2011-02-11 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Life In Our Schools Is Wonderful Under Bloomberg, Except When It’s Not
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Mayor Michael Bloomberg constantly crows about how the public schools have become demonstrably better under mayoral control.

It’s all smoke and mirrors and since the state came to its senses and restored the cut score on the standardized tests to where it was eight years ago, everybody now knows that Bloomberg is the biggest con artist since Far Rockaway High School graduate Bernie Madoff.

Our greatest mayor, indeed!

The facts are clear. Test scores under Bloomberg are only marginally better than they were prior to mayoral control and that increase comes at the expense of teaching about social studies, citizenship, science, foreign language, art, technology, music and physical education, all sacrificed at the alter of higher standardized test scores.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway, once considered the worst middle schools in the district, it was resurrected in 2000 when it was made an “Empowerment School,” by the Board of Education. That meant the principal has complete control over most of the important aspects of the school, including hiring, firing, budget and curriculum.

In 2002, only 19 percent of its students were reading on levels 3 and 4, which is considered to be “proficient.”

Then, Bloomberg and the state began to play games with the cut scores – the number of correct answers necessary to reach those levels on the standardized tests.

Before long, the school was receiving an A on its school report card with a 96.2 grade, because 60 percent of its students had reached the “proficient level.”

Bloomberg was in his glory and 94 percent of the schools in the city receivedeitheranAoraBonthose report cards.

That’s when everybody started to understand that that something was not kosher.

Even the state began to blush and it ordered a study to see whether or not the improved scores were a reality or smoke and mirrors.

The answer was a loud laugh, and the cut scores were put back to where they were before the games began.

In 2009, 60.6 percent were achieving a “proficient” rating on the English Language Arts test.

In 2010, with the same teachers, administration and largely the same students, only 18.8 percent of the students ranked as “proficient.”

It was at that point that even the daily papers, largely in Bloomberg’s pocket for eight years, began to question what was going on.

It’s not all about standardized tests, however.

Bloomberg crows about the increase in high school graduation rates, which are also marginally up. What he does not tell you is that the Regent’s tests have been dumbed down to the point that they no longer test mastery of the subject area. In fact, they have been so marginalized that the state is thinking of doing away with many of the tests altogether.

At one Bronx high school, the principal discovered the sure way to academic success. Never flunk your students no matter what. Everybody passes, even those who never show up for class. How is that for education in the Bloomberg galaxy? As a matter of fact, the principal got a $7,000 bonus for being such a great educator and her assistant principals each got $3,500 for the school’s passing percentage.

And, if you believe that the Bronx school is the only one pulling that scam, you haven’t been paying attention.

In fact, sources tell me that more than a dozen principals are under investigation for pulling similar scams to make their schools look good and to pull down large bonuses.

Bloomberg, of course, in his zeal to reform the schools so that every parent has viable educational alternatives to their neighborhood “failing schools” has created new “smaller schools” and charter schools that are hawked at the be-all and end-all to the educational experience.

In fact, that process is phony as well.

Yoav Gonen, the education reporter for the New York Post, recently came upon some documents that Bloomberg’s Department of Education has been setting schools, such as Beach Channel High School, up for failure, predicting that they will fail, taking resources away from them, telling parents that the school is not good and then closing them when the prophecy comes true.

Gonen came into possession of a secret report that shows the DOE created a dividing line between high schools so that those whose “predicted” graduation rates were lower than 50 percent—based largely on their size and concentration of low performing students – were likely to be closed rather than receive any support. Sounds like Beach Channel High School to me.

I haven’t been able to find out whether both Far Rockaway High School and Beach Channel High School were on the list, but you can bet they were, because support from the DOE stopped arriving and more and more low-performance students, those with IEP’s or those who could not speak English, were shoehorned into the school.

The headline on Gonen’s story was “Department of Education Sets Up Many Schools For Failure,” and that tells the story of both BCHS and FRHS.

FRHS will close for good this June. BCHS will be closed in three years.

Poor Bernie Madoff. He won’t have an alma mater to call his own.

More next week.

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