Mayor Bloomberg briefly touted JetBlue opening its new headquarters in Long Island City in March and the Queens Museum of Art’s expansion that will double its size, but the majority of his penultimate State of the City address on Thursday focused on education.
“The education reforms we’ve pioneered over the past decade, no matter what they naysayers say, have been widely adopted by school systems across the nation, but this year we’ll be putting our foot on the gas and picking up the pace,” said Bloomberg, who has long said he wanted to be known as the “education mayor,” and overhauled the city’s school system by implementing mayoral control in 2002.
Bloomberg delivered his 11th, and next to last, address at Morris High School in the Bronx, a school that the city converted into five smaller schools in 2002.
Outlining this year’s main goals in education, Bloomberg focused on a new evaluation system for teachers that no doubt will, at the very least, raise eyebrows from the teachers’ union, which has long battled the mayor over evaluations.
“Unfortunately, for all the changes we’ve made in our schools, evaluating teachers is one area where nothing has changed,” Bloomberg said. “Teachers continue to be rated simply as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory.’ It’s a pass-fail system, with a 98 percent passing rate. Our students don’t have the luxury of being graded pass-fail. Neither do people in other professions, who have to make a living to feed their families. And neither should our teachers.”
Under a school turnaround program already authorized by federal and state law, and which Bloomberg said is “consistent with a provision of the existing union contract,” the city will form school-based committees that would evaluate teachers based on classroom performance. This move is an attempt by the mayor to reclaim nearly $60 million in federal grants, which the state recently suspended because the city and the union could not agree on an evaluation process.
Under this new system, the city could replace up to 50 percent of a school’s faculty.
“We need to be able to identify those ineffective teachers and give them the support they need to grow,” Bloomberg said. “And if that doesn’t work, we need to be able to move them out.”
This year, the mayor said the city will try to attract teachers by paying off up to $25,000 of top graduates’ student loans.
“We’ll also work to retain the best teachers — by offering them a big raise,” Bloomberg added. “Today, we’re making an offer to all New York City teachers: If you are rated highly effective for two consecutive years, we will hike your salary by $20,000 per year.”
Much of the Bloomberg administration’s education platform has revolved around closing large schools that they deem as failing and implementing smaller ones within the building, including charter institutions. The process has been a contentious one, and one that has not landed the mayor many fans in Queens. The current phaseout of Jamaica High School, for example, has been criticized by numerous Queens legislators, students, teachers and parents.
“Our goal is to open 100 new schools over the next two years, including 50 new charters,” Bloomberg said. “And we’ll do that by asking our most successful charter school operators to expedite their expansion plans, including the KIPP Academy and Success Academy networks.”
The mayor wrapped up his speech’s education component by saying the city will “help lead the charge for the New York State Dream Act,” which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to apply for state-sponsored college loans, grants and scholarships.
“We can’t blame them for being brought here as infants or teens,” Bloomberg said. “And since they are here to stay, it’s in New York City’s best interest to make sure they are able to become productive members of society.”