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PR- 510-09
November 25, 2009


Mayor's Proposals Could Net New York City More than $150 million of the $5 Billion Federal Program

Directs Chancellor to Start Using Student Performance Data Immediately to Help Make Teacher Tenure Decisions

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today urged New York State education officials and the State Legislature to implement seven specific measures that will enable New York State to compete effectively for hundreds of millions of dollars that are available through the Obama Administration's Race to the Top education reform program. The new program will grant $5 billion to states that move to adopt high standards; develop strong data systems that measure student growth and provide feedback to teachers; recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals; and turn around low-achieving schools. The Mayor also announced that he has instructed City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein to begin using student performance data immediately to inform teacher tenure decisions. The Mayor delivered his remarks at an event hosted by the Washington-based Center for American Progress, where he appeared with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Education Trust President Kati Haycock.  

The Mayor urged State education officials and the State Legislature to take the following steps, each of which would add points to the State's Race to the Top application score card - and, therefore, millions of dollars to City and State coffers. The Mayor's proposals, which together could net the City more than $150 million in badly-needed federal funds, are:

  • Mandate all school districts in New York State develop teacher evaluation systems that use student performance data as one of multiple sources of input.

  • Use State Education Department discretionary grants to attract and retain high-performing math, science, and special needs teachers in low-income schools.

  • End "last-in, first-out" rules requiring principals to layoff or excess the newest teachers, even if they are among the best teachers, and instead allow principals to make such decisions based on merit.

  • Streamline the process for removing bad teachers from the classroom and the payroll, ending the 'Rubber Room' as we know it.

  • Ratify the nationwide Common Core Standards as soon as possible and without material alteration.

  • Eliminate the charter school cap and provide facilities funding for charter schools.

  • Impose a one-year limit on the time teachers can remain in an "excess pool," as was done in Chicago, saving $55 million annually and enabling the City to close and replace the lowest performing 10 percent of its schools.

The following are Mayor Bloomberg's remarks as delivered at the Center for American Progress.

"Arne, thank you and good morning everyone. Great to see you, Kati thank you for coming. I'm joined by Dennis Walcott, our Deputy Mayor for Education, as well as Joel Klein, our great Chancellor. I'm sure everyone here is thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie, and that's fine. Tonight I'll be watching the balloons being blown up. You can watch it on television. It's an incredible experience. I actually can't imagine as much hot air in one place, although this is Washington, so perhaps.

"It's always a pleasure to be in the nation's capital, particularly since this is the only city whose basketball team is doing as badly as New York's, so I feel right at home. I ride the subway every day, and the only time anybody has ever yelled at me was one time as I was getting off a big, hulking guy looked at me, glared at me, and screamed: 'Fix the Knicks!' There are some things even a mayor can't do.

"Before President Obama took office earlier this year, Rahm Emanuel told us that we should - quote - 'Never allow a serious crisis to go to waste.'

"And so the President is not only working to stabilize the financial markets and save the auto industry from immediate collapse; he focused on the long-term economic challenges, including the auto industry's public sector equivalent, and that is our school system.

"If you think about it, both the auto industry and our school system were built for another era.  Both were very slow to adapt to changing times. And neither can compete in the 21st century without major structural reforms that place consumers at the center of their operations. In the case of our schools, the consumers are the children.  Not the politicians.  Not the labor unions.  And not the ideologues.  Schools exist to ensure that children learn - as much as possible, as well as possible.

"And for the first time, I will say, the federal government is telling states through its 'Race to the Top' program: Discard policies that impede learning and adopt policies that promote learning - or forfeit federal funding.

"As Arne had said a number of times, 'A state can't enter Race to the Top if it prohibits schools from using student achievement data to evaluate teachers and that's why California just repealed its prohibition on doing so.'

"In New York, the State Legislature passed a law last year that actually tells principals: You can evaluate teachers on any criteria you want - just not on student achievement data. That's like saying to hospitals: You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want - just not patient survival rates! You really can't make this up!  Thankfully, the law in New York is set to expire this June - but that is not enough.

"We will urge the State not just to prohibit but to require all districts to create data-driven systems to comprehensively evaluate teachers and principals.  And we want New York City to lead the way. As it turns out our lawyers now tell us after a very close reading of New York's law, the current law does not actually stop us from using student data to evaluate teachers who are up for tenure this particular school year, because the way it was written it covers only teachers hired after July 1st of 2008, and those are not up this year.

"So today, I've directed our schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, to ensure that principals actually use student achievement data to help evaluate teachers who are up for tenure this year. It is an aggressive policy, but our obligation is to take care of our kids. And we'll also begin creating our own comprehensive evaluation system that includes classroom reviews and student achievement data.

"Now, we all know that great teaching is reflected in more than test scores - but we certainly should never dismiss quantitative data in favor of subjective opinions that fit a predetermined conclusion. That might make all of us feel good, but it really doesn't help our children.

"Using data to help evaluate teachers and principals will get a state into the Race to the Top, but as Secretary Duncan has repeatedly said, unless states take other major steps, they're not going to get very far off the starting line.

"And for New York City, that's worrisome from a short-term budget perspective, because in this economic environment, we cannot afford to leave federal money on the table. And it's even more worrisome from a long-term economic perspective.  Any state that sits out the Race to the Top will lose jobs and revenues just as surely as car companies that sat out the race to build affordable hybrids, not to mention shortchanging our kids on the education they need to compete in an increasingly global and technological world.

"Today, I just want to take a few minutes to walk you through six other steps that New York should take to compete in the Race to the Top - and the more steps we take, the more likely we think we'll be able to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding that can only go to improve our system.

"The six steps fall into two broad categories: attracting and retaining more great teachers, and creating more great schools. And Mr. Secretary, I hope you hold all states accountable for submitting an application that achieves both. The time for excuses is over and this really is our nation's future and it is in your hands. We will play our part, you can rest assured.

"The evaluation system that New York City is going to create will lay the foundation for each of the first three steps, including step one: paying higher salaries for higher-performing teachers and principals and for those with skills that are in the greatest demand.

"In New York City, over the last eight years we've raised teacher salaries by 43 percent, and veteran teachers in New York City now make more than $100,000 a year. I've always believed that if you want the best, you've got to pay for it and we really are improving the quality of teaching in New York City and the quality of those who are providing the service. We've also adopted, you should know, a bonus program - in partnership with our labor unions - that rewards teachers and principals in schools that meet their benchmarks.

"But sadly, like most places, New York City has difficulty attracting science and math teachers, because they have so many other career options that pay more.  And we're also prohibited from paying the highest-performing teachers more money. This kind of lock-step pay scale is what you see in factory assembly lines - but teachers, we think, are professionals certified by the State!  And we need to pay based on skills, not just seniority - and we'll start by demanding that our State Education Department changes the way it awards incentive pay.

"We want to see that money go to where it's needed the most: to math, science, and special need teachers in low-income schools who receive high ratings on comprehensive evaluations. This would benefit students, schools, teachers, and our Race to the Top application - and rest assured, we will beat the drum among the public to make sure that this happens.

"The second reform that our new evaluation system would make possible - step number two - is ending a layoff policy called, 'last-in, first out.' Right now, as everybody knows, State law typically mandates that if layoffs have to be made, the newest teachers are the first to go - even if they are among the best teachers. The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers. Remember who this system's supposed to work for: the students, not its employees. With a transparent new evaluation system, principals will have the knowledge to make layoffs based on merit - but the ability to do so only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do so, and so we will pressure them to get that authority.

"Third, our evaluation system will also give us the ability to identify the lowest-performing teachers, but it's also a key criteria for Race to the Top funding. In New York City, removing bad teachers from the classroom is extremely difficult - and moving them off the payroll is even harder. When a teacher is removed from the classroom for multiple negative reviews, or for breaking the law, he or she can go to something known as the 'rubber room.' It is basically a suspension hall for teachers - with full pay. Believe it or not, we're still paying teachers in New York City who have been in the rubber room for seven years - and counting.  Seven years!  This is the public's money and this is the money that would otherwise go to pay those teachers who are helping our children. This is an absurd and outrageous abuse of tenure - and we've got to work with the State representatives to fix it.

"But let me be clear: We are not proposing an end to tenure. We are only proposing that our State Legislature streamline the process for removing failing teachers from classrooms and put an end to the 'rubber rooms' as we know it. Now, to ensure that students have more great teachers and more great schools, we are going to take a few more steps.

"Step number four in our list of six is the most important and that is raising standards. I believe that the federal government should require states to adopt a single national standard for all students and all subjects. But as Bill Bennett, one of Arne's predecessors, once told me the reason we don't have national testing is that conservatives hate anything with the word 'national' in it, and the liberals hate anything with the word 'testing' in it.

"Race to the Top very pragmatically skirts this ideological divide by incentivizing states to adopt a Common Core Standard - and I'm glad to say that New York State has signed up to be part of that. When the standards are completed next year, there will undoubtedly be pressure to water them down.  And so today, Chancellor Klein and I are sending a letter to our State Board of Regents urging it to ratify the standards, without material alterations.

"In New York City, we've built all of our reforms around raising standards and holding everyone accountable for results. That's why our kids have made enormous progress on State exams, especially when compared to the rest of the state. The Chancellor of our Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, has been a great champion of raising standards, which account for 14 percent of a state's Race to the Top application - and we'll give her all the support we can to raise them as high as she can get done.

"The fifth step we've got to take is lifting restrictions on growth of charter schools. This fall, a Stanford University study showed that charter school students in Harlem have performed at nearly the same level as students in suburban Scarsdale - one of the wealthiest districts in the whole country. No wonder the waiting list for charter schools in New York City is upwards of 40,000 children.

"I'm committing to open 100 new charter schools over the next four years - but we do need the State Legislature to lift the cap, just as Illinois and Louisiana have recently done, because we're about to hit it.

"Arne has said that states with any cap will lose points in the Race to the Top, and I think he's absolutely right to do so. We'll also urge the State Legislature to provide charter schools with funding for facilities, just as New York City is doing for other schools. Charter schools are public schools - people forget that - and all public school children deserve to share in the resources that the State has.  To not do so is an outrage, and if the State doesn't get this done, I've directed Chancellor Klein to sue, and see if we can't get it done in the courts.

"The sixth and final major step that Race to the Top challenges us to take is turning around our lowest-performing schools. Since 2003, we've closed 91 schools in New York City - and the new schools that have replaced them have graduation rates 15 points above the citywide average.

"Secretary Duncan has challenged states to turn around their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools.  Arne: We'll see your 5 percent - and we're going to double it. Our goal is to turn around the lowest performing 10 percent of city schools over the next four years - by closing them down, and bringing in new leadership, and holding everyone accountable for success.

"But - and this is important - the only way that we can achieve that goal is to reform something called the 'Absent Teacher Reserve Pool.' Right now, when we close a school, some teachers don't get hired back on, and many find jobs elsewhere.  But - some teachers do get hired back on, and many find jobs elsewhere, but some don't. Those teachers can go to a reserve pool - and stay on the payroll indefinitely. When you combine the reserve pool with the rubber room, it's costing us more than $100 million a year of monies that don't produce better education for our kids. We just can't keep wasting that kind of money. And - as Arne can tell us - Chicago has a one-year limit for displaced teachers - and we'll urge our State Legislature to adopt the same. 

"Now all of the reforms that Secretary Duncan and I have talked about today share something in common: They make sense! They are not Democratic ideas or Republican ideas.  They are common sense ideas.  And the way you make progress in government is by combining common sense with political courage, which the Obama Administration is doing.

"The Race to the Top is challenging the education establishment in a way that I think has never happened before, and New York City is ready, willing, and able to help the charge. The year ahead will tell us a lot about whether we're going to bring our schools into the 21st century, or whether our schools - and our students - are going to be left clinging to the 20th century, as more and more countries pass us by.

"The President and Secretary Duncan have set the bar high - and if they keep the bar high, and if they keep the bar high, we really can give our children more great teachers, and more great schools.

"They deserve it. Parents demand it - both here as well as in Korea.  And it's up to us here to deliver it.  So thank you very much, and now you're going to hear from Kati Haycock. She is the President of the Education Trust, and she is well worth listening to. Kati?"


Stu Loeser/Dawn Walker   (212) 788-2958

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