At an urban education summit held at Columbia’s Morningside campus on Nov. 18, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Education Chancellor Joel Klein and other leaders from cities around the world discussed innovative ways to meet the challenges of managing public schools in the 21st century.
The summit was part of a three-day conference sponsored by New York City Global Partners, an initiative of the mayor’s office led by Meyer Feldberg
, dean emeritus at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business
. In addition to remarks from Bloomberg and Klein, it included workshops and two panel discussions moderated by Ester Fuchs
, professor of public affairs and political science. City education leaders from eight global cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Helsinki, New Delhi, Shanghai, Singapore, São Paulo, Jerusalem and Toronto, shared their own experiences with challenges and opportunities unique to their municipalities.
In introductory remarks, University President Lee C. Bollinger said, "Today’s Urban Education Summit proves beyond any doubt that by looking to the experience of other nations and other cities, educators can find a rich and virtually inexhaustible source of innovative ideas and practices. It is a resource that must be tapped if we are to maximize gains in K-12 education."
In his keynote address, Bloomberg cited two major challenges schools across the globe are currently facing: a changing economy that will require workers to use new technology to perform more and more complicated tasks, as well as an unprecedented demographic shift marked by increasing numbers of people now inhabiting cities.
“By the year 2050, fully three fourths of the people on earth are expected to be living in cities,” he said. As a result, schools will be “preparing vastly increased numbers of new students, often the children of parents who are themselves newcomers to city life, to succeed in an increasingly globalized, urbanized world.”
He lamented that America’s scholastic standing—once “the envy of the world”—had in recent years “slipped badly,” and described the summit as a chance for educators with diverse backgrounds to compare and formulate new ideas. “We just cannot continue to do things in education the way we did them a hundred years ago,” he said.
Underscoring the importance of increased accountability, Bloomberg stated that in his effort to overhaul the New York City public school system he had closed down failing schools, given greater authority to principals, and encouraged the creation of new, academically challenging schools, including charter schools.
During the luncheon keynote, Klein, the city’s outgoing education chancellor, underscored Bloomberg’s lament of the lagging U.S. education system. “We keep doing the same thing expecting the same results. That’s the definition of insanity.”
Klein posed four ideas on how to improve education reform. He started by echoing Bloomberg’s call for more accountability, which includes a revision of how success is measured in public schools. He also mentioned the need to promote the teaching profession by recruiting the best and most qualified educators, and to stop thinking of education as a monopoly provider; competition and choice are important. Lastly, he said educators must rethink the models they are using.
“We have got to challenge ourselves on how to think a little bit differently. We’ve got to stop being incremental and realize—certainly in my city, I believe in my nation—we have got to realize that if we’re afraid to be bold, we will fail.”