Following the Florida playbook
ORLANDO – Grading schools. Pushing charter schools. Ending social promotion. In turning around the nation’s biggest school system, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he patterned many of his initiatives after those already underway in Jeb Bush’s Florida.
“The school reforms he pioneered in Florida are not just crucial for the state, but are models for the entire nation,” Bloomberg said this afternoon at the summit organized by Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Elected as a political independent in 2001, Bloomberg quickly took control of New York City schools, a massive system with 1.1 million students and 80,000 teachers. In short order, the Florida-style changes he introduced led to improved test scores, a narrowing of the achievement gap and rising graduation rates – changes big enough to earn the district the prestigious Broad Prize in education last year.
But like Bush in Florida, Bloomberg has also left a trail of controversy and frustration. After the 2007 prize was announced, the city’s public advocate said in a statement, “New York City still maintains dismally low graduation rates, especially for black and Latino students, and the D.O.E. has failed to engage parents. If we are number one in terms of achievement, it’s pretty sad news for the rest of the nation.”
Bush and Bloomberg have become close allies in education. In 2006, they penned this op-ed about the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. About the same time, Bloomberg and Bush visited a Broward County school together and Bush met with Bloomberg in New York. New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a Democrat and former Clinton administration official, said at the time that “Florida’s reforms serve as a road map for school districts nationwide.”
But Bloomberg hasn’t followed the Bush plan to the T. School grades in New York City are based on a wide variety of factors, not just that state’s version of the FCAT. And Bloomberg said he wasn’t sold on vouchers as an effective policy tool. “I’ve never been a believer that it’s the be-all and end-all,” he said during his speech.
Bloomberg also said during his speech that it would have been politically futile to pursue vouchers in New York – a point he emphasized during a press conference afterwards, with Bush at his side.
“Don’t get me wrong. Had I been able to have vouchers, that’s another tool that we might very well have used and it might have turned out to be fine,” he said. “The politics in New York are if I had took on that fight which some of the more conservative press wanted me to do we would have gotten nothing else done. We would have lost control of the schools totally.”
- Ron Matus, state education reporter