To remain vibrant and dynamic New York City must be constantly energized and renewed by generations of young people, raised in our neighborhoods, educated in our schools, committed to their city and its continued vitality.
And indeed for generations the public school classrooms of New York City have shaped great minds... Innovators...artists and leaders...
Who in turn have changed the course of our nation's history...like Jonas Salk...James Baldwin...and General E. Colin Powell...
Men and women whose achievements have enriched our culture and inspired youngsters to reach ever higher...to imagine a future much brighter than the present.
Like Dr. Ellen S. Baker, who is living the dreams of so many American boys and girls as an astronaut-physician with NASA. Dr. Baker -- who happens to be the daughter of Queens Borough President Claire Shulman -- recently returned from the shuttle mission that docked with the Russian spacestation, Mir.
Dr. Baker is an outstanding role model for our city's youngsters...
They need role models every bit as much as their mothers and fathers did -- maybe even more.
And New York City's school system must continue to produce them.
Today's youngsters enter our school system eager to learn...eager to acquire the knowledge and skills that will allow them to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Too often they leave school without them...
I firmly believe that public school education in New York City has reached a turning point.
If we fail to act now to bring the system under control...
To guarantee the safety and security of children, teachers, principals and staff...
To ensure that the system's $8 billion budget is spent on students -- not on bureaucracy...
To raise educational standards and restore sensible educational priorities in the classroom...
The entire system will be endangered.
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, more than eighty percent of New Yorkers have lost confidence in the city's school system. If we don't do something now...that number could easily grow to one hundred percent.
If the system's deterioration is allowed to continue...we will see an increase in calls for privatization and vouchers -- alternatives, which in my view, will weaken the public school system...
And New York City's proud legacy of public education may well end.
An empire state survey released today finds that "
...Still others...like Baltimore and Hartford...are privatizing some schools.
I do not want to see a voucher system in New York City. Our system is so large...that making that kind of transition would be very difficult...what is more, funding private and parochial school education with state and city funds would raise a number of complicated constitutional issues that would tie up the city in litigation for years to come.
I know that many people fear change.
I know that the schools bureaucracy fears the changes I have proposed.
But the failure to change poses greater dangers to our schools than any changes we might implement.
The failure to change almost certainly will ensure the end of the present system as we know it...because the New York public school system is failing too many of our children...It's time to remake our system.
One model we can use to guide us is our city's parochial school system...
Now, I know that many people will object to the comparison...because they say the systems are too different...there are differences -- to be sure -- but there are also similarities. In fact, the two systems are more alike than many people realize.
For instance, both systems are large. (the New York City public school system has an enrollment of 1.035 million)
The archdiocese of New York and the diocese of Brooklyn, which together encompass all the Catholic schools in the five boroughs, have an enrollment of more than 150,000 (151,075). If it were a public school system the city's parochial system would be the second largest in the state...and the eleventh largest in the country.
Many people believe that parochial schools take only the best students -- those most likely to succeed academically.
The city's Catholic and public school systems enroll about the same proportion of students who have what educators call "multiple risk factors" -- meaning that they come from low-income families, single parent homes, with parents who didn't finish high school and a sibling who dropped out of school.
Yet our city's Catholic schools are far more successful in educating students:
Parochial schools give parents a choice of schools for their children. that gives families -- not bureaucrats -- real power.
And the parochial school system has minimal administrative overhead...which means that more money makes it into the classrooms...to teachers and students.
Consider for a moment the example set by Bishop Loughlin high school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
The school has an enrollment of about 900 students -- 99.9 percent of whom are minority....85 percent African American...14 percent Latino. The student body is pretty evenly split between males and females (55 percent male to 45 percent female).
While most of these youngsters enter the school with math and reading skills below grade level, 90 percent of them go on to college.
That's a success rate any school would be proud to achieve.
But as the principal, Brother James Bonilla, will tell you, he has certain advantages over his counterparts in the New York City public schools.
For one thing he enjoys real autonomy. A great many functions are controlled at the school level. Brother James and the teachers at Bishop Loughlin set the curriculum and design courses that meet the needs of their students. The teaching staff encourages parents to provide input. They work at creating a community within the school.
Moreover, Brother James controls the budget of Bishop Loughlin high school, because the city's parochial school system has school-based budgeting. He is free to make decisions about spending priorities without interference from a central administration.
And Brother James notes that unlike so many public school principals in our city...he has never had a problem with custodial services...because as principal he has always been in charge.
Brother James gets results from students because he and the teachers at Bishop Loughlin have high expectations...they set high standards...and work to help the students meet those standards.
And Brother James has the ability to expel rowdy students...but the school doesn't simply rid itself of all its problem students...
Far from it: the school's expulsion rate is only about 2 percent. Nevertheless...the ability to expel students is valuable tool in maintaining order in the classroom.
As an alumnus of Bishop Loughlin high school, I can tell you that the mere possibility of that sanction has a powerful disciplinary effect.
In the end, Brother James is held accountable for the way Bishop Loughlin high school operates...for how it spends its money and -- most important -- for how well it educates its students.
It's a burden Brother James gladly accepts...and it's a burden the vast majority of the principals in our city's public schools would gladly assume...provided they are given the freedom to run their schools...
Restoring educational priorities
So where do we begin?
We can start by ending practices that waste money -- and harm children...
For example, we must do away with the practice of so-called "social promotion," whereby students who don't meet academic standards for promotion from one grade to the next are moved ahead anyway.
This system cheats our children...It tells them, "it doesn't matter what you do. It doesn't matter how hard you try...or whether you try at all." In short, it tells youngsters that their school work doesn't matter.
The fact is, children respond to standards...they rise to the level of their teachers' expectations. They need to be challenged, by teachers who care about them...who want them to succeed.
An investigation by the New York post revealed that students who are promoted in elementary school based on their age, rather than their academic attainments, often require expensive remedial assistance in highschool. Their academic problems only worsen as they are shunted ahead into increasingly challenging courses for which they are not ready.
The results? Discouraged students...many of whom fail to graduate on time or drop out.
And, according to the post study, a $272 million-a-year tax on the city school system -- the price tag for remedial coursework. Educational experts agree the expense of remedial education rises with each grade because it takes longer to overcome deep-seated problems.
Every education dollar is precious. And, when court decrees and state and federal mandates compel us to spend these dollars unwisely...these mandates must be changed.
For instance, we must go to court immediately and redefine our special education system...so that it can work again for the school children who need it. It must not remain a dumping ground for children with behavioral problems special ed was never intended to address. And we've got to restructure the system so it can work in a cost-effective manner.
We must close the gap between what the system spends on special education -- almost $22,000 per student -- and what it spends on the rest of its students -- approximately $5,000 per student. There must be greater balance between spending on special education and mainstream programs.
Changing the way the New York City public school system administers special education programs is about more than just money. It's about ensuring that children get the services that meet their particular needs. It means ensuring that only children who need special education wind up in special education programs. And it means making sure that if and when those children no longer need these programs they are returned to the mainstream.
Once again, we must ensure that the system works for our children. Their needs should drive the system...their needs should determine how programs function. The needs of the bureaucracy should never govern how children are educated.
School-based budgeting will change the way the Board of Education spends its money.
Right now the money flows from the top down. The board receives $8 billion...spends a large portion of those funds on administrative functions...and divides what remains among the city's schools. Finally, a small portion of that money trickles down to the classroom.
The money should flow in the opposite direction: from the bottom up. There should be a budget for every school, so that principals -- not administrators in a central or district office -- can decide how best to spend that money to benefit students. The Board of Education's $8 billion budget should be divided among the city's approximately 1,085 schools, with whatever is left over -- hopefully very little -- going to administration.
Then we can hold the principals accountable for the way their schools function, instead of the insulated, alienated bureaucracies at 110 Livingston Street and at the 32 District Boards.
Just last year, Herman Badillo, my special advisor for fiscal oversight for the Board of Education, found that the board was unable to tell him how many employees it has...or where they work...because its personnel operations use five separate computer systems, which are not compatible with one another.
That just doesn't make sense.
The Board of Education must install a modern, transparent, and understandable accounting system, one that can readily distinguish between administrative costs and school-based expenses.
The change will permit each and every one of us -- the mayor, taxpayers and parents -- understand which resources actually reach children and which do not.
The Board of Education's Division of School Safety has proven unable to curb the escalating violence in our schools, despite a budget of $75 million and a force of 3,000 officers, which would make it the nation's seventh largest police department.
The failure of the Division of School Safety is written in the numbers. While major crime in our city declined by 11.7 percent last year, the Board of Education reports that serious crime -- including assault, robbery and sex offenses -- in and around our public schools increased 15.5 percent in the 1993-94 school year. Serious crime around schools increased 47.5 percent compared to the previous year.
And the situation is getting worse. While the crime rate is falling even faster in the city at large -- serious felony crime fell by more than 18 percent in the first half of 1995 -- violent crime in the schools shot up 28 percent in the first six months of this past school year.
A recent audit determined that part of the problem is the quality of the force entrusted with the security and well-being of staff and students. Allegations of misconduct by school safety officers, including rape and drug charges, raise serious questions about the hiring practices employed by the Division of School Safety. And the recent cases are not isolated incidents. Since 1991, 161 school guards have been arrested for crimes ranging from having sex with students to possessing weapons and narcotics.
We must make restoring safety in the schools a top priority, because children cannot learn when they are afraid -- nor can teachers teach in a classroom ruled by fear. No other improvement we make in the school system will have a real, lasting impact on education so long as violence and fear are a regular part of the school day for many of our children.
That is why I believe that the NYPD must screen, train and supervise school safety officers. In some schools, principals and teachers are too intimidated to deal with the criminal activity threatening students, teachers and staff. The NYPD has the skills, experience and resources to do the job.
The NYPD can provide screening, training and supervision to turn the Division of School Safety into a professional, disciplined force, sensitive to the needs of students, teachers and staff.
That's a budget nearly twice as large as that of the United States Commerce Department ($4.2 billion).
It's bigger than the budget of the U.S. State Department ($5.6 billion).
It's larger than the budget for the entire state of Michigan ($7 billion).
New york city spends more on education than the state of North Carolina ($6.3 billion)...more than the states of Georgia ($5.1 billion)...and Virginia ($1.7 billion)...combined.
The New York City public school system's $8 billion budget would place it in the top echelon of the nation's fortune 500 companies. The schools budget is bigger than the total revenues of companies like Viacom ($7.6 billion)...Colgate-Pamolive ($7.58 billion)...Time Warner ($7.4 billion)...and Coca-Cola ($6.01 billion).
The point I'm making isn't that we're spending too much on education -- it's that the amount of money is not the issue.
The issue is how that money is spent.
And the point is that much of the school system's $8 billion budget is wasted.
It's that simple.
For example...a fifteen-month probe by ed stancik, the special commission of investigation for city schools revealed gross mismanagement in food services led to as many as 1,000 children suffering symptoms of food poisoning.
The report detailed cases of children being served outdated and rancid food, ranging from 16-month old ground beef to two-year-old turkey.
You know, at town hall meetings throughout the city parents often ask me why their children's schools are in such bad shape. As mayor...I do not have authority over the school budget...
I want to change that. Together with the mayors of New York's other "big six cities," I am supporting legislation in Albany to give control over the education budget to the mayor.
This control would be no different than the fiscal oversight that the mayor has over the Parks Department, the Police Department or the Sanitation Department.
Many of the nation's mayors -- from places as disparate as Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. -- are asking that they be held accountable for education in their communities. Mayor daley of chicago recently succeeded in securing legislation that gives him authority over that city's troubled school system.
Like New York, Chicago had a public school system that for years was plagued by administrative and financial problems...and produced disappointing academic results.
Now the mayor has control of the bureaucracy...and he's taken steps to impose fiscal restraint and more accountability on the system...freeing teachers and principals to do what they do best -- teach children.
It's a good idea, and well worth trying here.
Let me be very clear about one thing:
I do not want control of the curriculum. There are many qualified, dedicated teachers and principals in the New York City public school system. These educational professionals, together with parents, should determine the content and structure of the school day.
Several weeks ago (July 18) I met a wonderful woman who has dedicated her life to our city's children. I presented a certificate of appreciation to Alice Connolly -- an 88-year-old New York City public school teacher. Upon her mandatory retirement in 1977, ms. Connolly -- then age 70 -- embarked on a new phase of her career, becoming a full-time volunteer teacher at PS 175 on City Island, where she teaches English as a second language to third through sixth graders.
Alice Connolly is an inspiration to me -- and to countless teachers just starting their careers...dedicated to helping our city's children reach their potential.
We must act now to give teachers like Alice Connolly the freedom to exercise their educational expertise. We must ensure that teachers and principals have the freedom they need to make the learning experience a rewarding one for New York City's school children. Right now they lack that freedom. Teachers and principals are fettered by a school system that cannot provide safe and secure classrooms...a school system that diverts precious education dollars to administration and bureaucracy...a school system more concerned with preserving the status quo than with enhancing education.
The worst thing we can do for our children is to do nothing.
The Board of Education should work closely with me and my administration to ensure that the next Chancellor is someone committed to change...committed to remaking our city's troubled school system.
We need a Chancellor who cares about children. But we must have a Chancellor who understands how take a huge, complicated, and unwieldy bureaucracy and strip it to its essentials...to ensure that every education dollar goes to educating children. Compassion without real management skills won't do our school system or our children any good.
Perhaps the next Chancellor should be a creative administrator with high-level management skills. Someone with experience in managing a multi-billion dollar enterprise...possibly someone with experience in the private sector...someone who has had the experience of answering to stockholders...the experience of being held accountable for fiscal decisions and practices...
...because there are many, many men and women in the private sector who care deeply about children...who are committed to using their talents to help improve our society.
It is possible that we will find a public-sector administrator who can handle the process of budgeting and managing in an responsible and creative manner -- with the track record to prove it.
-- an educator with administrative experience in a large organization.
In any case the next Chancellor should be able to communicate to the public a vision of how this public school system can be remade to energize a new generation...to prepare youngsters to seize the opportunities they will encounter in the coming years.
A great schools Chancellor must manage...a great schools Chancellor must also inspire.
To find someone able to fill that role we must have an open, intensive selection process...we should cast our net wide and consider candidates that in the recent past would not have received consideration. Twenty-five years ago the Board of Education did not assume that only an educational professional was capable of leading the system. Describing the board's Chancellor search in 1970, the New York times noted that "originally the board hoped to find a public figure of national prominence, rather than a professional." And the Board actually approached a number of public servants, including Arthur Goldberg, Ralph Bunche and Sargent Shriver.
In the end, we may find an educator with the management skills and creativity to remake our system. The important thing is to make sure that we have chosen the next Chancellor from the best possible pool of candidates.
I want to be very clear on what I am suggesting...I am suggesting merely that the board consider candidates with experience in the private sector...I am not saying that a candidate with such experience is the only acceptable candidate...
The fact that some Board members have rejected even considering a non-educator is a sure sign of bureaucratic rigor mortis....a sign that the system is so frightened of change that it cannot bear to think in non-traditional ways.
Just consider for a moment...what would happen if someone like Colin Powell were available to serve as schools Chancellor...someone of national stature...with experience running the government's largest agency...a product of New York City public schools...a leader with a demonstrated interest in young people.
Would we reject him out of hand because he may never have taken "Education 101"?
The fact is that if someone like general powell were under consideration -- even if he ultimately declined or if the board ultimately decided against his selection -- it would elevate the entire process.
But by refusing even to consider a candidate who lacks formal education credentials, the board discourages many good people from applying for the position.
We have many, many fine educators in our school system. But they are shackled by a dysfunctional system.
An experienced, hands-on manager could effect the necessary changes that would free teachers and principals to spend their time and talents educating our city's children.
And ultimately that really is the point. The future health and vitality of our society depends on our ability to properly educate our children...to guarantee that they have the skills...the confidence...and the opportunity to reach their full potential...to become full participants in our democracy.
I want to set our schools back on the right course...I want to make children the focus of the system -- their safety...their security...their health...their education...
Education is 25 percent of the city's budget...but it's one hundred percent of our city's future.
All our efforts to enhance public safety and stimulate economic growth won't matter, if we don't provide our children with the tools they need to succeed in the better city we seek to build.
New York City is a beacon of hope to millions around the world and here in America. New york City has provided generations of immigrants the opportunity to rise up...to become a part of the American dream.
Our public school system has been the means by which generations of New Yorkers have achieved their dreams. It still can be.
I cannot help but think of what a wonderful role model Dr. Baker has become for the children of our city and our entire nation. She has now made three spaceflights, conducting important research on the way the human body reacts to prolonged spaceflight....research that one day will be used by nasa in building the first permanent space station.
The time has come to remake our city's public school system...to ensure that the dollars we dedicate to education...reach our classrooms...so that dedicated teachers and principals can help all our students do what Dr. Ellen Baker has done -- reach for the stars.