Testing Bloomberg and Klein

Test scores rising, but what of the different black and white diplomas and other lost kids?

Nine out of ten African American and Latino students [in New York City] do not graduate with a Regents diploma—a rate that is nearly two-thirds behind their peers. . . . Chancellor Klein has repeatedly referred to [the Regents diploma] as "a meaningful diploma representing college preparedness. . . . " African American and Latino children get a separate and fundamentally unequal education [in New York City]. A May 26 press release from City Council member Eva Moskowitz, chair of the Education Committee


On June 2, the city was ablaze with hosannas for the mayor and schools chancellor Joel Klein ("Jubilant Bloomberg, Klein Trumpet Test Scores," The New York Sun). The billionaire mayor swiftly paid for television ads to remind the voters about his recurrent pledge that his administration would be judged by his impact on a largely dysfunctional school system.

The tribute to Bloomberg and Klein did not, on that glorious day, mention Eva Moskowitz's charge that "9 out of 10 African American and Latino children are utterly unprepared for college, and therefore condemned to a significantly inferior economic status." (Also unmentioned: Only 18 percent of our high school students get Regents diplomas.)

And after the press's Roman candles—"Student Scores Rise Sharply and Bloomberg Sees Vindication" (The New York Times), "Tests Score for Mike!" (Daily News)—there has been scarcely any attention paid to an equally grim report, "Leaving School Empty Handed" by Advocates For Children of New York (212-947-9779). This is "the first public report highlighting graduation and dropout rates and student outcomes for students receiving special education services in New York City."

Bloomberg's opponents for the mayoralty should get Eva Moskowitz's analysis of the black/Latino and white diplomas—the data of which had not been released by the Department of Education until she made a special request (if only she had run for mayor). And the candidates should also personally take notes—not just delegate the task to their staff—on "Leaving School Empty Handed."

Examining federal, state, and New York City school data from 1996 through 2004, Advocates For Children presents "shocking and abysmal graduation outcomes for New York City's most vulnerable children. Despite the fact that the great majority of students with disabilities should be able to meet graduation standards, these students overwhelmingly leave the school system without any diploma." (Only Alabama had a worse rate).

Advocates for Children writes: "The diploma rates for New York City's children with special needs are significantly lower than that of children receiving special education services in the rest of the state or nationally. The cost to these children and to society as a whole is enormous, as thousands of young people leave school every year with no ability to enter college or obtain employment. (Emphasis added.)

I haven't the slightest doubt that Joel Klein is taking this job—the most important of his career—very seriously, and that he is working, to some extent, on the problems that Eva Moskowitz and Jill Chaifetz of Advocates For Children raise. But if Fernando Ferrer, Virginia Fields, Anthony Weiner, and Gifford Miller are also serious about the future of these abandoned children with disabilities, and those victim to the double standards of the contrasting black/Latino and white diplomas, they have to focus in the months ahead on what Klein and Bloomberg are actually doing to save this huge number of students—and what can be done. (Klein has talked about the double standard, but what has he changed for most of these left behind?)

Recent months of furor by the mayor and his opponents on whether to desperately court the Olympics is disgusting when there has been no public focus on the disappearing future of so many black and Latino students—who not only make up a majority of youngsters with special needs but are also 72 percent of the system's total of 1,075,338 students.

As for the shining test scores, accompanied by the mayor's confidence that he'll surely be re-elected with perhaps a ticker tape parade, I'll examine a range of questions about them in a later column.

Among them: Which students did not take the citywide fifth-grade test? How do the city results measure against the state tests in other cities? As David Herszenhorn pointed out in the June 2 New York Times, "unlike the fourth- and eighth-grade statewide tests . . . there are no comparable results for [these] citywide exams."

Moreover, in the statewide fourth-grade tests, this city's gains were exceeded by Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse, where students didn't have the guidance of Bloomberg and Klein. Significantly, Herszenhorn added, "The state results also showed a drop in performance by [this city's] eighth graders, raising questions about whether gains in elementary school can be sustained through junior high." (Emphasis added.)

Meanwhile, the other candidates for mayor should get a copy of a June 1 New York Times column, "On Education," by Michael Winerip—the most deeply perceptive reporter on education I've read in many years of covering this beat.

By focusing on one school, P.S. 111 in Manhattan, Winerip makes vivid the results of "the chronic problem" of teacher retention in the Bloomberg-Klein system. In P.S. 111, there were teachers who very much wanted to open the future for these kids but were burned out, unnoticed by Bloomberg and Klein.

Winerip tells of Natalia Mehlman, who had been considering a teacher's career. "She was assigned to teach middle school Spanish, but says she was given no curriculum and no reports on pupils' past performance. [Mehlman adds:] 'There was no support from the principal. That school was so based on getting to minimum competency on the state English and math tests—Spanish was not on the radar.' "

She left P.S. 111 after a year and is now getting her doctorate in history and teaching at Stanford University. As for the revolving door of teachers, another who left P.S. 111 says: "Kids get angry. There's no consistency—adults they care about keep leaving."

Yet a June 2 New York Postheadline blares: "Schoolkids' Test Scores Zooming."

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