Monday, April 27, 2009

Audit Please!

The intrepid Andrew Wolf, writing in the NY Daily News, persuasively lays pout the case for not renewing the current form of mayoral control of the schools: "If we can draw an analogy between a certain company and our recent experience with the schools, we might consider the case of Enron. Under mayoral control, the spending of your tax dollars has soared to $21 billion from $13 billion a year. For an increase of this size, we should expect "profits" in terms of better student performance."

What about those increasing test scores? As Wolf says, we better ask who's crafting the exams: "Test scores, we are told, are up. Which scores? On state tests, scores are up. But our state is becoming infamous for "dumbing down" its tests. Like many other states, New York is trying to demonstrate "annual yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind by making its tests easier. With the city administering, grading and analyzing standardized tests, there is nobody to monitor fraud and bogus or inflated claims. That's even less oversight than Enron got!"

Of course, when we examine the results of the more reliable national tests, scores remain flat-in spite of the huge hike in spending: "On the federal government's gold-standard test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, results in the city have been flat since the mayor's programs were implemented. Ironically, greater gains were consistently posted in the final years of the much-maligned Board of Education. Similarly, scores on the SAT have actually declined slightly under the mayor's stewardship."

Graduation rates are also unreliable; and when we take a look at how some of these ersatz graduates actually perform once they get to college, there's clear indications that the system is issuing mail order diplomas: "But the truth ultimately comes out. CUNY reports that more than three-fourths of city high school graduates attending community colleges require remediation. A high school graduate who is not prepared for a community college should not have been awarded a diploma."

The solution? As Wolf underscores: putting the public back into the public schools by insuring that there is proper oversight of the enterprise: "The Legislature must reform the law and put the public back into the public schools, so that any control at the top is subject to the oversight of the people. That's just good business." It would also help if some of the local media would also get back in the business of doing proper oversight.

In this morning's NY Post, the paper highlights just how much influence the UFT has on a group that is challenging mayoral control while claiming grass roots status: "Next week, a coalition of advocacy groups will bus an army of parents into Albany for a "lobby day" against mayoral control of the city's schools -- a prime example of how Randi Weingarten's teachers' union shapes public perception and policy behind the scenes. The May 5 event, part of the Campaign for Better Schools, is meant to show lawmakers that there's massive grass-roots opposition to Mayor Bloomberg's stewardship of the school system."

As it turns out, the union has ponied up hundreds of thousands of dollars for the advocacy group; and we applaud the Post for the investigative digging. But what about Learn NY, a group that supports mayoral control but that also has close financial ties to the mayor? With all of this faux advocacy going on, it's time that the entire school experiment be submitted to an independent evaluator. Marx's admonition is crucial here: "Who will educate the educator?"