By Yepoka Yeebo
MIDTOWN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday announced a host of far-reaching education reforms for city schools that would expand public-private partnerships in the classroom, put an end to the current system of teacher tenure and, in at least one case, extend high school into the 14th grade.
Vowing to "transform schools from assembly-line factories into centers of innovation," Bloomberg touted his key reforms, which also include college prep and job training courses for students and parents alike, as well as a plan to outfit city classrooms with the latest technology.
"It's an iPad world, our children shouldn't be stuck looking at overhead projectors," he explained at the NBC Education Nation event in Midtown Monday.
In his latest dig at the teacher's union, Bloomberg reiterated a plan to grant merit-based tenure to teachers, insisting it should not be an automatic right.
"Beginning this year, our policy will be very simple," he said, "Only teachers who help students and schools move ahead significantly for at least two consecutive years will earn tenure."
The mayor said that until last year, tenure rates were 99.1 percent, but dropped to 89 percent as a result of his reforms, which excluded teachers who "just weren't ready for a lifetime promotion."
"Just as we are raising the bar for our students through higher standards, we must also raise the bar for our teachers and principals, and we are," said Bloomberg.
The teacher’s union hit back with a statement, skewering Bloomberg’s claims of closing the racial achievement gap as a product of faulty math, and denying that there was any "automatic" tenure for teachers. "There’s less in the mayor’s proposals than meets the eye," United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.
Bloomberg also described a combination of public-private partnerships with businesses, non-profits and colleges.
One of those partnerships is between the city’s Education Department, technology giant IBM and the City University of New York. The group is working together to create an as-yet-unnamed new school that puts high school students through two additional years of classes, with regular subjects alongside with computer science, and two years of college, up until the 14th grade.
Students would graduate with an Associates degree from CUNY and be guaranteed a job by IBM, and get "a ticket to the middle class," the mayor said.
CUNY will also run a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation designed to hold high schools accountable for their graduates' college performance, Bloomberg said.
Currently, only 10 percent of CUNY students earn an Associates degree in three years, Bloomberg said, a statistic he hopes to double.
During his whirlwind half-hour speech, the mayor also touched on new growth for the city’s school system, promising to add 200 new schools over the next three years, including 100 new charter schools.
As part of those changes, he vowed to continue replacing the lowest-performing 10 percent of schools.
Bloomberg mentioned the film "Waiting for Superman," based on Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, which was released to critical acclaim over the weekend. The film has placed New York city at the center of a debate over the future of education.
The Mayor slapped down claims that figures were massaged, accusing critics of making the accusations for political reasons.
"The American education system was once the best in the world, it's now far from it," said Mayor Bloomberg, citing statistics that had the country 20th in the world for high school graduation rates.
"The economic challenges facing the middle class in the country are directly related to the educational challenges facing our students," Bloomberg said. "The only way to reverse the course is to modernize our education system, and do it now."