FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2008
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG TESTIFIES ON URBAN EDUCATION REFORM BEFORE U.S. HOUSE COMMITTEE EDUCATION AND LABOR
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s written testimony.
“Good morning. I want to thank Chairman Miller – whom we were pleased to welcome to New York last winter – and the members of this Committee for convening this hearing on Urban Education Reform. Chairman Miller played an important role in drafting the No Child Left Behind Act, which brought accountability to public schools from coast to coast. Now, in working towards authorizing a new and improved Act, this committee has rightly focused on one of the most pressing issues in public education: the achievement gap that exists among students of different races and ethnicities.
“Our country is built on the principle that all those willing to work hard have a shot at success. But the achievement gap undermines that. Today in America, Black and Hispanic 12th graders are reading at the same level as white 8th graders, and unfortunately, there are too many people who accept the achievement gap as an inevitable result of social and economic factors that are out of a school’s control. In New York City – where more than 70 percent of our 1.1 million public school children are Black and Hispanic – that’s not a conclusion we’re willing to accept.
“That’s why over the past six years, we’ve done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap – and we have. In some cases, we’ve reduced it by half. But to make even greater progress, we need to zero in on two areas that go to the heart of improving NCLB, and that have been key to turning around New York City schools: People and Accountability.
“First, people. Studies have shown that if our best teachers taught our lowest-performing students, we could close the achievement gap within five years. And by the best teachers, I mean those with a proven track record of helping children learn. Far too much emphasis is placed on seniority or academic credentials when what we really should be rewarding is effectiveness.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing in New York City. First, we showed our teachers just how much we value the important work they do by raising salaries across the board by 43%. Those higher salaries will also help us attract a new crop of bright graduates, who might otherwise have opted for jobs in other fields – or teaching jobs in other locations.
“Second, we’ve improved the tenure process so that tenure becomes a meaningful decision based on student learning rather than a foregone conclusion.
“Third, we’ve created financial incentives to encourage the most effective teachers and principals to choose to work in the schools that need them most.
“Pay-for-performance leads us to the second key to closing the achievement gap: accountability. In New York City, we’ve established data-driven progress reports that give a letter grade to every single school, and we send them out to every public school parent. These are progress reports in the truest sense of the word, because they don’t just measure how many kids at a given school are proficient, they also measure something we care about much more: year-to-year progress. A school’s letter grade on its progress report is determined by many different factors – including its success in narrowing the achievement gap. Based on the data we’re collecting, there are now rewards for success in our schools – and consequences for failure. If a school continuously fails its students, we will shut it down. And if a teacher continuously fails his or her students, we will work to give principals the tools to remove that teacher from the classroom.
“Unfortunately, this hasn’t been very easy to do in New York – or in many other cities – because of inflexible union work rules. I believe we should be treating teachers like the professionals they are. And that means not only paying them as professionals, but also holding them accountable as professionals. That would go a long way toward ensuring we have top-quality teachers in high-needs schools – the single most important factor in closing the achievement gap. But to do it, we need federal leadership – and let me suggest one promising idea: Congress can use the power of the purse to withhold funds from districts that fail to take meaningful steps towards reform.
“Rewards for success and consequences for failure. That’s how it works in the
real world – the world that our students will enter when they finish school.
We’ve got to do everything we can to prepare them for that day, so that all of
them – regardless of skin color – leave school ready to claim their piece of the
Stu Loeser / Dawn Walker / Lindsay Ellenbogen (212) 788-2958