Friday, October 01, 2010

Failing to Make the Grade

The NY Times is reporting on the grade deflation in the DOE's NYC school report card-with tougher tests yielding poorer evaluations: "The number of New York City public schools earning an A on the city’s A-to-F school report cards has plunged, according to results released on Thursday, as schools began to feel the impact of the state’s decision to make its standardized English and math exams tougher to pass."

This has meant a more sobering look at how the school's  are actually doing-as opposed to how the Kleinberg regime touted their putative success: "For the 2009-10 academic year, only 25 percent of city elementary and middle schools received A’s, down from 84 percent the previous year, when many more students excelled under the easier standards. Because city students failed the exams at a significantly higher rate in the last academic year, even fewer schools might have earned A’s had the city not decided to grade its schools on a curve. "

Grading on a curve? So, when realistic tests dramatized just how little the mayoral control governance team has done to actually improve city schools-the supposed evaluative tool we were supposed to use to determine Bloomberg's political success-the DOE went and watered down its grading system in order to deflect a cold hard look on the real level of failure: "Going from an A to a C is a big wake-up call, and it’s important,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the deputy chancellor for performance and accountability. He defended the curve as necessary to ensure fairness in a system in which a D or an F on a school report card can have serious consequences, including the closing of the school or removal of its principal. Over all, he said, he believed this year’s grades were a more accurate measure than last year’s, and parents should take them seriously."

The wake up call should be a bugle blaring down at Chambers Street-and if the school marks have been so radically adjusted, where does that leave the school system's overall grade? But this sleight-of-hand continues, and no amount of curvaceous duplicity can cover up s system that, in spite of almost doubling its funds, is redolent of failure. But if enough obfuscation is utilized for this grading calaculus, a clear understanding of how little the school system has improved is a more difficult judgment to reach: "One outside expert said that with the variability in scores and the adjustments to the methodology, it was difficult to judge whether this year’s D was more valid than last year’s B. “When we have a configuration where schools are bouncing around from year to year, the letter grades just aren’t that helpful,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University."

So, who will hold the system itself accountable for little real progress-and those who covered for the mayor while he ran for an unethical third term? And all of the hoopla for charters-alternatives that are obviously needed-is disingenuous at best when it is led by those who hyped mayoral control. That being said, we agree with Eva Moskowitz and her promotion of school choice.

Moskowitz, a former council member who founded a Harlem charter school that is doing very well, describes the difficulty in getting one of these alternatives started: "Another obstacle to growth is the endless red tape to which we are subjected. Getting schools approved and sited requires a punishing battery of public hearings. This year, the Success Academies will face more than a dozen such hearings. One technical mistake can be fatal. For example, hearing notices have been challenged for being posted on a website rather than mailed even when the hearings were well publicized and attended. (Ironically, the law passed requiring many of these hearings wasn't subject to a single one.)"

And what could be more graphic a demonstration about the public school failures than the fierce comp to get into charters? Moskowitz lays it out-referencing the new Waiting for Superman movie: "In "Waiting for Superman," a documentary in theaters now, five students enter lotteries to attend public charter schools, including the Harlem Success Academy, which I founded. These children, like others, face long odds. Last year in New York City, there were more than 50,000 applications for 11,000 spots. Parents across the city are frustrated. Why can't charter schools make room for every student who applies?"

In our view-and we taught in the NYC schools forty years ago when the first real debate over the efficacy of the system raged-little has changes; and billions of dollars later, parents are voting with their feet (just as parents with high incomes have been doing forever-see the Obamas in DC as a case in point). So when the new mayor is inaugurated in three years, she or he will face the same dilemmas that we faced in the late sixties. If you're a taxpayer in NY you might want to ask, Where do we go to get our money back from a defrauding mayor?