FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2010
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DISCUSSES REFORMS NEEDED TO CONTINUE PROGRESS IN CITY SCHOOLS AT SUNDAY MASS
Below are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Remarks as Delivered this Morning to Parishioners at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem
“Well, I meant to come for the next service, but the truth of the matter is from here – just to show you what the Mayor’s day is like – I go to a Jewish temple that was helpful during the potato famine, so it’s a Jewish-Irish event. Then I go to the Turkish Day Parade pre-parade celebration, then I march in the Israeli Day Parade up Fifth Avenue. Then I’m going to Westchester to watch my daughter in a horse show. Then I go to Gracie Mansion where we’re having a reception for a Broadway cast that helped us in the show we do to raise some money. And then I’m going to go for a business dinner.
“So I would have come later, but the Mayor’s day is full, and I happen to like days like this. And you’re nice to mention education, but let me first point out the Dennis Walcott, my Deputy Mayor for Education, is here. Dennis, stand up.
“Everything that changes is changing because people have vision and their courage, and Dennis Walcott is somebody that I met – back in 2001 – when I was campaigning and he had a pin on his lapel and I looked at the pin, and I said, ‘There’s an apple with an equal sign. That says everything about America and about New York that I think.’ And I said to him, ‘If I can borrow your pin, I’ll wear it for the rest of the campaign and give it back.’ And it’s the pin of the Urban League. Dennis was the President of the New York Urban League at the time, and to show you there is no justice, I’ve never given it back. I’ve still worn it every single day I’ve had a coat on, and I hired him away from the Urban League to be one of our Deputy Mayors. So, no, there’s no justice.
“Anyway, Dr. Johnson thank you very much and I want to congratulate the congregation on your 78th anniversary. I’m sorry I missed another celebration last week, I forget what I was doing, but similar kinds of things. But also on the 4th anniversary of Senior Pastor, Dr. Johnson’s time here. And I’ve gotten to know him a little over those few years. He and Mrs. Johnson have come to my house for dinner. The woman I have not met yet, but I’d like to, is Mother Isabelle, 101 years old. Congratulations to her. I don’t know what she’s doing this morning, probably deserving a little bit of well-rested extra time in bed. My own mother is 101 as well. We had a birthday party for her. On her 100th birthday we had so many candles on the cake, we had the fire department standing by.
“Anyway, I am truly blessed by my mother’s health. Hopefully, my sister and I will inherit her genes. Mother always knows what’s best and my mother gives great advice to me and continuously says, ‘Don’t let it go to your head. Get out there and go to work so every day.’ I try to do that.
“I think the best way that we can help everybody in our city is to improve the quality of public education. Setting high standards for them, and high moral standards, high academic standards as well. And I know your children are already learning about that because of service and compassion here at the church, and I was especially proud to see how much money you raised for Haitian Relief – it’s one of those things that the City government has worked on very hard as well. It’s very hard to part with money in tough times, but it’s in tough times when people really need help. And giving back to others is so important, it’s a lesson that I learned from my mother and father when I was growing up.
“My mother made sure that my sister and I waited for my father to come home every single day and then we set the table together, we had dinner together and we went around the table each of us talking about what we did that day. And philanthropy was something that came up a number of times, so when I got out of school and went to work it was something that was sort of natural to me and I’ve been very proud, being lucky enough to be able to help others. It gives you more pleasure than anything you can do for yourself, doing something for others. And the thing that we can do the most is improve our public schools and make service and volunteerism an integral part of every school.
“We are also working, as you know, to raise academic standards and we’ve made huge strides forward. In fact, so much so that the Obama Administration says we’re a model for school systems across the country, and I have gotten to know the President. He calls me Mike. I call him Mr. President, but that’s okay. He and his Secretary for Education Arne Duncan really have made an enormous difference in this country. I’ve always thought that in the end if the President succeeds in improving public schools across the country, that would be his legacy more than anything else you could do because what happens if you improve public schools goes on for generations.
“Here in our city we’ve worked very hard. Our graduation rates have climbed to historic highs. We’ve improved graduation rates by 27 percent over the last five years. People say, ‘Well the tests are easier, the tests are harder.’ I don’t know whether that’s true, but all of the kids in our state take the same test, and the rest of the state’s only gone up like 3 percent during that period. So we really are making a difference.
“Students’ test scores in reading and math have made double digit increases, and you take a look at District 5 here in Central Harlem: in 2006 only about 32 percent of students were meeting or exceeding standards in reading. Last year, that figure went to 59 percent. And I’m proud to say that those kids, the Black and Hispanic students, are leading this charge. Year after year they really are narrowing the intolerable gap that has existed for too long between their academic achievements and everybody else.
“Now let’s be clear, any racial achievement gap in education is just intolerable. But if you look at the progress that we have made, it really should put a smile on your face. Eight years ago, only one out of five Black 8th graders in our public schools was reading at grade level or above. One in five. Today, better than half are. So we really have come a long way. Just last week we learned that our 4th graders – especially black students and students from low-income households – are outperforming their peers in the rest of the state and the rest of the nation.
“These national assessments do prove New York City is doing something different than other places – and also doing something that is right.
“The job isn’t finished, but before I finish this morning, I just wanted to tell you a little about the next steps we’re taking in fixing our schools. First, to make our schools even more accountable, we need the ability to evaluate teachers based on student performance, we need the ability to end the ‘last in, first out’ policies, which could force us to lay off some of our best teachers, just because they don’t have seniority, if the budget cuts force us to downsize.
“Our kids deserve the best, so how can we make seniority the sole criteria for retaining teachers? And at schools with the highest percentage of Black and Hispanic students, about one in four teachers are relatively new to the job. A ‘last in, first out’ policy would force many of them out of the classroom – and disrupt the progress at these schools have made. And we just can’t let that happen.
“We also need more choice in education, which means lifting the unreasonable cap on charter schools. Harlem, as you know, has the highest concentration of charter schools in our city and probably in the nation. And the innovative methods employed in charter schools have helped thousands of our kids excel, and that includes, of course, the students at Sisulu-Walker Charter School, which this church helped establish 11 years ago.
“But let’s say you want to establish another charter school. Unfortunately you can’t – even though parents want it for their kids. You can’t because there’s a cap from the State. The State Legislature so far has not let us start new charter schools. And that’s really a shame.
“We estimate there are over 40,000 students who are on waiting lists for charter schools in our city, and they deserve the same chance that so many students from Harlem have now. And lifting the cap incidentally will also improve our chances for $70 million in ‘Race to the Top’ Federal funds for our schools. And the deadline to apply for those is June 1st. President Obama put this money away because he wants to help our public schools. But we have to change in order to qualify for those funds. And at the moment, so far the State Legislature has not changed the law that we need to possibly get those funds. And with our schools facing very big budget cuts this year, we just can’t afford to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.
“So right now we are working hard with our leaders in Albany, and with teachers, to craft a bill that increases the number of charters in our schools. I think we have made some progress. We will continue talking in the hopes of getting a good deal for the kids in this neighborhood, and neighborhoods across the city.
“But let me be clear, we will oppose any legislation that undermines the City's ability to open and run new charters. This is the moment for accountability for all of us – either we are serious about reforming our schools, or we are not. Either we’re serious about giving our children the ability to share in the great American dream, or we’re not. Either we’re serious about giving kids in school the skills that they will need to really take advantage of all the progress that has been made in this country in giving everybody their rights.
“I assure you, on behalf of the parents in this church, I am serious. And if in joining me in urging our legislators in Albany to act, we can ensure that the best days for our young people are still to come. And we really have an obligation to go do that. So Dr. Johnson and to all of you, I just wanted to say thank you. Congratulations on your anniversary.
“We’re in a tough battle. We’re going to be going to give all our kids the same opportunities or we’re not, and decision time is right now. If we can’t improve our schools now, they’re not going to get improved in the future. This is the time. Everything’s come together. We have a President that understands the problem and wants to do something about it. We have newspapers behind us, we have the churches behind us. We have the parents of the students behind us. Now is the time for us to press Albany to act.
“Thank you and God bless.”
Stu Loeser/Marc La Vorgna (212) 788-2958