2011-12-30 / School News

The Rockaway Beat

How Bloomberg’s DOE Rolls
Commentary By Howard Schwach

By now, everybody, including the daily papers who gave homage to Bloomberg in his quest for a third term, knows that the Bloomberg school plan is as dysfunctional as the mayor has been lately.

The Department of Education has become the laughing stock of the entire nation and we should hold Bloomberg to the promise he made ten years ago. He said that the schools will become his legacy and that if he doesn’t improve the schools, he should be turned out.

Better start packing.

Just take a look at some of the elements of Bloomberg’s school governance.

At a number of high schools, students were allowed “credit recovery” after not going to school for several terms. They completed one computer-driven report and were graduated with a “satisfactory portfolio.”

Students who took courses such as “Tourism” were given credit for taking geography. Cosmetology courses provided credit for chemistry, hospitality management for economics.

Is that education? Under Bloomberg’s stewardship it is.

And, while the mayor and his handpicked chancellor continue to spin the lie that his ten years in office have seen massive gains in reading and mathematics scores, everybody now knows that those gains were illusionary, a product of the state and city changing the number of questions necessary to reach a level of competency.

One year, a student needs to correctly answer 72 percent of the questions in order to reach Level 2. The next, lo and behold, the same student needs to answer only 58 percent of the questions correctly to reach Level 2. It’s magic. The scores went up and up and Bloomberg took all the credit.

Then, the state and city found out that academics all over the nation were laughing at the “fact” that 86 percent of the city’s schools were either A or B schools. The tests were renormed to what they had been and the bubble burst. In one Rockaway school, 86 percent of the students were reading on Level 2 one year and 48 percent were reading on Level 2 the next. Same kids, same school, same teachers, same administrators.

The tests were phony, but Bloomberg continues to use their scores to close schools, fire teachers, and punish students.

Now, his testing “experts” want to exacerbate the problem.

They want to make the tests even longer and more onerous for both students and teachers.

The tests for elementary and middle school students – some as young as eight years old – will be lengthened to three hours over three days this year, up from two hours over two days in past years.

Third-graders, for example, will have to face an additional 70 minutes on their math test in April. Third-graders. Eight-year-olds. The third-grade language arts test will grow by 25 minutes.

“We’ve balanced the need for better, more detailed information about student learning with our concern for minimizing student stress,” a state testing expert said. “We need to measure student performance and achievement to help guide instruction.

Those people wouldn’t know instruction if it jumped up and bit them in the you-know-what. All they are concerned with is getting better scores so that they can get more money from the vapid “Race to the Top” program pushed by the federal government.

One school supervisor in a local school argued that he already lost nearly three weeks of instructional time to test prep, pre-tests, practice tests, make-up tests and the like. Now, he will lose even more critical instructional time, but nobody seems to mind that as long as the scores look good.

“We’ve gotten into a mindset of overtesting our students,” he said. “We’re giving kids a high-stakes test above and beyond what is age and developmentally appropriate.”

A week after announcing the new, extended tests, the state’s testing chief abruptly resigned, apologizing for announcing the extended testing too soon.

Two days after he resigned, officials announced the changes.

Two weeks ago, in what had to be a stunning blow to Bloomberg and his vaunted legacy, new national exam results were announced. They show that the city’s math and reading scores have flatlined over the past three years.

Eighth-grade reading scores are even worse. They have not gone up since 2003, shortly after Bloomberg took over the school system. This, despite the fact that Bloomberg continually crows that the scores have gone up by a large margin.

What did Bloomberg say?

“I’m pleased that we have done better than the rest of the state,” he said. “But I’m sorry for the whole state, us included. We just have to work harder.”

The national test also showed that the gap between white and minority learning has not changed at all over the past several years, despite Bloomberg’s initiatives to close the gap.

Sol Stern is a longtime New York City teacher and administrator. He now contributes to the City Journal.

Stern said, “The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn by this week’s release by the National Assessment of Education Progress: Reading and math achievement by New York’s students is dismal.”

That says it all, and I could accept that, after teacher for 30 years, if the mayor didn’t keep telling everybody how well the schools are doing under his control and how he has to keep closing “failing” schools that are deemed failing because of the test scores.

The entire testing program needs a renovation from top to bottom. The answer is certainly not adding hours to an already over-long test, especially for our youngest students.

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