Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani

Mayor's WINS Address
Sunday, May 30, 1999

Hear the Mayor's Message

We Must Reform Our School System Aggressively and Without Delay
by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani

This week, we learned that two out of three fourth grade students in New York City public schools failed the new reading test given by New York State-and one in five of our students could barely read or write. The results are the latest indication of what New York City's families already knew: that too many public schools are failing our children. Parents' discontent and dissatisfaction has been growing for years, and that is driving an intense demand for additional educational alternatives. No matter how we say it, the fact is simple: our public school system does not work.

Last month, 168,000 New York City students applied for 2,500 privately funded school choice scholarships being offered through a new foundation. That means that at least 168,000 parents want the choice to send their children to another school rather than being forced to send their child to the public school the government requires them to attend.

Parents have lost faith in the system. This month's community school board elections drew just 2 percent of eligible voters to the polls. That's not democracy. That's a farce. Parents and voters are sending the unequivocal message that local school boards do not contribute to their children's education.

We must not waste any time. Our schools are failing hundreds of thousands of students, and it's time for a solution. City government needs to take full responsibility now. We need the courage to make massive reforms.

New York City needs to do what was done in Chicago, Detroit, and other major American cities: eliminate the bureaucratic Board of Education-meaning both the central board and the 32 community school boards, which sap resources and hinder student achievement-and replace them with a system that is accountable to parents and voters and directly focuses all resources and energy on improving schools.

We need to have the courage to take on union opposition and eliminate principal tenure. Principals of chronically under-performing schools have no right to continue failing their students. The only way for their schools to turn around, and for the school system as a whole to turn around, is to bring in new principals. And we also need the flexibility to reward good principals and teachers by giving them merit pay.

Finally, we need to have the courage to offer the same alternatives that are being provided to students in cities and states across the country. The State of Florida recently passed a statewide voucher program for students in failing schools. The City of Milwaukee has a program in place that gives the poorest families in the city the same choice in education that the richest families have.

It's time for us put in place a voucher program for the poorest families in one of the City's 32 community school districts. Our children deserve alternatives. What are we afraid of? What do we have to lose except some of the tiresome political debate that is producing no results-or only symbolic reforms-for hundreds of thousands of our children?

New York City's school system is not working, and that means we don't have the luxury of ignoring any of these ideas. It's our obligation to do everything in our power to reform the system massively, dramatically, and without delay.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend. I will be attending Memorial Day parades all throughout the City today and tomorrow-in neighborhoods like Forest Hills, College Point, and Whitestone. They are wonderful traditions, and I hope if you live in or near one of these communities you turn out to support our veterans as well as all those who are currently on active duty in the armed forces. This is Mayor Rudy Giuliani.


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