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Mayor Driven School Reforms Seek Greater Accountability to Help New York City's Struggling Schools
Detail: Mayor Bloomberg in his continuing attempts to reform the New York City school system where graduation rate in 2002 was alarmingly low (51% of students compared to a national average of 70%), on November 5th, 2007, along with his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, announced the final piece in the grand school reform plan. Under the new scheme, every school run by the city will receive a public report card, with a grade that reflects both academic performance and surveys of students, parents and teachers.

Schools that do well will get a boost to their budget; the principal may get a bonus of up to $25,000 on top of a base salary of $115,000-$145,000. Schools graded D or F (about 12% of them this year) will have to submit improvement plans that will be implemented with support from Mr Klein's department. Principals whose schools are still faltering after two years will be fired. Schools still failing after four years will be closed. Mr Klein claims that no school system on earth has innovated on the scale of New York though each element of what is happening in New York has been tried elsewhere. This seems to be the most far-reaching urban school accountability initiative in America.

The ongoing school reforms took decision-making away from the patronage-heavy local school boards to accountable principals, and actively piloted experimental charter schools that could be models for others. A new “leadership academy” was created to train principals. Big schools with poor graduation rates were closed, and replaced with smaller ones, often several sharing the same building once occupied by a single big school. Wealthy philanthropists, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, Eli Broad from Los Angeles and sundry hedge-fund managers paid for many of these innovations. In seeking private source of funds for experimental reforms, political battles over public funds were bypassed.

Winning hitherto reluctant principals to sign a new accountability contract, and winning over the teachers' unions, had been crucial to Mr Bloomberg's success. In fact that teachers' starting pay is up on average by 43% since Mr Bloomberg took office may have helped. Even before this week's reforms were announced, the Broad Foundation declared New York the most improved urban school district in the nation. Last year the city outperformed other New York state school districts with similar income levels in reading and maths at all grades. Also, the gap between white and minority students has been narrowed.

Source: Based on "The great experiment", Nov 8th 2007, The Economist (print edition),
Date: November 9 2007