Being a lame duck can be a liberating experience. Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn’t yet begun his final term at City Hall, but he already sounds like a man who is ready, willing and able to make hard decisions that will infuriate powerful political constituencies.
The mayor recently announced that standardized test scores would be part of the evaluation process when public school teachers apply for tenure. To the uninitiated, such a plan might sound perfectly reasonable. After all, if tenure existed in the real world, employers surely would demand some measure of performance before handing out such a perk.
The United Federation of Teachers, however, despises Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal. The union, known to put the fear of change in many politicians thanks to its ability to mobilize voters, has fought previous efforts to link tenure with test scores. The union’s clout in Albany has blocked efforts to make this important, necessary reform. Last year the union persuaded the Legislature to ban the use of test scores in tenure decisions for teachers hired after July 2008, although that ban will expire next year.
The mayor made school reform and performance his top priority when he took office in 2002. Schools have made considerable progress since then, but there is more work to be done, including an expansion of charter schools. Mr. Bloomberg’s willingness to defy the UFT by linking test scores to tenure suggests that even after eight years of progress and focus, his commitment to education reform is unwavering.
It’s not clear precisely how this latest reform will be implemented, or whether Mr. Bloomberg will find support in Albany for more changes in the city’s schools. What is clear, however, is the mayor’s ongoing commitment to school reform, even if it means taking on powerful interests. That’s one way to avoid third-term inertia.