WASHINGTON — Partisan politics and special interest groups stand in the way of education reform, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told a gathering here of U.S. mayors Friday. He characterized teachers’ unions as a potential roadblock to improvements in New York and nationwide.
Speaking at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, Mr. Bloomberg underscored his determination to put in place a system of rigorous evaluations to measure teachers’ performance.
But opposition by unions to removing teachers has slowed the process in New York City, he said.
“Governor Cuomo and I both strongly support the right to organize,” the mayor said. “But we in government and we the citizens who pay for it have to decide what we’re willing to do and what we’re not willing to do, and I think what we should not be willing to do is to have teachers who are ineffective in the classroom.”
In New York, Michael Mulgrew, head of the United Federation of Teachers, quickly came to the defense of the union, saying that it agreed that a new evaluation system was needed. Last week, the U.F.T. asked the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to declare that negotiations with the city were at an impasse.
“The fact remains that my phone has not rung, and right now I am in court trying to force him to come to the table to get the evaluation thing done,” Mr. Mulgrew said Friday afternoon. “What he’s saying in Washington D.C. clearly is not being matched by his actions, because his actions here have been not to get it done.”
In his speech Friday, Mr. Bloomberg praised Washington public schools for implementing a system of merit pay to reward high-performing teachers, a model he said he wanted to replicate in New York City. But unions have historically opposed merit pay, he said.
“The real question is going to be, will the teachers’ unions stand in the way of their most effective members being rewarded for all of their hard work?” he said.
But Mr. Mulgrew asserted that merit pay was an idea that sounded good in theory but does not work in practice.
“If it worked, we would be happy to support it,” he said.
The city and the union failed to reach an agreement on evaluations by a Dec. 31 deadline, prompting state education officials to suspend $58 million in federal aid intended for 33 low-performing city schools. The city said it would move forward with a plan to close and reopen those schools, relying on committees to replace up to half of the teaching staff.
In his State of the City speech last week, Mr. Bloomberg accused the United Federation of Teachers of standing in the way of an evaluation system that would remove ineffective teachers.
In his speech Friday, Mr. Bloomberg heralded the gains the city had made in recent years, including opening new charter schools and giving teachers a 43 percent base salary increase. He urged other mayors to continue fighting for reform.
“We have to raise the standards. We have to help those at the bottom, and if they can’t do the job, we have to replace them,” he said. “The only way we’re going to reform public education is doing exactly that.”