In remarks Thursday that have since sparked some controversy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tackled school improvement -- through a suggestion to halve the teaching force. Bloomberg's office responded Friday by saying the statement was taken out of context.
"If I had the ability to just design the system and say 'ex cathedra this is what we're going to do,' you would cut the number of teachers in half and weed out all the bad ones," Bloomberg said while speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to CBS New York. "And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students."
The mayor also told the audience that in districts across the country, teachers are no longer hired from the top of their classes and instead, are culled from "the bottom 20 percent and not of the best schools," DNAinfo.com reports.
At a news conference later Thursday, Bloomberg emphasized a focus on teacher quality, saying that while he would prefer smaller classes with more effective teachers, he's "in favor of" putting highly effective teachers in front of larger classes if finances are limited.
But in a statement to The New York TImes Friday, Bloomberg's spokesperson said the mayor's remarks at MIT were taken out of context -- Bloomberg wasn't making a formal proposal, just speaking euphemistically about improving educational quality. The full context of Bloomberg's remarks from The New York Times:
Education is very much, I’ve always thought, just like the real estate business. Real estate business, there are three things that matter: location, location, location is the old joke. Well in education, it is: quality of teacher, quality of teacher, quality of teacher. And I would — if I had the ability, which nobody does really, to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them, and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.
Still, plenty were angered by Bloomberg's remarks. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told CBS New York that the mayor's comments are much like his appointment of Cathie Black as schools chancellor, despite the fact that she was a former magazine editor who had no teaching experience.
“So the mayor thinks this is a good idea, in high schools to have class size in high schools of 70 kids. Clearly the mayor has never taught," Mulgrew told CBS. “And probably the mayor’s having another Cathie Black moment.”
Black's tenure was marred by low approval ratings and an instance during which she quipped that birth control could solve school overcrowding. She questioned after the ousting whether sexism was a factor in deciding her departure.
Bloomberg continued Thursday to emphasize the importance of quality teaching by questioning the effectiveness of technology in the classroom, though a recent Department of Education report shows tripling enrollment in digital learning.
“It may be heresy in this day and age to say so, but there’s not a lot of evidence that when you introduce a lot more technology in the classroom the results are better," he said, according to DNAinfo.com.
Bloomberg faced a flood of criticism and protests in the spring when he proposed axing more than 4,000 of the city's teaching jobs. A $66 billion budget deal reached in June aimed to protect those jobs, but a categorical technicality still forced some teachers out of the system amid budget cuts, and by October, 777 New York City Education Department were casualties of the largest layoff at a single agency since Bloomberg took office in 2002.
Watch the CBS New York report: