On Education, the Whistleblowers Are Right

It’s time the people who run our educational system are honest with us.

If you’re concerned about the troubled educational system in New York, you might recall a classic scene in the movie "Casablanca."

The police chief expresses horror when informed that there is gambling going on in a saloon.

The saloon owner, Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, demands: "How can you close me up? On what grounds?"

And the chief, Captain Renault, replies: "I’m shocked , shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

Renault closes down the joint, even as he pockets his own gambling winnings from that night.

And why does this remind me of New York’s educational problems?

Because the chancellor of our schools, Dennis Walcott, has suddenly decided to investigate complaints that the system has been devastated by reliance on test scores instead of sound educational practices to help our kids.

As the New York Post reports, Walcott will investigate charges of  "grade-tampering to improperly pass failing students and inflate school graduation rates." Walcott said he had received two dozen e-mails from school whistleblowers in the wake of Post columnist Michael Goodwin’s revelation that teachers were pressured by higher-ups to pass students despite shoddy attendance records and poor grades.

Congratulations, Mr. Chancellor, for recognizing the facts. For more than two years, we have been writing about the phoniness of the graduation process. Dozens of parents and teachers have complained. It’s clear many teachers have been prodded to teach to the tests, so children would get higher grades on examinations. Such improvement would benefit teachers and principals too by improving their standing. And now, belatedly, the chancellor is investigating!

Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, says that accountability pressures drive some principals and teachers to cut corners. It is a sad fact that, according to the latest statistics, only 21 percent of the students who started high school in 2006 graduated last year with high enough scores on state math and English tests to be considered ready for higher education, according to New York Times.

Leonie Haimson, a parent leader, told me: "What the city department of education is doing is fraudulent. They’re trying to make themselves look good by graduating kids who aren’t ready for higher education. Mayor Bloomberg keeps pushing for higher and higher graduation rates. The principals and teachers are obliging him but it means little."

Diane Ravitch, a noted education scholar, deplored the idea that Walcott, the chancellor, is going to investigate the school system. She told me: "We need an independent, outside investigation. For Walcott to investigate the system he controls doesn’t make sense. He’d be investigating himself.

"We need independent investigators. When roughly 75% of students entering community colleges need remediation, there’s something wrong. Improving the graduation rate is hardly enough -- if the graduates aren’t ready to take college courses."

It’s time the people who run our educational system are honest with us. The phony approach to making progress has gone on long enough. The parents and 1.1 million school children of New York City are entitled to an accurate accounting of how well the schools are doing.

And, if the man who calls himself the "education mayor" hasn’t done a good job, maybe it’s time for him to change his ways or put someone in charge who knows what to do.

Contact Us