New York Pols Need Lesson in Education

Students have become a political football in the mayoral election of 2009

The advocates of test scores should get an F.

Our most precious resource are the 1.1 million school children of New York.  Too bad  they have become a political football in the mayoral election of 2009.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg has made public education the major issue in his campaign to win a third term. He cites as evidence that on his watch test scores improved dramatically.

Well, it depends on how you define improvement -- or progress. Some educators are rightly disturbed about the way the Mayor and his school chancellor, Joel Klein, define progress.

For example, Diane Ravitch, who is recognized as one of the foremost educational experts in the nation, 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."

Thus, Ravitch says, in 2006 students in all grades had to earn around 60 percent of the points to reach Level 3 (proficiency)  on the math test. But by 2009 they had to get only about half the points on the math test to meet state standards.’’   In 2006, Ravitch adds, a 7th grade student needed to get 59.6 points on the state math tests to reach Level 3, Three years later it was just 44 percent.

Ravitch uses a sports analogy.  ‘’In baseball, if you bring the outfield fences closer to home plate, you’ll produce more home runs. In education, if you drop the number of points that students need to earn on the tests you’ll get more students passing.’’

So whom are we kidding or trying to kid?

It’s not only New York City that has shown so much improvement. In Buffalo, for instance, the proportion of students who met state standards on math shot up from a mere 29 percent in 2006 to 63 percent in 2009, In Syracuse the scores went from 30 to 58 percent.

Something is fishy here.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at the University of California, says that Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that more than two thirds of the city’s students are now proficient readers is highly inaccurate.  According to federal education officials only 25 percent of students cleared the proficient-achievement hurdle after taking the National Assessment of Education Progress test,  the professor said.

He adds:  ‘’When New York lowers standards and the mayor hypes the progress, it’s no surprise that parents and employers remain skeptical over the schools’ true efficacy.’’   He points out that even more students in Mississippi are ‘’proficient’’ readers than in New York. 

Yet, if figures can lie -- and there’s plenty of evidence that that is true -- it can’t all be blamed on Bloomberg. He’s just citing figures to bear out his arguments. Ravitch is hopeful that the new State Education Commissioner, David Steiner, can confront what she calls ‘’the state’s shoddy testing regime.’’  She asks: "Can he take on the culture in Albany that created this mess of lies and beat it?"

Steiner, she adds,  will need "a lot of guts---and plenty of support from the rest of us."

The politicization of education must stop. The kids and their parents deserve no less.

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