Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg delivered his 11th State of the City Address, to a packed house at Morris High School Campus in the Bronx. I for one, immensely enjoyed the opening pageantry of the day. The Keltic Dreams Irish Dance Troupe, Celia Cruz High School Latin Band, and the PS 32 chorus were a pleasure to watch. Even the brief skit featuring Bloomberg and several guest appearances, such as Ed Koch, was amusing; if only for the awkwardness of Bloomberg’s acting skills and the corny jokes. But I digress, I want to get to what exactly this speech could mean for Education in NYC. Before Bloomberg even came to the podium, the current state of education in this city came to mind. He was introduced by Ishmael Kamara, a NYC public school teacher. Mr. Kamara, did seem a little out of his element in front of such a large crowd, but his story was touching nevertheless. Mr. Kamara escaped the 1990s Civil War in Sierra Leone, and found himself in the NYC public school system. He arrived barely speaking English, but because of amazing teachers went on to a successful college career and to become a public school educator himself. This got me thinking about the recently published statistics, that 75% of high school graduates of the NYC system need remedial instruction upon entry to college. Could Mr. Kamara’s touching story of success even happen today? The Mayor attempted to answer this question in at least part of his subsequent address. He noted that graduation rates have “risen 40% since 2005” and that we face the challenge of “building a 21st century public school system” that can drive a 21st century economy. I could not agree more wholeheartedly with the latter sentiment, and with his assertion that a great free public education system is the key to eradicating poverty and keeping the US as a world leader. Where the Mayor and I differ are on some of the methods he wants to use to make a better NYC public education system. Throughout his speech he repeatedly blamed many of the system’s shortcomings on the UFT; insisting that resistance to a merit-based pay system for teachers is hurting our schools. I do not have a problem with a merit-based pay system but I do question whether it can be fairly implemented without bias. How can you implement such a system that ensures one hundred percent transparency and equality? A system where personal grudges and feeling will have no place. The mayor did not address that question. What do you think? How could such a system be put into place fairly? What would be the criteria? Can test scores, or even improvement on test scores, as many have suggested, be the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, skills, and/or dedication?
Looking forward to your thoughts!