Thursday, April 30, 2009

Schools Out!

As more and more unfiltered information comes out, the notion that mayoral control of the schools-at least in its current incarnation-has some kind of papal infallibility, is less easy to maintain. The latest comes from this morning's NY Times; where a report on high school drop out rates raises some interesting concerns: "Almost six years after a lawsuit forced the city to pledge to keep better track of students who leave public schools without graduating, the number leaving high schools has continued to climb, according to a report to be released Thursday by the public advocate’s office."

What's interesting to us here, is that the DOE dosn't trash and bash the critique: "David Cantor, a spokesman for the City Education Department, said that while the increases were noteworthy, they reflected the fact that the student population often moves in and out of the city. He said the city’s graduation rate, which is affected by the number of students who drop out but not those discharged, has improved steadily over the last six years. For the class of 2008, the projected discharge rate is 19.2 percent, Mr. Cantor said."

Perhaps he's right, but there's no real documentation of the official position, now is there? And let's not forget that the vaunted graduation rates are boosted by the roll reduction: "One of the most alarming trends, according to the report, is the number of ninth-grade students who are discharged. “This finding is of serious concern, as the goal of the public school system is to provide all students with the support needed to persist and successfully graduate from high school,” the report states, adding, “Schools may be responding to accountability incentives to discharge students earlier in their high school careers.” Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a senior adviser to the chancellor who oversees research, said department officials had noticed the increase in ninth-grade discharges and were trying to determine its cause."

Curiouser and curiouser, but all of this underscores how important it is to have independent evaluation of the DOE's claims. And let's give credit where it is due; this is one area is where Advocate Gotbaum has really done a public service. And her comments on the report are spot on: "I don’t think anything has gotten any better,” Ms. Gotbaum said Wednesday. “The numbers explaining where these students go is certainly at best questionable and at least a bit wrong. We really don’t understand what all these numbers mean.”

When these figures are combined with the fact that, as Andrew Wolf highlights, the city graduates can't do college work, then the constant ballyhoo over the Bloomberg/Klein regime is seen as sheer hype-as this finding also supports: "According to data provided by the Education Department, roughly 74 percent of the more than 18,000 students discharged from the class of 2007 went to a school outside New York City. But according to the report, there is no evidence in census data to suggest that so many teenagers have left New York in recent years."

So by all means, let's continue to debate the accomplishments of mayoral control-and despite of Malcolm Smith's backtracking, the critical senate report leaked the other day seems more germane than ever. The system needs to be watched; both carefully and independently. How that is done is the devil in the details.