Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Evicting the Foxes from the Chicken Coop

In yesterday's NY Sun there's an Op-Ed piece on the righteousness-or lack thereof-of the recent school achievement test scores. The author Luis Huerta, is a professor at Teacher's College and he offers the following important observation: "The schools have graduated to a "different league," proclaimed a triumphant Mayor Bloomberg in Harlem, announcing a meteoric rise in test scores at the end of June. But do these buoyant results and sparking celebrations around the state truly gauge student progress? To many parents the mayor's claim sounds like locker room boasting. "I think the numbers are dubious," said Laurie Gluck, whose two boys attend M.S. 54 on the Upper West Side. "

As we have pointed out before, these scores need to be evaluated by less self interested observers, and Huerta agrees: "Mr. Bloomberg favors upbeat estimates from state exams, such as the claim that 61% of the city's fourth graders now are proficient readers. But, according to federal education officials, only 25% tested at the proficiency level after taking the National Assessment of Education Progress, a more reliable test, one year ago. Similar disparities have surfaced in math and for older students, illuminating how low Albany sets its definition of proficient achievement. The federal NAEP exam is immune to the classroom drill-and-kill that now commonly precedes testing week."

So it seems as if NYC was a kid taking the SATs, and had scored so dramatically better the second time around, all sorts of red flags would have been waived-which is why the mayor was doing his victory lap and spinning like a top. The entire process needs to be put under an independent monitor. Consider this: "Mr. Bloomberg's asseveration of dramatic achievement growth feels dubious when placed in historical context. The mayor claims that the share of eighth graders proficient in math has climbed to more than 59% this past spring from 29% in 2002 — a 30-point climb in six years, twice the rise gauged by the federal assessment over the past 18 years."

Where's the media hue and cry on all of this? Aside from this piece and the Sun's Andrew Wolf's work, the usual conspiracy of silence surrounding the mayor's bluster continues-and this is the key policy area that the Bloomberg told voters he would need to be judged on. Outlets like the NY Times need to get busy since; "Few doubt that youngsters statewide are acquiring basic literacy skills more effectively now than a decade ago. But when Albany lowers standards and mayors exaggerate progress, it's no surprise that parents and employers remain skeptical over the schools' true efficacy."

Which is why a more rigorous and nonpartisan review mechanism is needed, one outside of the control of the mayor's educational tall tale tellers: "What's key in moving forward is to depoliticize student testing. Senator Kennedy has introduced legislation that would force governors to publish federal test results alongside states' scores. Multiple measures of progress are needed, and accented by the current debate over the city's dismal high school graduation rates. Given Mr. Bloomberg's faith in competition — heavily backing new options, like charter schools — he should know that markets work only when parents can exercise choice based on sound information. Recent test results prompted a feeling of disbelief, not one of confidence."

The Bloomberg years have been largely ones of media quiescence, and some of our most reliable past critics, such as former mayor Ed Koch, have been silently sleeping in the current mayor's pocket (why is that?). Our view is that the educational reforms the mayor has initiated are much less than meets the eye when it comes to actual results-running the schools like a data company is probably not the best model for education. Like so much else Bloomberg has claimed to have done, much of the real achievements were accomplished before he arrived, allowing him to stand on third base crowing that he hit a triple.