Good afternoon Chairman Jackson and members of the Education Committee. Thank you for inviting me today to talk about our efforts to create the kind of public schools that New York City’s students need and deserve.
Deputy Mayor Walcott just described the journey we’ve taken over the past four-plus years since Mayor Bloomberg took control of, and responsibility for, New York City’s schools. Last week, as you know, the Mayor announced our next steps—what we will do to build on the progress we have made. These reforms, which I will discuss today, will take our schools and our system to a new, higher level. These steps are critically important because although we’ve made a great deal of progress in recent years, although our students are performing at a substantially higher level now than they were in 2002, we still have a long way to go before our schools are able to provide all of New York City’s children with the education they need and deserve. And while our students and our system have improved a great deal, we must not accept the current reality, the status quo, as our maximum potential.
Today, I will share with you the details of the next wave of our Children First school reforms. But before I do that, I would like to put the reforms in context: everything we do, every reform we undertake, every initiative we pursue is a means to an end, and that end is giving every one of our students, regardless of personal circumstances, a fair chance at a successful, fulfilling, productive life in a world that increasingly demands unprecedented levels of knowledge and competence. When we called our reforms “Children First,” we meant it.
Our efforts—the efforts that the Deputy Mayor just described and the efforts that I will describe in my testimony today—are built around four simple beliefs.
First, I fundamentally reject “incrementalism” as a strategy.
Across America and in New York City, education “reformers” have been claiming for years that this new initiative or that new program would fix what’s wrong in our schools. We must be bold. We cannot afford to be anything but bold when 140,000 of our 16- to 21-year-olds have dropped out of school or are about to, when more than 60% of our eighth graders are still not reading or doing math at grade level, and when our average African American and Latino students perform several grade levels below their peers.
Second, I fundamentally reject the notion that the challenges of urban education are insurmountable in light of failures endemic to our society or the difficult circumstances surrounding the lives of many students.
That is a common argument. But all it does is breed low expectations. It allows educators at all levels to say “we did our job” even if children fail—on the perverse theory that it is the children who are the problem. It is also flatly incorrect. Many of you have visited schools in our City that are proving this argument wrong every day—schools like Bronx Aerospace Academy, the Patrick F. Daly School in Brooklyn.
Third, I fundamentally reject the idea that we should ask our great educators to succeed with children but deny them the authority and resources to craft the most effective path to success.
Fourth, I fundamentally reject the notion that education, unlike every single other domain in American life, is not compatible with serious and meaningful accountability.
Accountability is fundamental in education—just like it is in every other field. Compensation doesn’t need to be lock-step. Good teaching is amenable to financial rewards. And, despite our best attempts, not all poor performing adults are remediable.
These principles provide the connective tissue of the Children First reforms as they have evolved and as they will continue to evolve.
Now, I’d like to describe the next wave of our reforms. The reforms involve four major changes that the mayor announced last week — plus one additional critical element that I am announcing today for the first time.
As the mayor announced last week, we will empower all of our 1,400-plus principals to make more decisions about their school’s budgets, programs, and staffs. Second, we will hold principals and schools accountable for student results. Third, we will level the financial playing field so that all schools’ budgets are based on their student population and so that all schools can be held to the same high standards. Finally, because we know how important teachers are to student success, from now on, teacher tenure will no longer be the default position—we will grant it only to those educators who prove they are able to help our students make progress.
And today, I’d like to announce that we are developing a more robust and effective mechanism for parents—so they can resolve their concerns and play an even more hands-on role in their children’s education. We will also build the capacity of the school system to support meaningful parent engagement.
To do this, we are creating parent offices in each of our 32 districts. These offices will give parents a neighborhood resource where they can find answers to questions that cannot be resolved at the school level. Our new parent offices will also help to train and provide support to parent coordinators and work with community groups serving parents to effectively get information out to parents in all of our communities and to hear their concerns. These parent officers will report dually to Community Superintendents and to someone who works directly for me — a new CEO of Parent Engagement.
The new CEO will develop a strategy for helping us to effectively engage and support parents in their efforts to help their children succeed and to provide accessible and timely information parents need about the school system. This plan will integrate all DOE parent-service resources. We envision that it will include a greater level of collaboration with parents and community groups that serve them. I believe parents are entitled to a meaningful opportunity for input into this new parent engagement plan. That’s why I've asked Advocates for Children, with over 35 years of assisting public school parents in this City and the parent organization of the Insideschools.org website, to help us shape our new initiative over the next few months and to advise on how to bring other groups and parents into that process. This collaboration demonstrates the serious nature of my commitment to increase our efforts to engage and assist our parents.
Now, I’d like to elaborate on the changes the Mayor described last week.
First, I will discuss empowerment.
Last year, 332 principals stepped up to a very simple challenge: In exchange for agreeing to become accountable for significant gains in student achievement, they would be given substantially greater authority over their schools. In essence, we stripped dollars from the bureaucracy, gave them directly to the schools, and gave principals the power to make the core decisions about programming, staffing, and resources that affect their students and their schools.
We called these schools “Empowerment Schools,” and I am pleased to report that they are off to a strong start.
Starting in the next school year, ALL of our principals, not just those leading Empowerment Schools, will be given the power of choice—the power to select the support system that they believe will best enable them to succeed for their students. Principals, working with their teams and consulting with their School Leadership Teams, will be able to decide among three types of School Support Organizations. These new support structures will replace the 10 Regions that we created a few years ago to stabilize the school system.
First, schools can become Empowerment Schools, joining the 332 schools that have already chosen this more streamlined system of support.
Second, they can choose to partner with a Learning Support Organization (LSO). Four of our most accomplished Regional Superintendents—Kathleen Cashin, Judy Chin, Marcia Lyles, and Laura Rodriguez—will have the funds and the discretion to build these LSOs, creating options that will be attractive and available to all schools.
Lastly, principals can choose to partner with an external Partnership Support Organization (PSO). We know from our experience that these groups have much to offer. They are unafraid to innovate and willing to challenge orthodoxies. So, if principals believe that bringing in support and expertise from outside the DOE is the key to their students’ success, they should have that option. These partner organizations might include any of the non-profit intermediary organizations that are already working with many of our schools. They might also include other non-profits or colleges and universities.
Any school in the City—whether it’s in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, or Manhattan—will be able to choose any of these options. Support will no longer be based on where a school is. It will be based on what kind of support is best for a school.
Under all the support options, the DOE will continue to set and enforce academic standards, develop rigorous curricula, and hold schools to a common and demanding set of accountabilities. The DOE will also continue to make all employment decisions, including whether to hire or terminate principals. And all collective bargaining agreements continue to apply. In this new system, the 32 Community Superintendents will retain all the rights and authority required by law and will report directly to me. And, of course, all schools must comply with city, state, and federal law.
I will retain the right to intervene in a school, regardless of its choice of support partner, if things are headed in the wrong direction. And we will continue to provide the basic systems (financial, human resources, data and communications) to serve schools so they don’t have to reinvent their own infrastructure or lose the advantages of scale.
Accountability is the natural partner of empowerment. Together, they have real power to drive student achievement. Just as it is unfair to hold principals accountable for results without giving them the authority to deliver them, it is a mistake to give schools broad discretion and not hold them strictly accountable for results.
Our accountability system will enlist parents as partners to help us make sure that schools succeed. To be effective advocates for their children, they need good information. By providing new information to parents, and by making reports to parents more thorough, comprehensive, and accessible, as well as easier to understand, we will help parents make better choices and be better advocates for their children.
So, every school will receive a Progress Report with an overall letter grade (A – F) that compares it both to similar schools and the City’s best schools. The grades will be based on performance (where a school stands in absolute terms), progress (whether and how fast a school’s students are improving) and items related to school environment (including the results of new surveys of parents, teachers, and students). With these surveys, we will find out what parents, teachers, and students think is working—and not working—at schools and we’ll have real information to help us fix problems and learn how to build on strengths.
In addition, starting this year all schools are receiving on-site “Quality Reviews,” during which skilled educators observe teaching, and interview the principal, teachers, parents, and students at each school. These reviews are summarized in a detailed report that is available to parents and all New Yorkers online and that schools should be directly providing to their parents.
And, we are offering schools new tools to enable educators to measure and analyze how well our students are learning and to adjust instruction accordingly. We are providing all schools with periodic assessments, which are diagnostic tools used over the course of the year to help teachers adjust instruction to each student's individual needs in time to make an immediate difference. Over time, parents will receive reports on these assessments as well, so they can track the progress of their children along with teachers.
To help make all of this new information available in a timely way, we are launching a powerful new achievement data system called the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS). This will put critical information at the fingertips of principals, teachers, and parents.
As I’ve said, all schools will be graded based on their success with students. Those with the top ratings will receive bonuses for serving as demonstration sites for others. Top schools will be eligible as well for additional funds for struggling students they choose to accept from poor performing schools. And those schools identified as the poorest performers face leadership changes and ultimately restructuring or closure.
Now, I would like to discuss the third major reform: building a funding system that is fairer, clearer, and better at helping kids achieve.
Despite real improvements over the last four years, today we still have a funding system that falls short of those goals. Today, we send money to schools according to 90 separate funding formulas. What’s worse, the biggest pots of money follow the weakest logic. They are distributed largely based on historical patterns. They carry forward decisions made long ago, based on political deals, not the current needs of our kids.
This means two schools with similar enrollments can receive completely different amounts of money. For example, one school in our city with about 550 kids and a poverty rate of more than 80% receives $5,500 per student in general education tax dollars. Another school with the same number and mix of students receives $3,500 per student. That means one school gets $1 million more in general tax dollars than the other.
This is not about rich versus poor, one borough versus another. This is about senseless disadvantages that strike every community and every corner of our City.
Instead of proliferating an unjust and unfair status quo, we propose a simple reform called Fair Student Funding. From here on out, we’re going to fund the people who matter most—the kids.
At every school, every student will carry a base level of tax levy funding based on grade level. Then, on top of that, we’ll offer additional funds to kids who cost more to educate based on their unique characteristics: because they are poor, learning English, performing poorly, or in certain specialized schools, like our testing high schools.
Under this plan, two schools with the same mixes of kids will get the same amounts of City tax dollars. (In addition, they’ll also continue to get federal and state categorical dollars, like Title I, as they had before.) It is so simple that we’ll eventually be able to explain to principals most of their budgets on one clean page.
And we are going to move forward with the benefit of the views of parents, teachers, and other stakeholders. We are engaging in an extensive schedule of community engagement through which I have no doubt that this initiative will be refined and improved.
Now, I’d like to turn to the final of the four reforms the mayor announced: improving the quality of our most important asset, our teachers.
I know and you know how fundamental good teachers are to our students’ success. Research convincingly shows that effective teaching is the single most important factor separating student success and failure. The vast majority of the 80,000 teachers in our schools are hard-working, talented, and committed. Our challenge is to make sure that all students are taught by successful teachers.
We’ve already taken a number of steps to attract and retain good teachers and to create incentives to reward our best teachers. Since the Mayor took office, we’ve increased the starting teacher salary by 43%, making it easier to attract and retain high-quality educators for our children. With the United Federation of Teachers, we ended the practice of “bumping,” and “force-placing,” which previously required principals to hire teachers even if they weren’t qualified or a good fit for their school. We also created a $15,000 housing bonus to help recruit teachers in shortage areas such as math, science and special education. And we created a Lead Teacher program, which allows us to reward teachers with an additional $10,000 a year to mentor and coach other teachers while also teaching students.
But we must do even more if our schools are to be empowered to build the best team possible to educate our children. We are taking a major step in this direction.
We intend to make tenure a well-deserved honor, not a routine right. Today tenure is nearly automatic. About 99% of teachers who serve for three years in our system receive tenure as a matter of course. This is the default position. We want as many teachers as possible to become tenured, but we want them to earn it. This is so important because once a teacher has tenure, he or she basically has life-time job security.
Accordingly, principals will receive a new set of supports and tools to ensure that this incredibly important decision is made in a rigorous, thoughtful, and fact-based manner. We look forward to working with the UFT in this effort. And because an affirmative tenure decision affects not only an individual school but the entire system, we will also insist that a principal’s recommendation be reviewed by appropriate personnel outside the school, notably the Community Superintendent. Indeed, so critical is the tenure decision that Mayor Bloomberg will meet annually with each group of newly tenured teachers to celebrate their accomplishment.
I’d like to conclude with an obvious point: The changes that we are discussing today will not be easy. They will not be painless. And they will not be without controversy.
But they are necessary for our kids, our city, and our nation. The stakes are too high for timidity or tinkering. I look forward to working with you as we move forward together.
Thank you. We would be pleased to answer any questions.