By Mayor Bloomberg
These are new and hopeful days for our 1.1 million public school students. The long years of stagnation and discord in our schools are becoming a fast-fading memory. Theyʼve been replaced by a new spirit of innovation, cooperation, and progress—and, on two fronts, we saw encouraging evidence of that progress last week.
On Wednesday, the State Department of Education confirmed that the high school graduation rate in city public schools is continuing to climb. Four- and five-year graduation rates have risen substantially during the past two school years—which means that more and more of our young people are leaving school better prepared for the challenges of todayʼs highly competitive economy.
Weʼre very pleased that State Education Commissioner Richard Mills hailed this progress as the product of our “systematic approach to raising achievement.” And weʼre extremely proud of what our teachers, principals, students, and their parents have accomplished. Now, that doesnʼt mean that weʼre resting on our laurels. The fact remains that far too many of our students are still not graduating on time. But thereʼs also no question that our schools are definitely moving in the right direction.
The way to lock in and build on that progress is to encourage stronger leadership and greater accountability in each of our public schools. Our education reforms, from providing a fair level of funding for all of our schools, to changing teacher tenure so that there is a high-quality teacher in every classroom, are built on a foundation of school-level empowerment and accountability. And last week we strengthened that foundation even further by reaching an innovative new collective bargaining agreement with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators—the union representing more than 5,600 principals, assistant principals, and other public school supervisors.
In addition to providing well-deserved raises of more than 23%, the contract—which must still be approved by the unionʼs members—also includes several breakthrough reforms. It will, for example, permit the Schools Chancellor to increase salaries of high-performing principals by $25,000 a year if the principals voluntarily agree to lead high-needs schools for at least three years. Thatʼs a great way to get our best principals in the schools where their talents and experience are needed most. The Chancellor will also have the authority to pay principals bonuses of up to $25,000 based on their performance. Performance ratings will be keyed to the academic progress their students are making. Private sector companies use such financial incentives all the time; thereʼs every reason to think theyʼll help us improve our schools, too.
Iʼve always firmly believed that great principals make great schools. And the progress weʼve made in improving our schools—evidenced by our steadily climbing graduation rates—shows that our reforms are working. Now, by holding principals accountable for producing results, and then by rewarding them when they do, we can take even bigger strides toward giving all our students the education that will help them succeed as adults.