Education Nation

Education Nation

A solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America

Moving the Finish Line in NYC Public Schools

By Gabe Pressman
|  Friday, Sep 24, 2010  |  Updated 9:51 PM EDT
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The bad news is that the number of elementary and middle school students in New York City who failed to move on to the next grade has gone way up.

Nearly five times as many students in the third through eighth grades are being required to repeat a grade, compared with last year.

The good news, if we can call it that, is that the people of New York City now have what appears to be a more honest picture of how our kids are doing -- and we have a better way of grading the performance of the educational system under the new management at City Hall.

The news was revealed by a spokesman for the city education department. Neither the Mayor nor Schools Chancellor Joel Klein passed on the bad tidings. Maybe it was too embarrassing.  A lower level official was drafted to tell the press about it.

Joanne Yatvin, a former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, deplores the state of education in America today. The picture, she says, “gets uglier every day.”

She says: “I don’t like what I see. Many of the once excellent teachers I know have been reduced to automatons reciting scripted lessons, focusing on mechanical skills and rehearsing students for standardized  tests. The school curriculum has become something teachers ‘deliver’ like a pizza.”

If accountability is something New Yorkers yearn for, they haven’t received it in the recent past. The educational system perhaps functioned more like a pizza parlor than an academic institution.

Kim Sweet, director of Advocates for Children of New York, says she is receiving many phone calls complaining about eighth graders who had been admitted to high schools but “now have to go back to the same middle schools that failed them in the first place. That seems like a complete recipe for failure."

Ms. Sweet told me:  “These kids were admitted to high school. You can’t move the finish line after the race. It’s hard to do that to a 13- or 14-year-old who thought he or she had been admitted to high school. I’d like to see at least that anyone admitted is guaranteed a spot in the future and it’s important that these youngsters get remedial attention.

“These young people were caught in the crossfire. The Department of Education owes it to the kids and their parents to come up with a plan that takes into account their situation.”

For many months Merryl Tisch, chairman of the State Board of Regents, told me that the bar had to be raised because testing in the schools was flawed. Now the bar has been raised---and Ms. Tisch is encouraged that the school system will be improved.

She says: “I think the city has been brave in trying to end social promotion. It may be difficult for some parents to accept but, in the long run, their children will be better off.”

We hope she’s right. The parents and the kids are entitled to a square deal from the educational establishment in Albany and at City Hall.

They’ve waited for it long enough.

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