Pedagogy pundit Peter Krawczyk attended “Urban Education Summit: Innovations in K-12” in Low this morning to hear Major Bloomberg assess the state of public education in New York and urge international education reps to do some shopping.

As the approximately 1.1 million students in the New York City public school system began school on Thursday morning, Mayor Mike Bloomberg came to the Low Rotunda to deliver a brief speech on the state of public education in the city. The talk was the keynote address of the three-day summit “Urban Education: Innovations in K-12”, which brought representatives from 24 international cities to campus to exchange educational policy ideas.

The requisite introduction was delivered without ceremony. As the crowd still bustled about the rotunda, PrezBo nonchalantly approached the podium and announced, “I’m Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia.” President Bollinger proceeded to open the conference by framing the changing requirements for education within the context of globalization and highlighting the international character of the event. “By looking to other nations and other cities, educators have a virtually inexhaustible source of educational practices,” he said.

PrezBo was followed by Meyer Feldberg, the former dean of Columbia Business School and the chairman of New York City Global Partners, which organized the summit. Mr. Feldberg was not short of praise for Mayor Bloomberg, noting that in New York schools, “the quality of the graduates has improved every year in recent years.”

Bloomberg, for his part, largely steered clear of anything resembling a specific pedagogical philosophy, though he did discuss a number of specific policies his administration has implemented and hopes to implement in the future. He was also very clear on his view of the societal importance of education, prefacing his talk by saying, “I know of no social problem that could not be ameliorated by better public education.”

The Mayor identified two major difficulties currently facing public education: the increasing complexity of jobs in the global economy and the urbanization of the American population, which will place increasing burdens on urban school districts. The key to addressing these problems will be “innovation” through international comparison, which will be necessary to better prepare students for college and careers.

Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged some of the improvements city schools have seen over his nine-year tenure as mayor, including a dramatic improvement in graduation rates and a modest decline in the racial achievement gap. He attributed these to the increased accountability of school officials for student performance. Bloomberg alluded to a new system that would help further this goal: teacher tenure based on classroom performance, which his office announced in September.

Mr. Bloomberg also noted the increasing possibilities for less traditional routes to success in schools, noting that although more than one-third of city students still fail to graduate high school within four years, the number of students who stay in school to graduate in five or six years has increased. Furthermore, the mayor acknowledged that college is not the best option for all high school graduates, including those whose economic circumstances require them to join the workforce after graduation. “That’s what America is about,” he said. “It’s about people taking responsibility and working.”

Bloomberg closed his remarks by urging the international delegates to “learn from each other” and to “spend some money in the stores here. We need the sales tax revenue.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons