2011-06-24 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

The City’s Big Lie And The State’s Truth
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott stood in front of a bevy of reporters on June 14 to crow that the high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 65 percent this school year.

“These new high school graduation rates are proof positive that the reforms we’ve adopted and the investments we’ve made are paying off in a big way,” Bloomberg said.

That’s the good news, but it’s really a part of a big lie that Bloomberg and a succession of chancellors have been pushing on the public for the past ten years.

Some other news broke the same day that gave lie to the mayor’s contention that all is rosy in the city’s high schools.

The state’s Department of Education issued a report that even though the graduation rate has improved, less than 20 percent of those graduates are ready for college-level work or to go out into the workplace.

Fewer than one in every five city high school graduates deserve to graduate.

The state’s report raises questions about the basic requirements for graduating from high school and the process that the city schools use, called “credit recovery,” that some say allows thousands of unqualified students to graduate each year simply to make the mayor and the DOE look like a success when, in fact, their stewardship of the school system has been an abject failure.

As the Daily News put it in an editorial on Wednesday last week, “The rising graduation rate of the city’s high schools is of little consolation when most of the diplomas are barely worth the paper they’re printed on.”

“Thousands upon thousands of students and parents have been deceived about readiness to move on in the world,” the editorial added.

What are the state’s criteria for reporting a low readiness score?

Students must achieve a score of 80 or more on the state’s math regents and 75 or higher on the state’s English regents. A mere 21 percent made the grade.

The mayor tried to spin the bad news from the state.

“Getting a high school diploma is a very big deal,” the mayor said. “We have improved the rate at which our kids get up to any arbitrary standard, whether its proficiency or college readiness.”

How do so many unqualified kids graduate from city high schools? Because the mayor and the DOE want it that way.

Principals are ordered by the DOE to insure that a certain percentage of students graduate and those orders are passed down to the teachers in no uncertain terms – pass the students or earnaUrating.

That is not education.

A few months ago, I got a letter from a city high school teacher who wanted me to know what was going on in her school, but was afraid to speak publicly, because the teachers had been warned by an assistant principal at a department meeting that they had to pass 80 percent of their students even if they hadn’t come to class all year and anybody complaining would be “reassigned.” Or, fired.

She told me of a student who had not made 10 percent of the class sessions during the school year, but who was offered “credit recovery” by the school administration.

The student was put in a computer room with no supervision and told to complete a report on an obscure historical occurrence.

The student later (after graduation) told the teacher that he had Googled the event, pasted the Wikipedia article into his report, added a personal opinion and a cover, and handed it in.

He got a passing grade, and all his past transgressions and absences were forgotten. He graduated.

When another teacher complained about the student’s graduation achievement, she was programmed with the worst classes in the school the following year, even though she had a master’s degree in exceptional education and had previously had some gifted classes.

When Michael Goodwin, the New York Post columnist, heard from teacher friends what was going on in the city’s high schools, he wrote about the scam. He started getting letters and emails from city high school teachers about the draconian system that passes on nearly everybody who is breathing and wants to graduate.

One teacher said that teachers were “strongly encouraged” to pass 80 percent of the students in each of his/her classes, no matter their grades or attendance. She offered student writing samples of graduates filled with glaring spelling and grammar errors.

“Social promotion is alive and well,” the teacher wrote.

Another teacher wrote, “Teachers are afraid to fail students for fear they will be fired or punished. We have to change attendance to show that the student was present for a class, even if he just stuck his head into the room before class started and then disappeared.”

“The principal told the staff that the school would be closed and they would all lose their jobs if they did not ‘cooperate’ in insuring that a maximum number of students graduate.”

“We have about 20 teaching days left, and I have yet to see 23 percent of students who are on the class roster,” wrote another. “If I pass all of the 77 percent that show up regularly, I will still be below the passing percentage demanded by my principal. I have to pass some of the students who never showed up all year and allow them to graduate even though they do not deserve it.” “If I do that, then my school stays open and I am considered a good teacher by the DOE and my principal. If not, they close my school and I am out of a job. I go on the district reserve, and, as a bad teacher, I will never get another teaching job in the city.”

Want more proof that Bloomberg is a school failure.

He often points to his “small high schools” as proof of his success.

Take a real look at that success.

Repertory Company High School for Theater Arts in Manhattan had a 85.7 graduation rate. The state says that only 4.7 percent of those who graduated are ready for college.

Bronx Health High School, which graduated 96.6 percent of its students, had only 3.4 percent that meet the college standard.

Bronx Aerospace High School, which had a graduation rate of 88.6 percent, with only 8.6 percent of the graduates college-ready.

That’s the real story of Bloomberg’s stewardship of the school system. Abject failure.

That is going to be Bloomberg’s real legacy.

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