Education Dominates State of the City Speech

In his State of the City address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it clear he wants to leave a lasting mark on education and proposed changes that could affect students and teachers in Queens and the rest of the city.

During the Jan. 12 speech at Morris High School in the Bronx, Bloomberg pushed his ideas to attract high-quality teachers to New York, retain them with the possibility of $20,000 raises and make it easier to fire underperforming teachers.

“The education reforms we’ve pioneered over the past decade— no matter what the 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,” Bloomberg said

Bloomberg proposed an incentive program that would pay off up to $25,000 in student loans if top-performing graduates secure teaching jobs in the city.

He also proposed a program to hang onto high-performing teachers.

“We’ll also work to retain the best teachers—by offering them a big raise. 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,” he said.

The same day, however, the mayor received blowback from the teachers’ union, which has historically opposed merit pay.

“The mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply,” United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew said in a Jan. 12 response. “It doesn’t do the kids and the schools any good for him to propose the kind of teacher merit pay system that has failed in school districts around the country.”

Who decides which teachers are “highly effective” is unclear because the UFT and Bloomberg’s administration have already been locked in disagreement about establishing a teacher evaluation system.

Because negotiations between the administration and the teacher’s union broke down, New York’s schools lost out on a pot of federal grant money.

“A real evaluation system that is based on measurable improvement in student performance and principal assessment and allows us to make real changes is the only way we can do that,” Bloomberg said in the speech.

The UFT has opposed the proposed system because final authority ended with the principal with no appeals process. Negotiations broke down earlier this month.

During Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget address on Jan. 17, he also pushed for an evaluation system, tying a 4-percent increase in school funding to a statewide system he said must be in place by this time next year.

“As far as the ‘turnaround’ model goes, the mayor knows perfectly well that under state law these kinds of initiatives have to be negotiated with the union,” Mulgrew said in the Jan. 12 statement. “If he’s really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process.”

The Bloomberg administration has also said the new incentives force the UFT back to the table.

By Jeremiah Dobruck


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