NYC Mayor Seeks Major Education Reforms

November 26, 2009 Updated: November 26, 2009

NEW YORK—At a speech in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg laid out a plan for improving New York City schools and, at the same time, securing more than $150 billion in Federal funds. Many of Bloomberg’s measures, including evaluating and firing teachers based on students’ test scores, have come under fire from the local teachers union.

Before an audience that included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bloomberg criticized the New York City and state’s current system, which prohibit the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.

“That's like saying to hospitals, 'You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want—just not patient survival rates!' You really can't make this up! Thankfully, the law in New York is set to expire this June,” according to a published transcript of the speech.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he was surprised by Bloomberg’s aggressive stance.
"This really blew my mind today," Mulgrew said, according to the Daily News. "The state education commissioner and [Regents Chancellor] Merryl Tisch have both said publicly that the test scores are broken, and then the mayor stands up in public and says he wants to use the broken test scores to evaluate teachers."

Broken or not, Bloomberg seems committed to using them as opposed to other non-quantifiable criteria.
"We all know that great teaching is reflected in more than test scores—but we certainly should never dismiss quantitative data in favor of subjective opinions that fit a predetermined conclusion,” said Bloomberg. “That might make all of us feel good, but it really doesn't help our children.”

Bloomberg’s administration has been using test scores to grade schools and give principal and teacher bonuses, but has now taken it one step further. This measure carries additional weight because it comes at a time when the city and state are facing funding cuts and teacher layoffs seem financially inevitable.

Other Reforms

The mayor also said he wants to end the "last-in, first-out" rules that require principals to layoff or excess the newest teachers, even if they are among the best teachers, and instead allow principals to make such decisions based on merit.

“The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers,” said Bloomberg.

The mayor wants to streamline the process for removing bad teachers, which would save the city from wasting money. Currently when a teacher is removed from the classroom for multiple negative reviews, or for breaking the law, he or she can go to something known as the “rubber room,” which is “basically a suspension hall for teachers—with full pay,” said Bloomberg.

“Believe it or not, we're still paying teachers in New York City who have been in the rubber room for seven years—and counting. Seven years!” he said. “This is an absurd and outrageous abuse of tenure.”

In addition to reforming the rubber room Bloomberg wants to tackle the absent teacher reserve pool. When a school is closed and some of the teachers don’t get hired back on or find jobs elsewhere, they stay on the city payroll indefinitely in this pool.

“When you combine the reserve pool with the rubber room, it's costing us more than $100 million a year of monies that don't produce better education for our kids. We just can't keep wasting that kind of money,” said Bloomberg.

To accomplish his hefty goal of reforming and streamlining the city’s education, it is apparent that Bloomberg is seeking reforms from the state’s legislature, and not from bargaining with the teachers’ union. The legislature, who he references heavily throughout his speech, controls school legislation in the state.

“We stand willing to work with anyone who wants to work constructively on these or any other educational issues, but we will not work with those who choose to scapegoat the people who have dedicated their lives to children,” said teacher union President Mulgrew.

The union is expected to fight against many of the proposed reforms.