Mayor Bloomberg's Promises for Education: An Annotated Scorecard
Friday, January 13, 2012 - 12:08 PM
A mayor's state of the city address offers a chance to look back on the previous year’s accomplishments and lay out goals for the year ahead. Education has always figured in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s addresses, often as one of his chief focuses -- but occasionally, as was the case in 2003, as a passing mention in a long to-do list.
On Thursday, education was front and center in the mayor's address, dominating an hour-long speech that was defiant in tone and ambitious in content. It overshadowed other issues, like his push to increase the minimum wage.
Speaking from Morris Academy, the campus of what was once one of the city’s largest, most unruly and worst-performing high schools -- and which has become a symbol of his small-school movement -- Mr. Bloomberg offered to help pay off the loans of top college graduates who choose to teach in the city’s schools, reward outstanding teachers with substantial annual bonuses and put in place a way to evaluate all teachers working in struggling schools.
A teacher evaluation system was a promise the mayor made in his first State of the City speech in 2002, and it is a goal that continues to elude him. Here is a look at other pledges and proposals he has made over the years:
The schools were still under control of the Board of Education at the time of his speech in January, and Mr. Bloomberg vowed to change that. “To achieve systematic change in our schools,” he said, “we must have mayoral accountability.” Five months later, the Legislature put him in charge of the system.
He also said the city needed to create more opportunities for parents to get involved, and used the abysmal turnout rate for Board of Education elections, “often less than 3 percent” of registered voters, he said, as proof of a disconnect that remains profound. Roughly 2,800 parents voted last year in the elections for community education councils, which were established to give them a voice in some of the decisions about the schools. In the prior elections, in 2009, 25,000 parents cast ballots. (The system has about 1.1 million students.)
Mr. Bloomberg pledged to improve teacher retention by increasing entry salaries. The 2005 teachers’ contract raised entry salaries to $42,512 from $39,000, a 9 percent increase. The salaries of teachers already in the system went up by 14.25 percent.
Finally, he said the city “must strengthen teacher evaluation,” a goal that eluded him.
Education was given a passing mention in this address, mostly because former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein had laid out his goals a week earlier, including the adoption of a standardized curriculum in 80 percent of city schools. Mr. Bloomberg repeated his call to make the system more “parent-friendly."
Mr. Bloomberg celebrated a promise fulfilled, saying that he had brought parents as “full partners in their children’s education” because, for the first time, every school had a full-time parent coordinator, whose job was to serve as a liaison between administrators and families.
Sixty-three of them were laid off last year, though there are still about 1,200 employed by city schools, according to their union, District Council 37. The position is only mandatory, however, in elementary schools.
This was also the year Mr. Bloomberg revved up his push to close large, low-performing schools and replace them with small schools. At the address, he said the move was necessary to make schools “safer and more accountable.”
Mr. Bloomberg touted the creation of “new, small and academically rigorous” secondary schools -– 100 in all over the previous two years, across the five boroughs. An analysis by The New York Times of high schools opened during his tenure, enrolling 600 students or less, showed that their graduation and college readiness rates, which the city released for the first time last year, were no better and, in some cases, worse than those of larger schools.
He said the city would invest $13.1 billion in school construction over the five years to “wipe out pockets of overcrowding, reduce class sizes in kindergarten and grades one through three, and create new labs and gyms and up-to-date technology infrastructure throughout the city.”
There were no waiting lists for kindergarten that year. Last spring, there were waiting lists in roughly 25 percent of city schools, according to education department data. An analysis of the same data by Class Size Matters, an advocacy group that has been one of the mayor’s most vocal critics, showed that 42 percent of kindergarten students were in classes of 25 students or more in the current school year; 25 is the limit set in the teachers’ union contract.
Gyms in many of the buildings that house more than one school are overcrowded, preventing schools from fulfilling the state’s physical-education mandates. Some of the new schools
do not have a gym. There are schools where cafeterias and auditoriums double as gym space.
Teachers began spending an additional 150 minutes a week in small group instruction with struggling students. The longer workdays were among the concessions obtained by Mr. Bloomberg in the 2005 contract, which gave the teachers substantial pay raises. The teachers also agreed to go back to staffing lunchrooms, school yards and hallways.
Mr. Bloomberg launched what is perhaps his most powerful school accountability tool: the progress reports, which grade schools from A through F based on several measures, chief among them how students fared in the state’s standardized tests. The reports have been controversial from the start for their reliance on test scores. In 2009, 97 percent of the city’s elementary and middle schools earned A’s and B’s. But after the state recalibrated its tests the following year, fewer schools got A’s and more got D’s and F’s.
The mayor also proposed to reform tenure “with the help” of the United Federation of Teachers, he said.
Mr. Bloomberg said he would ask the Panel for Educational Policy, which oversees education policy in the city, to vote to abolish social promotion in eighth grade, effectively ending the practice in the city. He was successful.
He also signaled his continuing struggle to reach a compromise over tenure reform with the U.F.T. It was not until December 2010 that the Education Department unveiled detailed guidelines to principals as to how tenure decisions ought to be made. His argument was that tenure should be a reward and not an automatic benefit based on years of service. Before the reforms, 97 percent of teachers received tenure once they became eligible. Last June, the percentage had dropped to 57 percent.
He announced a program to distribute performance bonuses to teachers and other staff members in schools whose students showed significant progress in test scores and other measures of academic achievement.
Rather than reward individual teachers, the program would dole out the bonuses on a schoolwide bases, as a result of an agreement between the Education Department and the U.F.T.
Last July, the city discontinued the program, after a study by the RAND Corporation found bonuses had no positive effect on student performance or teachers’ attitudes toward their jobs.
Mr. Bloomberg announced a pilot project to send parents text messages whenever their children were absent from school, as part of an effort to tackle truancy and, as he put it, “to prevent a troubled kid from becoming a hardened criminal.” He expanded it in 2011 to include recorded wake-up calls from stars like Magic Johnson or Trey Songz to rouse students who are chronically late. And he recruited mentors for 4,000 chronically absent students.
In a November news release, the city released results of the program, showing that elementary- and high school students with mentors who had been classified as chronically absent in 2009-10 were significantly more likely to show up for class in the last school year than peers who did not have mentors. The difference in attendance rates among middle school students with and without mentors was less significant: 1.9 percentage points.
Mr. Bloomberg lobbied vigorously in Albany to get the Legislature to change the law that protects veteran teachers from layoffs by making sure they happen on the basis of seniority. At the time, he was contemplating laying off teachers to close the city’s budget gap. Neither ended up happening. His push to repeal the law (known as “last in, first out") went nowhere and the layoffs were averted at the last minute, after the U.F.T. agreed on some concessions, like suspending sabbaticals for a year, in exchange for job security for its members.