Summer's ending and the beginning of the school year is once again just around the corner. It's a particularly exciting time because around the city, teachers, principals, and parents and students are eager to get back to work to build on the impressive achievements of the last few years. Why? Because our public schools have been transformed under Chancellor Rudy Crew's leadership. Today, in dramatic contrast to when Chancellor Crew took over, our educational system is built around the principles of accountability, responsibility and performance.
The new governance law has empowered Chancellor Crew to hold superintendents accountable for achievement in their districts - and he has used this power wisely, replacing ineffective superintendents and rewarding those who get results. Groundbreaking instructional programs like Project Read, Project Arts, and Project Smart Schools are providing students with the tools they need to learn about the world and equip themselves for life in the 21st century. And the advent of school-based budgeting lets New Yorkers - as parents and taxpayers - ensure that their money goes toward instruction, books and useful technology, not bureaucracy.
We should be proud, because our hard work is yielding results. In 1998, building on the record jump in citywide reading scores of 1997, reading scores rose again. And citywide math test scores for 1998 rose for the sixth consecutive year, with 63.1 percent of students scoring at or above grade level in math - a 2.7 point increase over the previous year. But statistics only tell part of the story. We're holding students to a higher standard, and they are responding with energy and enthusiasm.
Our work, however, has just begun. This year, we must build on our gains, because there are still too many students who are not exploring their potential. For example, we have to reform the special education system. Special education has become an overgrown industry, trapping thousands of students in special ed programs who should never have been put there to begin with. We will reintegrate as many of these students as possible into regular classrooms, meeting their needs more effectively using the resources of the school system more efficiently.
We'll also begin to transform bilingual education to move students as quickly as possible into mainstream English-speaking classes after a brief transitional period of a year or two at most English immersion classes. Keeping students segregated in career-long native-language classes with no definable goal is unfair and unrealistic to them, and bad for the future of the city.
And we will work to secure the safety of our schools. The tragedies of violence all across the country earlier this year served as terrible reminders that we have a moral obligation to ensure parents that when they entrust our school system with their children, we will do everything in our power to make sure that students are safe in our care.
I'm looking forward to another productive school year, and I hope you and your family are geared up as well. And remember that if you're planning buying your children new clothes, you should wait until September 1st to 7th - because that week, we're waiving the sales tax on apparel, including shoes, all across the city.