Warning that New York's future is in jeopardy, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced fundamental changes Wednesday for the nation's largest school system designed, he said, to liberate a generation of students from continued educational failure.
"We are at the dawn of a new movement," Bloomberg said, acknowledging that "in a majority of cases, the quality of public education we provide is woefully inadequate."
Plagued by failing test scores and an alarming 51% graduation rate, the mayor revealed plans for a standardized curriculum, streamlined management, smaller classes, increased parental involvement and strict focus by principals on improving the quality of education.
"Our intent is to create a system of 1.1 million students who are great readers and writers," he said. "Nothing could be more important. It is the school system's top priority."
His predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, made reducing crime the hallmark of his administration, but Bloomberg intends to be remembered as the education mayor.
Armed with new powers, he is determined to reform what was widely believed to be an ungovernable public school system.
"It is a full-court press," said Kathryn S. Wylde, president and chief executive of the New York City Partnership, a leading business organization. "He is moving as fast and furiously as he can to be sure the schools are fixed."
Bloomberg selected a symposium honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the New York Urban League in Manhattan to unveil his plan. Last summer, with help from the state Legislature, he managed to gain control of the school system and named Joel Klein, a former federal prosecutor, as chancellor.
"Dr. King regularly reminded us that an injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere," Bloomberg said. "Similarly, if Dr. King were here today to survey the current state of New York City's schools he would, in the same vein, warn us that illiteracy permitted anywhere threatens literacy and learning everywhere."
In a major management reorganization, the city's Education Department will create 10 instructional leadership divisions called Learning Support Centers, each one having a regional school superintendent who will coordinate policy and provide accountability from the top down.
The centers will be replicated throughout the city, and local supervisors will focus on the quality and clarity of what is being taught in classrooms.
"We are finishing clearing out the Byzantine administrative fiefdoms that multiplied under the old Board of Education," Bloomberg said. "Unclogging these administrative arteries will also allow us to reorganize the individual schools around their core mission: classroom instruction for students, not jobs for bureaucrats."
Starting in the fall, the chancellor's office will dictate the curriculum and teaching methods for reading, writing and mathematics in all but 200 of the city's 1,200 schools.
Schools exempted from the program will be allowed to pick their curriculums and operate with less direction because they have been successful, Bloomberg said.
The mayor pledged to reduce the number of students in middle-school English classes to 28 from 33 and institute a minimum of 135 minutes of daily reading and writing lessons and at least an hour of mathematics.
All 1,200 schools will be expected to appoint a parent coordinator whose only job will be to engage family members in their children's education.
Because many parents' work schedules make it difficult for them to visit schools during the daytime, parent-focused service offices -- open at least two nights a week and on weekends -- will be established. These offices will have the ability to deal with issues in any of the schools in the city.
The quality of interaction with parents will be a significant factor in performance reviews of principals.
Bloomberg urged the state Legislature to allow the city's Education Department to replace local school district boards, which have served as sources of political patronage. Parent Engagement Boards will be created in their place, on which only parents of children attending local schools can serve.
"He is doing away with a layer of bureaucracy at the district level," Wylde said. "He is pushing accountability right down to the principals and the schools. He is saying no more excuses. You will be judged on instruction, and you will be judged on performance."
Initial reaction was positive from Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers. She called initiatives such as smaller classes and cutting bureaucracy "music to teachers' ears."
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How they compare
A look at New York' and Los Angeles'public school systems:
New York: 1,200
Los Angeles: 677
New York: 1.1 million
Los Angeles: 736,675
New York: 80,000
Los Angeles: 36,721
New York: $12 billion
Los Angeles: $9.8 billion
New York: 51%
Los Angeles: 68.7%
Meals served daily
New York: 803,000
Los Angeles: 500,000-plus
*All figures are for the latest year available
Sources: New York Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District