2009-08-21 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Some Myths The Pols Would Love You To Believe
Commentary By Howard Schwach

With only a few weeks to go until the school community is back to the testing business, there are some myths that are perpetrated by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that you should know about.

Myth 1: Social Promotion is now dead, and everybody who gets a Level 2 on the all-important standardized tests deserves to be promoted.

Last week, Bloomberg announced that he was ending social promotion in grades 4 and 6, adding those grades to the others where he already "ended social promotion."

Any student who does not earn a minimum grade of 2 on a 4-point system on both the English Language Arts and Mathematics tests will now be left back.

That sounds great, because most school people, including me, were opposed to social promotion.

The problem is, once again the entire affair is Bloomberg spin.

The fact is, a "2" on the standardized tests this year is not what a "2" was just a few short years ago.

For a student in the sixth grade to get a "2," all he or she has to do is guess.

A state study has found that the number of answers needed to get a "2" on the tests has sunk so low that a student can guess on the multiple choice section and leave the rest of the test blank.

"The issue of the reliability of the test scores as measures of student growth needs to be addressed," said Regents Chancellor Meryl Lynch.

So, that's the way you do it. You lower the standard for passing the test and then crow when more kids pass. That's what passes for education in New York City.

As one example, the number of sixth graders scoring at Level 1 (the lowest level) dropped from more than 10 percent in 2006, when twice as many right answers were required to get to Level 2, to 0.2 percent this year.

Bloomberg and Klein say that it is because of the changes they have made in the educational system. I say that it is because of the changes in the way the test is scored, and that is not education.

By the way, the Regents did the same thing two years ago, lowering the passing grade on the Regents tests to 50 from 65 and then arguing that pass rates were rising.

Myth 2: That Bloomberg has moved millions of dollars in education funding from administration to the classroom.

The fact is that much of the money Bloomberg is speaking about goes to a new kind of administration, to assistant principals and principals in the new, small schools that he prizes but that have so far been untested by special education and English Language learners. Think about it. One year, you have a school with one principal and two assistant principals.

The next year, after closing the school but keeping all the students, you have three schools in the place of the one the year prior. That means three principals and six assistant principals.

Where do you think their salaries come from, the school fairy? Is education any better in the three schools? Of course not. It's the students, stupid, not the staff that counts.

Unless, of course, you spin the test scores and graduation rates to make it appear that education is better in the small schools.

Then, you can look at the money it costs to evaluate schools and track the testing program and its aftermath. In a department that once had a dozen low-paid staffers, there is now a monolith with hundreds of workers, dozens of them earning more than $150,000 a year.

The joke is that the DOE brings in people from Ireland and England to evaluate the schools on the theory that there is nobody in New York City qualified to do the job.

Add to the massive pay each evaluator earns, they also get their housing and food subsidized while in the city.

Where does that money come from? The education fairy, of course.

Another example:

The computer firm hired by the DOE on a no-bid contract, on the theory that there is nobody else who can do the job, bills taxpayers an average of $250,000 for each of the 63 full-time consultants. The company then turns around and hires foreign workers and pays them an average of $65,000.

It hires the workers under a plan that allows them to enter the country legally because there is nobody in the Unites States qualified to do the job.

I kind of doubt that, what with all the computer professionals out of work here in New York City.

More money from the education fairy, money that Bloomberg is saving on administration and putting back in the classroom.

Myth 3: That the teachers who lost their jobs because their schools were "closed" and reorganized are inadequate, and would be a burden to any school that takes them on.

Nearly 2,500 teachers, the great majority of them experienced and highly-competent, lost their positions due to the closing of "failing" schools over the past four years.

The fact they lost their positions had nothing to do with their competency, and everything to do with the fact that the mayor had to at least look like he was doing something about schools that couldn't make his grade, as low as that was.

The mayor and the chancellor attempted to demonize the excessed teachers, and many of them had problems finding jobs, leading to the mayor and chancellor calling for their firing. The fact is, it was the money, honey, not their competency that kept them from positions in other schools. Most of the excessed teachers had lots of years on the job. They were expensive to principals who were trying to juggle a tight budget. Why take on one teacher who costs you $100,000 when you can have two new teachers that only cost you a total of $60,000.

No matter that the older teachers were much more experienced and able to handle the classroom vagaries.

No matter that they could add a touch of leadership to a young staff. It's the money, honey.

Now, Bloomberg is trying to bribe principals to take the experienced teachers by offering to pay a chunk of their salary, because there are just too many of them hanging on.

Even at that, principals, who have to balance a very strict budget this year and have already excessed a number of their younger teachers, are resistant to hiring those who were in "failing" schools.

Why don't they just retire and get out of his way, Bloomberg must wonder.

The mayor does not value experience. He values loyalty and subservience. It's time to put those teachers back to work.

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