Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani

Mayor's WINS Address
Sunday, May 2, 1999

Hear the Mayor's Message

Having the Courage to Change our Public Schools
by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani

Our public schools have improved. We've reintroduced arts education and Project Read. Superintendents are being held accountable for their performance, and school-based budgeting is beginning to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent on students, not bureaucracy.

But these changes and others have been made in spite of the system, not because of it. We still have shocking incidents, like the convicted felon hired to teach in our school system, and the person who was kept on the payroll for seven years and never showed up for work. These are situations that have to be changed, but the status quo resists change. We must have the courage to do more, and I think three ideas are central to our progress -- dissolving the Board of Education, ending principal tenure, and expanding options for our students and their parents.

For decades, city school systems have been guided by bureaucracies that are accountable to no one. That's why cities like Chicago and Detroit have replaced their Boards of Education with systems that are directly accountable to top elected officials-and, by extension, accountable to the voters themselves. Many people don't understand this, but I think as they do, they're going to understand that this is the only way to introduce accountability into our school system.

I've proposed replacing the Board of Education with a Commissioner of Education, a plan that is backed in principle by Speaker Peter Vallone and Governor George Pataki. And we must introduce accountability if the system is to survive and improve.

But even if we change school governance, that might not get to the core of the problem, which is that too many people think of the school system as a job protection system, and only secondarily as a system to educate children. We need to eliminate principal tenure, because until we do, accountability will stop at the schoolhouse door. And we must also introduce merit pay. Again, accountability must come first, not job protection.

Finally, we need to embrace alternatives. The demand is overwhelming. Citywide, over 168,000 students applied to the Children's Scholarship Fund for a total of only 2,500 school choice scholarships that will enable them to go to the school of their family's choice rather than the school the government requires them to attend. These families are sending us a powerful message.

The limited experiment I've proposed in one of our community school districts would begin to give low-income parents the same options that wealthier parents across the city enjoy. It follows the model of voucher programs that have been successful in Milwaukee and have just begun in Cleveland, which are expanding educational alternatives for thousands of families, particularly poor families. It's time for New York City to get at the forefront of this reform movement rather than lagging behind.

I think that when we open up our schools to healthy competition, they'll be spurred to improve. History teaches us that institutions benefit from challenge.

There's no single solution to all the problems facing our educational system. But an open, honest and productive discussion of all of the ideas that are being embraced throughout the country, rather than cutting them off, will begin to make our schools more accountable and responsive to parents and students. And most importantly, they'll bring about the kind of change in education that our children desperately need. This is Mayor Rudy Giuliani.


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