FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 2, 2009
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG DISCUSSES NEW YORK CITY’S ADVANCES IN PUBLIC EDUCATION AT THE 11th ANNUAL NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK CONVENTION
The following is Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks as prepared for delivery. Please check against delivery.
"Thank you, Reverend Sharpton, and good afternoon, everyone. It's wonderful to be here with all of you. When I heard that the audience would be filled with ministers and spiritual leaders from across the region, I realized this event fit perfectly with my new strategy for balancing the City's budget: prayer.
"It's great to be here. Al Sharpton and I have actually appeared together on the same stage many times. This surprises people - including Al and me. I've attended the National Action Network's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration every year I've been mayor. And on the eve of President Obama's inauguration, we were together for a huge rally down in Washington DC. The truth is, the Reverend and I agree on a lot of ideas. And the things we don't agree on - I know Al will come around eventually.
"One of the subjects on which we share a lot of common ground is education. Reverend Sharpton has been a passionate voice for the disadvantaged - just like the man of the hour, William Augustus Jones. Standing up for the disadvantaged means standing up for young Americans, especially in our poorest communities, and fighting for their right to a quality education.
"Last year, Reverend Sharpton joined forces with New York City's Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, to establish a new campaign to reform our nation's schools. They've since appeared together a dozen times to call attention to the decades-old achievement gap in classrooms across the country. Standing side by side, some have even called them the "odd couple" of education. I'm thankful that Al is partnering with us in this effort.
"The achievement gap between white and minority students is the great shame of our nation - and a final frontier in the struggle for civil rights. That's because, as I've always believed, the right to a good education is just as much a God-given and American right as the right to vote.
"Our country is built on the principle that all those willing to work hard have a shot at success. And examples of that success from the African-American community are all around us - in the White House, in the Attorney General's Office, in the Governor's Mansion, in boardrooms across the country. But there's another side to that story, as well: today in America, Black and Hispanic 12th graders are, on average, reading at the same level as white 8th graders.
"Unfortunately, there are too many people who believe that the huge chasm in academic performance between students of different races is an inevitable result of social and economic forces beyond the education system's control. But in New York City - where more than 70 percent of our public school children are Black and Hispanic - that's not a conclusion our Administration will ever be willing to accept.
"We have another big reason to make closing the achievement gap a major priority: America's future depends on it. Education is absolutely crucial to our economic competitiveness, as a region, and as a nation. Regardless of its current troubles, the economy - both locally and globally - is becoming increasingly knowledge-based. And that's not just true of white-collar jobs. Jobs in construction, for example, demand far greater skill in math than they did just a few years ago. And the same is true in manufacturing and in many other industries, too.
"If our children are going to enjoy bright futures, if they're going to have careers that support families and ensure that their children can pursue their dreams; then they need the education that's going to equip them to get and hold those good-paying jobs.
"Back in 2002, we took on the challenge of giving New York City the kind of schools that the world's greatest city needs. We certainly had our work cut out for us. Our school system - with 1.1 million students, more than the entire population of Detroit - was the ultimate case study in mismanagement: everyone had power, but no one was in charge. And so the system was defined by paralysis and dysfunction.
"We began our reforms by getting to the root of the problem: thanks to the State Legislature, we were given control of the school system, and we abolished the broken Board of Education.
"Since then, we've slashed $350 million from the bureaucracy and re-directed it to where it belongs: the classroom. We've cut school crime by 34 percent - because our children should never, ever, be afraid to go to school in the morning. We've raised teacher salaries by 43 percent and created financial incentives to encourage the most effective teachers and principals to work in the schools that need them most.
"We put parent coordinators in every school and increased the lines of communication to make parents stronger partners in their children's education. We've expanded school choice by opening more than 350 new schools and more than quadrupling the number of charter schools. We've also added 25 minutes to the school day - the equivalent of about 15 more school days a year - so that struggling students get the extra help they need.
"To make sure our students begin planning early for college, we've made the PSAT- free for every 10th and 11th grader - during the school day. And we've ended the disastrous policy of social promotion, which had promoted kids to the next grade even if they weren't ready. From now on, when our students enter high school, they'll all be prepared to do high school work. By setting the bar high and holding students accountable for achievement, we're sending our children the message that we believe in them. And our kids are repaying that faith with results.
"Graduation rates across the city have shot up 22 percent and test scores have climbed ten percent in Reading and more than 20 percent in Math. And it's especially encouraging that African-American and Hispanic students are leading the way in the gains we've made.
"For instance, the gap between African-American 4th graders and their White peers has narrowed by more than 16 points in Math and 6 points in Reading since 2002. A record number of African Americans are now taking the P-S-A-T and a record number are applying for and taking Advanced Placement courses. And even as admission standards have become tougher, the number of African-American public high school graduates enrolling in the City University System's four-year colleges has jumped nearly 37 percent since 2002.
"None of this progress has come easily. And none of it would have been possible under the old governance structure - when everyone had power but no one was responsible, and failure was endemic. But now, for the first time, there are clear lines of authority running all the way up through the Chancellor and the mayor.
"This has ushered in a new era of accountability. It has allowed us to clearly define responsibilities and expectations, set high standards, experiment with new ideas, and measure results. It has also given the public someone to confront when they want to demand more from their schools and someone to blame when we make mistakes - which we do.
"In the old days, when you tried to hold someone accountable, they just pointed the finger at someone else. Now, there are no excuses. Not for students, not for teachers, not for principals, not for the Chancellor, and not for the Mayor. We all have to hold up our end of the bargain - and parents have every right to hold us accountable.
"Even with all the progress we've made, we've still got a lot of hard work to do to keep making our schools better. But that in no way means that we should change course. In the months ahead, we are going to work with the Governor and the State Legislature to renew and strengthen the law that established mayoral control of the schools.
"It's the right thing to do. And I am happy to say that many community leaders and education experts agree with us, including Education Secretary Arnie Duncan. Earlier this week, Secretary Duncan said mayoral control could be a great solution for other cities to improve their school systems. In fact, we are proud that President Obama and his Administration are championing the very same reforms that New York City has been implementing over the past seven years.
"We've shown that by establishing accountability, raising standards, pursuing innovation, and empowering teachers, parents and principals, we can begin to reverse one of our greatest historic indignities - the achievement gap in our classrooms. And now, during the year in which we have inaugurated our nation's first black president, the year in which the NAACP celebrates its 100th anniversary - right here in New York City - we must resolve to keep moving forward and to keep breaking through the barriers that have held back too many people for too long.
"For the sake of our children, for the sake of New York City's future: We can't go back - and we won't. Thank you very much."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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