Everyone seems to be waiting for Superman, and that includes New York’s mayor Mike Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein. According to the New York Post, Mayor Bloomberg couldn’t heap enough praise on the controversial anti-teachers union film, “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and called it a “must see.” Chancellor Klein, through the official “This Week in Your Schools” email sent to thousands of parents and others, reproduced glowing reviews of the flick from the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.
But hold on a second. I thought that Superman had already arrived and saved New York’s children.
Haven’t Bloomberg and Klein been in charge of the city’s public schools for eight long years now? Don’t I recall that just last year, the city’s editorial boards were simply gushing over the spectacular success of this dynamic duo, and demanding that the legislature renew unfettered mayoral control when it was due to sunset?
Then we couldn’t escape the chatter over what were referred to as “historic gains” on state standardized test scores. City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent in last year’s mayoral election suggested that more than a bit of “Enron Accounting” might be at play, since scores on other measures such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and S.A.T. scores didn’t show any significant movement.
But Thompson’s charges were ignored by the Bloomberg cheerleaders running the city’s daily newspapers. Despite the non-stop amen chorus extolling the mayor, perhaps the public wasn’t quite as gullible. The expected Bloomberg landslide, fueled by an unprecedented $110 million of the mayor’s own fortune, never materialized. Bloomberg beat Thompson only narrowly.
It turns out that Thompson’s charges of Enron Accounting on test scores were right on the mark.
In mid-July, New York’s State Education Commissioner David Steiner (in office for just ten months) revealed that the math and English tests given to students — for at least the past four years — had become too easy and predictable. Recognizing this, Steiner and Regents chair Merryl Tisch, acknowledged that the state was now forced to raise passing scores.
In an instant, the years of “historic” gains evaporated like the morning dew.
Last year, weeks before the election, the city’s Education Department gave the grade of “A” to 84 percent of all schools for the “outstanding” job that they were doing. With no mayoral election on the horizon, last week only 25 percent of the schools achieved that mark under the new corrected standards.
For the same reason, this year five times as many students were held back and forced to repeat a grade than last year. This process was so botched, that a number of students who had been promoted in June and started high school in September were actually “recalled” and sent back to their old middle schools.
Was all this just some unfortunate miscalculation? No, according to Dr. Betty Rosa, who represents The Bronx on the State Board of Regents. Rather, the cut scores — the number of correct answers needed to pass the tests — seem to have been deliberately and systematically lowered, apparently on orders from Commissioner Steiner’s predecessor, Richard Mills, over a four year period.
Incredibly, State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, convening a public hearing on the matter later this month, has refused to call former Commissioner Mills to testify, stating “I see no value in it. He did what was best back then.” Really?
Perhaps she should tell that to the kids who were snatched out of their new high schools last month. Or maybe explain to the parents of tens of thousands of academically challenged children how it “was best back then” that their kids were told they were passing, moved ahead and never received the remediation that they so desperately need. Would the state’s taxpayers also agree “it was best back then” to give out millions of dollars in bonuses to principals and teachers to reward phantom test score gains?
The very conservative New York Post and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., an unabashed liberal, found themselves in lockstep on at least one issue — that Mills be compelled to testify.
Mayor Bloomberg continues to travel about the country, honored as a hero of educational reform. This despite the grim reality that any small increases in scores that remain after the state’s revisions were dwarfed by the more robust increases that took place during the final years of the much maligned old Board of Education under Chancellors Rudy Crew and Harold Levy. And who was president of the Board of Education then? Bill Thompson, the fellow narrowly defeated by Bloomberg last year.
Ironically, the first step in the Bloomberg prescription to other municipalities is absolute and total mayoral control of the schools. He repeatedly reminds everyone this is the only way to achieve true “accountability.” Unless of course, the mayor in question happens to lose the election, then it is the fault of the teachers union. Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s appointment of Michelle Rhee — a protégé of New York’s Joel Klein — is widely considered a key reason for his defeat last month.
Mr. Klein directly blames the union for Mayor Fenty’s defeat, charging that they pumped “a million dollars” into his opponent’s campaign. The irony that Bloomberg is still mayor (and Klein still chancellor) due to the $110 million that the mayor pumped into his own campaign is apparently lost on him.
I guess billionaires have more right to free speech than ordinary folk such as teachers.
The lesson here is that Superman is not on the way. We have to work with mere mortals. Bill Thompson who accurately warned of the test inflation problem, might have been given the chance to try his hand where Bloomberg and Klein had failed. But last year the public didn’t know the truth about the test scores, and the teachers union refused to back Thompson. There is no justice in Metropolis.