Mayor Bloomberg, who campaigned strenuously to take over the city school system 11 years ago, is happy. He says that the schools are making "very positive" progress. And it’s enough to make us all happy. "If this doesn’t put a smile on everybody’s face. I don’t know what on earth you can do.
"This is the future of our children and of our state and our city and country," Bloomberg said.
Well, it doesn’t put a smile on the face of one of our leading educational scholars, Diane Ravitch. She told me:
"I don’t see why the mayor is boasting about such small improvements. It’s even more puzzling that he is boasting about the charter schools because he doesn’t run them. He runs the public schools," Ravitch said. "After 10 years of mayoral control, why are so many children still not learning? And why is he still closing schools. Why aren’t they all successful?"
The facts are hardly conducive to happiness. The Times reports that city students, for the second year in a row, achieved only "slight gains" on elementary and middle school tests. These exams were made more difficult two years ago after state officials decided they were too easy to pass.
Of about 440,000 students in Grade 3 through Grade 8, 60 percent passed the math test -- compared to 57 percent last year. Bloomberg told schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott it was "a wonderful achievement." But, on the English exams, fewer students showed proficiency, 47 percent compared to 44 percent last year.
Schools Chancellor Merryl Tisch was more restrained in her reaction. "There is some positive momentum in these numbers. But too many of our students, especially students of color, English language learners and special education students, are currently not on a course for college and career readiness."
Hardly the nirvana promised when the mayor first fought for mayoral control. And the numbers are drastically less than three years ago when the scores showed 82 percent proficient in math and 69 percent in English. Then state education officials warned that such scores were misleading and they put higher standards in place -- and the scores crashed.
So, if putting the education of 1 million school children in City Hall’s hands is a good idea, it’s far from proven. In the good old days, before trashing teachers got to be a political game, I think we did better.
Back a half century or so ago, I had some good teachers who still give meaning to my life. We learned about history and government (we called it civics) and we were inspired by learning about the great men and women in America’s past.
In recent years, we have produced a race of educrats, who take their cues from politicians. Many of these political people wouldn’t know a logarithm if they fell over it and some could probably imagine that a present participle is some kind of person who is presently partisan.
Literacy or proficiency should not be defined by politicians. That was a bad idea to begin with and perhaps, in the next administration, we’ll realize the error of our ways. That might truly put a smile on our face.