more in technology. And while he said later that “college isn’t the right thing for everyone,” and that not every student is going to go to college, “we have to make sure they have the skills.”

“When parents ask, ‘How much is enough for my child to know?’” Mr. Bloomberg said at during his public remarks. “The answer is clear: never enough.”

Hear Mayor Bloomberg answer reporters' questions after his education speech.


Here are Mr. Bloomberg's prepared remarks, as distributed by the mayor's press office:

“Thank you and good morning. I was listening to that list of speakers wondering what I’m doing here. But let me welcome everyone to New York City for the second annual NBC News Education Nation Summit.

“Now, if my teachers back in Medford, Mass., a long, long time ago would have been told that some day Mike Bloomberg would be speaking at a national education summit, they probably would not have believed their ears. The truth of the matter is my academic record has always made the top half of the class possible. Think about that, guys. I do remember my principal in elementary school when I went to her and asked her to sign a paper saying I was a good student for my Boy Scout education merit badge, Mrs. Kelly laughed at me.

“Whether I ever got that education merit badge I have no recollection, but it is great to finally understand the value of education. I may not be the best example of it, but I think all of us recognize that the path to a brighter future runs through our classrooms. That’s why we have made improving education a top priority in New York City. And it’s why we have invested so heavily in our public schools these past nine years.

“Last year at this summit, I laid out an agenda for the future success of New York City’s public schools, and I am glad to report that we are making progress on many of the fronts we discussed then.

“First, we’ve continued opening new schools that provide families with high-choice, high-quality options. This school year we opened 39 new schools, including 13 charter schools. That brings the total number of new schools created under our Administration to more 500, including 124 charters. And, incidentally, we’ve closed some schools as well.

“Since 2002, we’ve phased out more than 100 low-performing schools that failed to serve our kids and replaced them with schools that do. When it comes to our kids, we can never afford to accept the status quo. We have to keep innovating, and keep providing more and better choices for students and for parents. And that’s what we intend to keep doing over the next two years.

“We’ve also made great progress, I’m happy to say, in reforming the way our schools grant tenure to teachers. For example, we’ve extended the probationary period for promising teachers who are still developing their skills. We’ve also made tenure procedures far more rigorous, and we’ve greatly enriched the kind of information that goes into making tenure decisions.

“Last year, I also talked about how we would form some new partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, and universities to more directly connect our students to colleges and careers — and we have done that. One great example I wanted to share with you is what we call P-Tech, the new Pathways in Technology High School that we created jointly with I.B.M. and the City University of New York, which opened its doors this year. This groundbreaking public school runs from grade 9 to grade 14. You may have noticed two extra grades in there, and that’s because students at P-Tech will learn the traditional core subjects, and also receive an education in computer science and complete two years of college work. When they graduate from grade 14 with an Associate’s Degree and a qualified record, they will be first in line for jobs with I.B.M., something that is really important in this day and age to all our kids.

“The students at P-Tech will also help us further another of our long-term goals: to diversify our local economy by supporting industries that have the potential to grow and expand here. And that certainly includes technology firms of every kind. And I’m proud to tell you that last year, our city passed Boston to become the largest recipient of venture capital funding for technology start-ups, except for Silicon Valley. But to remain competitive, we know we’ve got to do even more to cultivate and attract the best minds and brightest people. That’s why we’re now offering to provide prime New York City real estate — at virtually no cost — in exchange for a university’s commitment to build or expand its world-class science and engineering campus here in our city. These are the fields that put a premium on innovation, and these are the type of 21st century jobs we need to be preparing our children for. And that preparation has to start in our public schools.

“Here in New York City, we’re expecting great things from our public school students in the year ahead. They’ve made tremendous strides in recent years. By every important measure — including graduation rates as well as test scores — our schools continue to move in the right direction.

Now, we do know there’s a lot of room for improvement. When parents ask, ‘How much is enough for my child to know?’ The answer I think is clear: ‘Never enough.’ Our work will never be done because there is no level at which New York City students can or should stop learning more. Every Nobel Prize winner gets up every day and studies more, and that’s because learning is a lifetime endeavor — and all of us have to keep learning if we want to keep succeeding.

“That’s true for educators and policy makers as well. That’s why I think this summit is so important and I was so thrilled to have it here in New York City. So, I wanted to personally thank NBC for focusing our attention on education and on the children who will build our future.

“Thanks for having me. It is going to be a wonderful day. I can’t tell you how lucky we all are to be able to listen to some wonderful people who I hope will stimulate our thinking and give us some great ideas.

“God bless, and have a good day.”