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Education Nation

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The Education Buck Stops With Bloomberg and Klein

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010  |  Updated 7:02 AM EDT
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The Education Buck Stops With Bloomberg and Klein

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Klein want to make our teachers more accountable -- but what about them?

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Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Klein want to make our teachers more accountable -- but what about them?

Bloomberg is starting a new, get-tough policy for teachers. He threatens them with loss of tenure -- if they fail to show progress with students for two years in a row. Tenure, as defined by the educational bureaucracy, is job protection for teachers for the duration of their careers.

It’s interesting that the man who promised to revolutionize our educational system nine years ago is now demanding better performance from teachers. Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein say test scores should be used as evidence that these executives have succeeded in making vast improvements. But they blame poorly performing teachers for the face that we’re not doing better.

This seems to me like mullarkey.

It’s been established convincingly that the tests used to gauge student proficiency in recent years are faulty.  Significantly, it’s been shown that many teachers are teaching to the test, that youngsters are being intensively coached to pass tests without regard to how well they really understand the subjects.

Indeed, scores had to be adjusted this year to more accurately reflect student performance. The bar was raised and the scores for elementary and middle school youngsters dropped -- dramatically. The revised scores showed New York’s elementary and middle school students had not improved. Instead, passing rates went down by more than 25 percent.  

One thing the Mayor has emphasized since education was centralized under his control more than eight years ago is:  accountability. He wants teachers and principals held accountable. In July 2008, the Mayor told a House committee: “Over the last six years we’ve done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap -- and we have. In some cases, we’ve reduced it by half.”

In 2009, he said: “We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever.”

But then the test scores dropped. And now, the 2010 tests, which state officials say are more accurate, represent, the Times says, “a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor.”

So which version of the truth are we supposed to believe? In the city’s third through eighth grades, just 40 percent of black students, 46 percent of Hispanic children and 75 percent of white children are proficient in math. Yet the new education regime in New York claims terrific progress is being made.

Diane Ravitch, a respected writer on education, told me: “The Mayor boasts that the charter schools here are so good -- parents are desperate to get their kids into them. The Mayor is responsible for public schools too. How much has he done to improve them?”

It does seem, in our rush to open new charter schools, we’re forgetting our obligation to the vast majority of parents and children in this city.  For the foreseeable future, their education depends on good public schools.

A coalition called Save Our Schools wants the city to stop relying so heavily on tests. It says the sudden decline in scores this year shows how untrustworthy tests can be in grading principals and teachers.

In September 2004, Bloomberg said: “Mayoral control of the schools will end if at the end of my second term there isn’t a difference in the school system.”

Ravitch says: “The achievement didn’t happen. They were so invested in boasting about what happened that they began to believe it. They created a myth.”  

Not that she thinks no improvement was made. Ms. Ravitch believes some modest improvements have been made but to call it “historic gains” [as City Hall has], Ms. Ravitch insists, is not true. “Since the state scores on which their claims were based collapsed, Ms. Ravitch adds, “Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein have refused to be accountable for their inflated claims.”

Indeed, as the Mayor has advocated, accountability should be the touchstone of educational progress. Or, as President Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here.”

In the case of New York’s centralized education system, the buck stops at City Hall.

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