In education speech, Lhota challenges UFT to work with him

In a major speech on education this morning, Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota said he would “continually measure and quantify our schools.”

Lhota also said he would push to double the number of charter schools operating in the city, a move that would require legislative approval, and to offer merit pay for teachers rated highly effective, which would require the UFT’s.

“I challenge the UFT to help me implement a merit pay system,” he said.

The union has said it will never support merit pay for individual teachers, which research so far has found does not improve student achievement.

Lhota’s speech, delivered to business and civic leaders at the Association for a Better New York, marks the first comprehensive education address by a non-Democratic candidate. It comes a day after Bill Thompson received the UFT endorsement, marking a turning point in the education election. Until now, with the Democratic candidates each competing for the union’s support, there has been little incentive to propose wildly different education policies on the campaign trail.

Lhota suggested that Thompson’s positions, which include opposing school closures and supporting a temporary ban on co-locations, were taken to appease the union. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Lhota was in no position to speak.

“Joe said that Bill Thompson was pandering to the UFT while he was in front of a bunch of millionaires telling them he wants to double charter schools and introduce merit pay, which is the height of pandering,” Mulgrew said. “That’s what that audience wants to hear.”

One line of the speech, about pre-kindergarten programs, also drew a sharp response from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a Democratic candidate for mayor.

“Pre-K programs in particular should not be glorified babysitting services,” Lhota said, according to his prepared comments. “Preschool kids should have a core curriculum that provides children withthe foundational learning skills to move forward with their education.”

De Blasio has proposed making pre-kindergarten truly universal for poor children by taxing New Yorkers earning over $500,000 year. “With his comments today, Joe Lhota displayed his ignorance of what pre-K means to families in NYC,” he said in a statement. “Too many parents go to sleep at night praying that their son or daughter gets a coveted spot in a pre-K class, only to be met by disappointment by a system that rewards the elite, but leaves behind working families.”

Lhota’s complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below: