2009-07-31 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

10 Good Reasons Why This Mayor Should Not Govern Public Schools (Part II)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

The topic of this column is tough to move away from, because Mayor Bloomberg keeps adding to the list of reasons he should not govern the public school system. As I wrote this last week, a Bloomberg commercial was running on television showing the mayor going into a failing classroom and turning everything around. What a charlatan.

Last week, I presented five reasons that this mayor should not govern the school system. Here are five more.

The precipitous rise in the high school graduation rate is illusionary despite the fact that Bloomberg continues to tout how he has raised the rate to new heights.

Mayor Mike recently put out a press release "proving" that his administration has raised the high school graduation rate to 66 percent from 47 percent since he took office. While those are the rates provided by the DOE, there are many things that the department will not tell you. First of all, when Bloomberg took office, students were allowed to stay in high school until they were 21 years of age, whether they "made progress towards graduation" or not.

Those students often dropped out of school before that age, raising the drop out rate and lowering the graduation rate. Today, those students who are not making progress towards graduation are forced out and into the real world, told to get a GED. Those students are no longer counted as students, and therefore do not count as dropouts. They no longer exist as a statistic. It is something like a hospital throwing out all the patients who are likely to die and then crowing that it has lowered its mortality rate.

Comptroller William Thompson recently studied the graduation numbers and reported that many of those who graduated had received multiple credits towards graduation for taking the same course over and over again. He added that the permanent records of ten percent of those who had graduated over the past four years did not indicate that graduation requirements had been met.

In addition, he found that many official grade changes took place just before students graduated and that many schools had circumvented the rules to change failing grades to passing so that those students could graduate. Thompson even found that grades were changed after a student's graduation to make it look like the graduation was justified, when it was not. Grade changes, he found, occurred in a striking 26 percent of the students studied. A DOE source, who commented on Thompson's report, said that graduation and discharge rates are "99 percent accurate." Sure they are.

In his rush to test every student hundreds of times during his or her school career, Bloomberg wants to target five-year-olds for high-stakes testing.

Remember your Kindergarten years? You learned your letters and numbers and some other "academic" skills, but primarily you learned to work with other kids and share your toys and blocks. It was a good way of transitioning kids from home to school. Now, however, Kindergartners get an hour of homework each night and carry book bags that would stress muscle-bound wrestlers. Is it really necessary? Bloomberg and his minions say that kids learn earlier and that he wants to get them ready for the highstakes tests they will take beginning in grade 3.

Now, he wants to begin those tests in kindergarten, even though they will not count against students for class placement or other factors. He wants kindergarten and first grade kids to take standardized tests four times a year, something that educators have been fighting for years. Remember, Bloomberg's enablers are not educators, they are educrats, and there is a big difference.

Bloomberg has been pushing for more Charter Schools for years, arguing that they gave parents a choice for their children that they didn't have before. The mayor never fails to add that the Charter Schools do much better than the regular public schools on standardized tests.

What Bloomberg fails to add is that the Charter Schools act much like parochial schools did in years past. Should a student's demeanor or scores be somehow negative, that student is quickly dropped and sent back to the public schools from which he or she came. Those schools have been dumping low-performing kids on local public schools, thereby guaranteeing that the reading and math scores in the charter remain high. It is easy to have high scores if you drop all your low-performing students.

Studies show that 550 charter school students were sent to local public schools between October 31, 2008 and June of this year - the end of the school year.

The charters take a look at a student and his or her performance until the October testing begins, and then send them away if there is a whiff of a problem.

Despite the Mayor's promise seven years ago to increase the number of seats in public schools and to decrease class size, schools in Queens remain dangerously overcrowded.

Seven years after the mayor took control of the schools, more than 3,000 students in District 27 attended overcrowded middle schools and 21 of its 57 elementary schools were jammed packed, according to a study issued by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. In addition, when Bloomberg was asked recently about class size, he dismissed it as a factor in education, even though any teacher will tell you that it counts almost more than any other factor. He argued that teachers can deal with as many students as he and the DOE choose to put into seats in their classrooms.

Under Bloomberg, the tests are getting easier.

The Mayor's own policy requires that third, fifth, seventh and eighthgrade students earn a minimum score on statewide standardized tests in order to move on to the next grade. This year, however, students needed far fewer points than they did in 2006. In 2006, for example, third graders had to get 44 percent of the questions right on the state math test, while this year, they needed to get only 28 percent of the questions correct. This is what passes for education, and this is what raises the promotion rate to make the mayor look good.

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