2012-04-06 / Editorial/Opinion

Phantom School Gains Strike Again

The Department of Education has decided that elementary school students will have to take nine standardized tests next year – five in reading and four in mathematics – in addition to federally mandated standardized tests in science and social studies. That mandate raises anew questions about the state and city’s draconian testing program that seems, after more than ten years of “accountability,” to have no rational purpose. At the outset, the idea of accountability in education was compelling. The idea, which came largely from the business community and from mega-millionaires such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates, was that education would improve only if we use the business model of profit and competition to help us understand what makes a good teacher. The brave new world was upon us. Except, it wasn’t. All we proved by a massive ten-year testing program is that we can’t really tell anything from test scores, especially if we are constantly going to renorm the way the tests are scored. We have found out that graduation rates improve if you lower the graduation bar far enough. Now, comes a report that the state has made double-digit gains in high school graduation. The report, by “Grad Nation,” Colin Powell’s nonprofit, says that the percentage of diplomas handed out went from 60 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2009. Wonderful news! Right? Wrong. The rise in diplomas granted is not due to any rise in educational accomplishment, unfortunately, but to new programs such as Credit Recovery, a program that allows high school students who have never attended a class to get credit for that class with one short computer-driven assignment. Couple Powell’s report with state statistics that show only 33 percent – a third – of those who graduate from high school in New York City are ready either for the world of work or for higher education and the fact that CUNY recently reported that fully 80 percent of city high school graduates who enroll in its community colleges need remedial work in math, reading or writing – or, all of the above and once again, the graduation statistics have no meaning when viewed through the prism of how they are attained. Those who see the business model as the savor or Education want to privatize the schools by discrediting teachers and their unions, demonizing public education, closing hundreds of public schools and turning them into charter schools. They are succeeding. The public has to let them know that they are angry and they are not going to take it anymore.

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