The Schools Don't Make the Grade

By Gabe Pressman
|  Friday, Sep 4, 2009  |  Updated 1:45 PM EDT
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The Schools Don't Make the Grade

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As George Bush would say, "Is our children learning?"

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It’s hard to believe. But the people to whom we entrust our 1.1 million school children are flunking math. Either that -- or they’re cooking the books.    

In progress reports just released by the Department of Education, 97 percent of the city’s schools received an A or B, up from 79 percent last year. Whom are they trying to kid? Certainly not the parents -- or the average New Yorker. They know better than to believe the schools are doing so well that nearly 100 percent are getting top grades!

Indeed, school officials who created the system of grading schools told the Times that they never intended that so many schools would get the highest marks. Said Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief accountability officer for the Department of Education: "We are going to raise the bar." He thinks there ought to be a wider distribution of grades. 

Cynics may think the tremendous increase in school grades is related somehow to the mayoral election. Is somebody playing politics with the education of our children? Perish the thought!

School grades are driven by the scores children get in standardized state tests for math and English. Diane Ravitch, one of the nation’s foremost educators, says, "The phenomenal test score gains that New York has reported in recent years resulted not from students suddenly becoming smarter, but from the state lowering standards."

Ravitch put it in baseball terms. "If you bring the outfield fences closer to home plate, you’ll produce more home runs," she said.

As we reported in mid-August, Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, says that Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign statement that more than two-thirds of the city’s students are now proficient readers is "highly inaccurate."

I have talked to teachers who say that they are so concentrated on teaching youngsters to pass tests that they hardly have time for anything else.

Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, says she hopes to make changes in the tests this year.

"When you are telling parents that all of our schools are A’s and B’s or that all of our students are proficient, we are not providing a clear view of what is really happening in a school or with a student," she said.   

There’s an old saying that figures don’t lie but liars can figure.

We’re sure that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein are honorable men, but we would urge them to stop peddling phony statistics. The children and their parents deserve better.

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