Speaking this morning at NBC’s “Education Nation,” Mayor Bloomberg recapped three terms of his efforts to improve New York City’s schools.
He also signaled that even as “no excuses”-style education advocates have softened on acknowledging the serious challenges that poverty poses for schools, his own thinking has not changed much:
They said: ‘We will never improve schools serving low-income students until we end poverty.’ And I think they could not have been more wrong. The truth of the matter is we will never end poverty until we improve the schools – and that’s what we set out to do 12 years ago. And today, I am glad to report that high school graduation rates have risen 39 percent.
Read Bloomberg’s full comments at “Education Nation,” as distributed by the city, below.
“Well good morning everyone, and thank you. This is one of the most beautiful rooms in New York City. I’ve always loved this room. We do a lot of events here, and just look around, it’s another one of the jewels. And the New York Public Library, the building and the renovation that they’re going to do, just is going to add to the city’s luster and to the attractiveness of the city for education and for tourists and everything else. So this is nothing but good.
Anyway, I wanted to welcome you all. If you are looking to check out a true literary masterpiece while you are here – and remember, that’s what libraries let you do – I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait. The library’s one copy of Bloomberg by Bloomberg has been checked out and there are approximately 17 holds on it – only 16 of which come from my family. Somebody once said the rarest book in the world is an un-autographed copy of Bloomberg by Bloomberg. Actually it was said about one of Henry Kissinger’s books. I’ve always said that to Henry. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. I did want to thank NBC for shining its spotlight on education and bringing us all together to talk about the challenges we face and how we can address them. To put our work in perspective, I think it’s worth remembering that this year is the 30th anniversary of the release of the landmark report on education in America called ‘A Nation at Risk.’ The report was a jarring wake-up call for the country – and an urgent call to action. The education system that helped make America into an economic powerhouse was, the report warned, ‘being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.’ In many cities in America, the situation was even more dire than that. Rising mediocrity was not the only problem. Chronic failure was. And that was certainly true here in New York City. When our administration came into office back in 2002, the New York City public school system was badly broken. Hiring was often based on political connections. Policies were often decided based on political horse-trading. And labor contracts were often signed based on the demands of adults, not the needs of children. In fact, the way they settled what was an appropriate way to pay a teacher had nothing to do with attracting the skill-sets that we need or the retention that we wanted and the recruitment abilities that we wanted to have offered to us. It was simply done on everybody wanted more and the question was what they would settle for. The result was a toxic stew of dysfunction that was force-fed to a generation of our most disadvantaged students, many of whom simply dropped out, often with tragic consequences. It was a disgraceful scandal, but the political class just shrugged as though nothing could be done. They said: ‘We will never improve schools serving low-income students until we end poverty.’ And I think they could not have been more wrong. The truth of the matter is we will never end poverty until we improve the schools – and that’s what we set out to do 12 years ago. And today, I am glad to report that high school graduation rates have risen 39 percent. The dropout rate in New York City public schools has fallen by half to an all-time low, while our college readiness rates have doubled. And while when we came into office, out of the 25 best schools in New York State, not one was in New York City. This year, 22 out of the 25 best schools in New York State are in New York City. These great schools include some of the new schools that we’ve created to give students and parents more top-quality choices. In fact, we’ve created more than 650 new schools across the city in the last 12 years. And an independent study this summer found that the small high schools we’ve created have substantially out-performed the pack. And today, a new study being released by the Brookings Institution affirms the connection between school choice and student achievement. In New York City and across the nation, we have shown that we can make real progress in improving the achievement levels of low-income students. But that progress, I think we all agree, is just not enough. The fact is, as a country we still have not taken many of the steps that were recommended by the ‘Nation at Risk’ report. The report recommended significantly increasing teachers’ salaries and lengthening the school day, two steps that were taken here in New York City. I remember coming into office in 2002 and raising property taxes 18 percent because the bottom line is our best teachers were being hired away by the surrounding counties. That is no longer true. Teachers don’t leave New York City to go to the surrounding counties. If anything, we can recruit anybody we want from many of the surrounding counties. The report recommended lengthening the school day, as I said. We did manage to negotiate with the teachers union an extra period and that has made a difference. But it also recommended lengthening the school year to 200 or 220 days, adopting performance pay standards for teachers, and other steps that most districts have not taken. Even these steps we think are not going far enough because the challenge we face in American education is far more difficult than the one that we faced 30 years ago. If you think about it, since 1983 the American economy has changed in fundamental ways – but our schools, for the most part, just have not changed. It used to be that a high school diploma got you a job and a ticket into the middle class. That clearly is not true anymore. In the 1970s, one in four American jobs required some kind of post-secondary education. Soon, nearly two out of every three jobs will require some kind of post-secondary education. It has become increasingly hard to enter the middle class without greater skills and more knowledge, and the income gap between those who acquire such skills and knowledge and those who don’t is only going to widen in the years to come. This change is what we might call the ‘rising tide of the knowledge economy’ – and it threatens to weaken the American middle class unless we take bold steps to adapt our school systems to it. The national movement to adopt a Common Core Standard is certainly a big step in the right direction – and New York City was an early adopter. Common Core represents one of the most significant changes to public education in America in decades – but it is not enough. Here in New York City, we’re working to more directly connect our high school students to college level work – as well as growing industries that are creating the jobs of the future. One of these is the tech industry which I’m happy to say is growing rapidly in New York City. Even through the worst stretch of the recent national recession, jobs in New York City’s tech sector have been growing by more than seven percent a year. Our Administration, as you know, has worked hard to fuel that growth – and also to prepare more public school students for the jobs that are being created. This year, for example, we began a software engineering pilot in 20 schools for grades 6 through 9. Students get instruction in subjects like computer programming, robotics, and 3-D printing. We’ve also created two Academy of Software Engineering high schools that teach coding and prepare kids for careers in technology. And the six-year high school we created in partnership with IBM and the City University of New York – Pathways in Technology Early College High School we call it – was highlighted as a national model by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. He said every student deserved access to opportunities like the ones P-Tech is providing – and we’re working to create even more of those kinds of schools. Those opportunities extend beyond just careers in tech I might point out – and through our public schools we’re opening doors to other fast-growing industries, as well. We have to do more. This fall we opened two more six-year high schools. One is a partnership with CUNY and a leading medical center that prepares students for careers in health professions. The other is a partnership with our two major utilities, Con Ed and National Grid, that prepares students for careers in the energy industry. These schools really are a win-win for our kids and our City: students get exposure to a real-world workplace and a jump-start on college. And they give our partners a unique opportunity to train the next generation of leaders and innovators that will keep their industries competitive. We’ve also opened more career and technical education schools – what I used to call vocational schools – than any other Administration in our City’s history. Students in these schools are prepared for success whether or not they decide to stick to careers in those industries. For example, students at a new school we opened in partnership with FEMA learn communication, collaboration, problem-solving and complex reasoning. Those are skills that will serve them well in whatever career and whatever walk of life they finally choose. I think it’s up to us to make sure they have choice and that they graduate from schools ready to take control of their future. Thirty years after ‘A Nation at Risk’ sounded the alarm on the state of public education in America, the modest progress we’ve made hasn’t kept pace with the rising tide of the knowledge economy. We have a new set of pressing challenges posed by the changing economy and the skills that it demands. We cannot let another 30 years pass with so little to show for it. The time has come to accelerate and expand the reform agenda because our goal must be greater than ending that chronic failure and slowing the rising tide of mediocrity. The goal must be spreading excellence far and wide so that today’s students can be tomorrow’s global leaders in everything from science and medicine to the arts and technology. The future of our country will be determined in large part by whether we succeed in achieving that goal – and I think we have every reason to be hopeful, but it’s certainly not going to be easy and we certainly can’t take our foot off the gas pedal. We’ve seen here in New York, and in cities around the country, that progress is possible – real, substantial, dramatic progress. But it’s going to take strong organized political leadership, and it’s going to take innovative ideas from civic leaders in the public and private sectors because we’re all in this together. I don’t think there has ever been more focus or more talk about improving education, but we have to turn that focus and that talk into results. It is a great sign that we’re heading in the right direction and that we are turning the tide against mediocrity and towards excellence, but if you think about it the needs of society are growing faster all the time and the competition from societies around the world is getting stronger every single day. When somebody asks, ‘What is the amount that my child must learn? What is the level of proficiency before my child can go back to playing video games and watching television?’ The answer is I know of no Nobel Prize winner that isn’t still studying. We are going to have to keep working, and it is up to us as adults, us as citizens, us as taxpayers to make sure that we give the kind of education to our kids that will let them be self-sufficient and to share in the Great American Dream. Thank you for your attention.