New York is Leading the Nation in Education Reform and Poverty Reduction
New York City has been at the center of the nation’s attention recently—because we are showing the courage, creativity, and leadership to take on some of the country’s most complex challenges. In fact, we were invited to Capitol Hill to talk to congressional leaders about our efforts on two of the toughest issues: education reform and reducing poverty.
On the education front, Congress wanted to hear about the great strides we’ve made in fixing a school system that had failed a generation of New Yorkers. Graduation rates are now up 20%; students in every grade are making gains on test scores; and we continue to close the shameful achievement gap between students of different races. In some cases, we’ve actually reduced the gap by half.
As we told Congress, our success has centered on two key strategies. The first is investing in teachers and rewarding those who choose to work in the schools that need them the most. Our second focus is holding all schools accountable for doing what they’re supposed to do—improve student learning.
Congress was just as eager to hear about our work in reducing poverty. Through our new Center for Economic Opportunity, we’ve been pioneering the next generation of anti-poverty programs. That includes an innovative program which rewards participants with cash payments for taking the kinds of actions that will most likely help them climb out of poverty—like maintaining a steady job or getting a regular checkup from their doctor.
To effectively attack poverty, we also need to know its full dimensions. I’ve always believed that if you don’t measure a problem, you’re not going to be able to manage it. That’s why it’s critical we fix the federal government’s formula for measuring poverty, which hasn’t been updated since it was adopted 40 years ago and fails to consider the current realities about our economy and society.
Over the past year, we put together a team in New York City to develop a new-and-improved measurement—and we unveiled that measurement last week at the NAACP’s 99th annual convention. As we testified in Washington a few days later, the new formula gives us a much clearer picture of who is poor and what that word means—today—in 2008. And over the coming months we will use that information to devise even more effective anti-poverty programs to ensure all New Yorkers get their shot at the American Dream.
When you stop to think about it, it really is amazing how far we’ve come as a city. Not too long ago, New York was the poster child for some of the nation’s worst urban problems, including failing schools and chronic poverty. But now we are on the frontlines of both of these critical battles—and the rest of the nation is looking at us to lead the way. #