Monday, November 19, 2007

The Naked Emperor

As we have been saying all along, when it comes to school reform in NYC there's a lot less than meets the eye. Of course one of the major reasons for this, is the fact that the Bloombergistas have spent considerable time and money in an elaborate disinformation campaign-one that combines spin with a velvet fist of intimidation.

In today's NY Daily News, Sol Stern one of the most perceptive critics of the school system around (which means, among other things. that he's not out there angling for a grant) writes a scathing critique of the first five years of mayoral control of the city schools. The money quote: "Five years later, we have new, unimpeachable data on the schools that allows us to assess whether the mayor's promise to deliver a much bigger education bang for the taxpayers' buck has been fulfilled. The short answer: not by a long shot."

What Stern points out, is that the meager improvement in test results-and this is giving the DOE the benefit of the doubt-have come on the heels of a better than 50% increase in school spending: "The 2003 budget for the schools, Bloomberg's first, was $12.5 billion, including pension costs and debt service. About $1.2 billion of this total came from federal education funds, another $5.6 billion from the state, and $5.6 billion from direct city contributions. The current budget, including pension and debt service, stands at $19.7 billion. This represents an increase of $7 billion - more than 50% - in total education spending in five years."

Yikes! That's like Horton Hatches a Who. The gestation period here has brought forth something on the order of a still birth-an observation that is underscored in yesterday's Daily News editorial; even while the paper bent over backwards to be charitable concerning the results of the recent NAEP tests: "How did we do? We bombed reading, aced fourth-grade math and squeaked by on eighth-grade math. The results were the very definition of "needs improvement" and stand in marked contrast to the gains seen on state math and reading exams."

So what does this all mean? To us it means that the reform of the city's schools is no simple management legerdemain; there is simply too many intractable problems that relate more to the culture of poverty than to the manner in which school governance is handled. It should also be seen as a cautionary tale for those electoral wannabes who promise to raise the bar in a Panglossian way-it simply ain't that simple.

The final word here goes to the prescient Stern: "These results may surprise people who have heard so much from the Bloomberg administration about "historic" gains on the state's math and reading tests...The reality is that $7 billion in extra education spending has so far produced only pennies' worth of academic improvement in most grades. The sooner we all face up to that bottom line, the sooner we can start speaking honestly about how to remedy the situation."


In this morning's NY Times, there's a short story on an upsurge in teacher resignations. The following citation, along with DOE's response, illustrates some of what we are saying about spin versus reality at the ed agency:
"The numbers showed that “losing good teachers is the predominant staffing issue that the City Department of Education needs to address,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the union. Chris Cerf, a deputy chancellor at the Education Department, said in a statement that the numbers were inaccurate, and called the release of the figures a “media stunt.”