Listening to Mayor Bloomberg's final State of the City address, delivered today, one would not know the mayor has spent the last decade closing schools, fighting with the teachers union, and touting high test scores.
Although Bloomberg opened the shorter-than-usual education portion of the speech by noting that the city's high school graduation rate has risen faster than the state's, he did not utter the words "failing schools," "the United Federation of Teachers," or "test scores."
He also did not bring any new education ideas to the Barclay's Center, the Brooklyn stadium where he delivered the speech.
Instead, he focused on the new schools he plans to create during his last year in office — including eight designed expressly to boost college readiness among low-income black and Latino students — and tougher standards that the state has already adopted.
Bloomberg worked to manage expectations about this year's state test scores, the first based on exams aligned to the new standards, known as the Common Core. State officials have warned that proficiency rates are likely to fall, but Bloomberg had not until today acknowledged that his final test scores are likely to drop in his final year in office.
Comptroller John Liu visited UFT headquarters after being elected in 2009. Today, Liu proposed new education and economic policies, including the "community schools" model the UFT favors.
The city should ease the path to college for top high school students by promising them free tuition at city colleges, Comptroller John Liu said today in a "State of the City" speech, his second in 2012.
In the speech, Liu put forth a slate of policy proposals, including several focused on education, that he said would enhance the city's economic future. Liu is a likely mayoral candidate, but as comptroller his job is to safeguard the city's financial prospects.
"The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our city’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize," Liu said, according to his prepared remarks. "It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college."
Liu did not explain how the city could fund the initiative, but it would not cost much. With tuition set at $5,400 a year, even if every student in the top 10 percent of each graduating class enrolled and would not ordinarily receive financial aid — an unlikely scenario — paying their way would cost less than $12 million a year.
Other proposals Liu made today would cost the city a lot more.
Under a proposal laid out by Mayor Bloomberg today that took education insiders by surprise, the city would retain access to threatened federal dollars for struggling schools by riffing on a familiar strategy: school closure.
The announcement in today's State of the City address sets the stage for a showdown with the United Federation of Teachers — and maybe also with the State Education Department.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew had already dismissed the idea that schools could receive the funds without union support by this afternoon. But State Education Commissioner John King has yet to weigh in on the strategy.
Under Bloomberg's plan, the city would swap dozens of schools from one federally mandated overhaul strategy to another in a bid to escape a requirement that the city and union come to terms on a new teacher evaluation system. An impasse over negotiations caused King last week to cut off federal funds to 33 city schools that were undergoing the “transformation” and “restart” strategies, which require new evaluations.
Under the mayor’s plan, the schools would undergo “turnaround” instead. Turnaround is more aggressive than the other strategies, requiring at least half of a school’s teachers to be replaced. But it also does not require that new teacher evaluations be in place, according to the Obama administration’s guidelines for the funds, known as School Improvement Grants.
Mulgrew immediately dismissed the plan, arguing that the union would have to sign off on turnaround. That would be true — but only if Bloomberg had been talking about the type of turnaround that the Obama administration envisioned.
What the city is actually proposing is using a second, lesser-known turnaround that state regulations allow. Essentially, the city would close 33 schools and reopen them immediately, with new names and identification numbers. Then a team of educators selected for the “new” school would hire a new staff with the union’s input, pulling half of the new teachers from the original school’s roster.
Mayor Bloomberg is attempting to breathe new life into his enervated education agenda today with an ambitious and startling list of proposals that include paying top teachers $20,000 bonuses and bypassing the union to overhaul struggling schools.
Perhaps most interesting is the way that he is outlining, in his 11th State of the City address right now in the Bronx, to resuscitate stalled efforts to transform 33 struggling schools — and still receive the $58 million in federal funds that were supposed to support them. The state cut off the city's access to those funds last month, arguing that Bloomberg's failure to reach a deal with the teachers union on evaluations of teachers made the city ineligible for them.
But today Bloomberg argued that the city could still get the federal support without a deal. His plan is to change the city's approach to overhauling those schools, using the "turnaround" model. That model requires that at least 50 percent of a school's teachers be removed.
"We believe that when we take this action, we will have fulfilled the state's requirements and the schools will be eligible for the $58 million in funding," he is set to say.
The city had originally wanted to use the turnaround model, one of four federally mandated options, to overhaul the 33 schools. But it turned to backup models, "transformation" and "restart," because the union would not agree. Today, Bloomberg says he believes the union's current contract permits turnaround, according to his prepared remarks.
In a telephone call before the address, a union official said immediately that that was not the case, auguring a fight that could drag on or even wind up in court.
When Mayor Bloomberg takes the podium to deliver his annual State of the City address this afternoon, education insiders will be on the edge of their seats to hear his latest take on the fight over new teacher evaluations.
Insiders say the mayor is likely to address the impasse between the city and teachers union on evaluations. That impasse has dominated the news in recent weeks, especially after state officials said cut off some federal funding to schools that were supposed to use the new evaluations this year. In the last week, blame for the standstill has flown from Gov. Cuomo and the state teachers union, but Bloomberg has been relatively quiet. The speech in which he outlines his annual policy agenda would be an opportune time to assert his position and try to move the situation forward.
Whether Bloomberg will tackle the sticky topic during his address today is not assured, and what exactly he could propose to resolve the tension is unclear. Department of Education and City Hall insiders haven't tipped their hands about the content of today's speech, and the only news that has leaked out has been about other topics.
In some ways, it's hard to imagine Bloomberg making a major education policy announcement right now. Several substantial Department of Education initiatives, including ones to reform middle schools and revamp instruction and assessments, are already underway, and the mayor has scant time or money to execute much more. But an immediate solution to the teacher evaluations impasse is seen as crucial.
That Bloomberg is delivering the speech from inside the city's oldest coeducational high school, Morris in the South Bronx, has heightened speculation about the speech's education content.
Mayor Bloomberg renewed his push today for the end of seniority-based layoffs for public school teachers, who are facing greater odds of losing their jobs this year than they have in decades.
During his State of the City address this afternoon, Bloomberg said that his first priority for legislators in Albany is pension reform. But a close second is ending last-in first-out — the seniority rules embedded in state law that could force the Department of Education to lay off teachers based on when they were hired.
New York City has not had to lay off teachers since the 1970s and, though it came close to layoffs last year, the city dodged them by taking away funds that would have gone to giving teachers raises. But this year, the city is operating without stimulus funds and with the expectation of deep education cuts from Albany. In his November budget address, the mayor predicted that the public schools would have to lose 6,100 teachers this year.
In his speech, Bloomberg noted that laying off the schools' most recent hires, who are also the cheapest employees, will mean losing more teachers than if the city laid off older, more expensive teachers. It will also mean larger class sizes, he said, in an unusual appeal to some parents' concerns about overcrowding. DOE officials typically downplay the importance of class size, and the mayor's statement comes after Chancellor Cathie Black caused an uproar by joking that parents in Manhattan should use more birth control.
Mayor Bloomberg might have delivered his ninth "State of the City" address at a public school, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, but he made little education news.
Rather than touting his administration's accomplishments, as he has done during past addresses, Bloomberg focused on the future — in particular, how the city can help its residents weather the economic recession. According to the prepared speech, those plans include launching low-fee bank accounts for city residents, curbing home foreclosures, and helping new businesses get up and running faster.
But Bloomberg didn't leave schools out entirely. He announced smaller-scale initiatives to send public school parents text messages when their children are absent from school, put tracking devices on school buses, and make it easier for students to get contraceptives from their schools.
Bloomberg also announced that a former city principal would help lead efforts to boost city services for teenagers.