Michael Bloomberg’s Legacy

The New York mayor remade the city’s schools.

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School buses wait to drop off children at school in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. New York City school bus drivers who serve 152,000 children were back at work Wednesday after a monthlong strike. Regular schedules resumed on all 7,700 routes serving the nation's largest public school system. Five thousand of those routes were affected by the strike. The city has about 1.1 million children in public schools.

As schools start to open across the nation, the back-to-school test in New York City will be taken in November, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg's departure opens the door to changes in the robust reform package he has implemented during his 12-year reign there. No city has been at the center of the public education reform discussion more than New York.

Though the soon-to-be-former mayor has implemented a number of popular initiatives like CitiBike, his favorite, education reform, has been the hardest sell. A recent Zogby poll, commissioned by the Manhattan Institute, found only 28 percent of city residents rate the city's schools "excellent" or "good." And the recent results on the Common Core assessments backed up these feelings.

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Still, thanks to Bloomberg's leadership, New York City now tops the Brookings Institute's Education Choice and Competition Index for providing the most informative and consumer-relevant measure of the degree of choice and competition within large school districts. Or as Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, puts it in an email, "there are WAY more good choices for families today than when he first took office." What's more, the city currently boasts some of the best charter schools in the nation – as illustrated in a recent study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Educational Outcomes that shows charter school students gained an additional month of learning in reading and five additional months of learning in math compared with traditional public school students. This may explain why there are over 50,000 students on waiting lists for the 18,600 available charter school seats for this coming school year.

What's more, the city has raised high school graduation rates by nearly 40 percent while they've increased only 9 percent in the rest of the state. Finally, teacher evaluations have become more stringent, leading Bloomberg to proclaim that "New York City now has the strongest teacher evaluation system in the state, bar none." Even Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, has praised the changes, stating "New York City teachers will now have additional protections and opportunities to play a larger role in the development of the measures used to rate them."

But Bloomberg's boldest move was making Joel Klein the chancellor of New York's schools – making it OK to appoint a tough, reform-minded school chief. Had it not been for Klein, we may not have had Michelle Rhee in D.C. And the national conversation around many of education's toughest challenges would still be in their infancy.

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In only four weeks New York City will select its Democratic candidate for Mayor – and the winner is expected to sail into office in November. Few of the candidates have articulated how their vision will improve schools and student performance. As the New York-based education maven Eva Moskowitz recently lamented in the New York Times, "we have an educational crisis of monumental proportions, and yet we have mayoral candidates offering minuscule solutions to these problems. It is going to require a much bolder approach." (For an analysis of the candidates' views on education, see Gotham School's coverage.)

Whoever replaces Bloomberg will soon realize that his legacy of data driven decision making and accountability for student achievement is now embedded in the fabric of every school around the city. And that the national discussion around school reform has been elevated thanks to a leader who has not only introduced but implemented rigorous reforms. 

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