The Bleak Future for NYC Students

More evidence emerges that the Education Mayor flunked

Cathie Black was mocked out of the chancellorship, but what of the longtime failing educators who remain: her successor, Dennis Walcott, and the self-styled “Education Mayor,”Mike Bloomberg? I also include the fabled Joe Klein, now Rupert Murdoch’s education specialist.

For years, Klein and Bloomberg have been praised across the nation as model achievers of lasting education reform. Keep in mind that during those years, Dennis Walcott was deputy mayor for education.

Now the results of how they have blighted the futures of many of our public school students have been revealed in the current Department of Education high school reports. In “College Readiness Lacking”(New York Times, October 25), Fernanda Santos reports: “Only one in four students who enter high school in New York City are ready for college after four years.”She adds this obvious point by Bloomberg’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky: “There’s a huge change in life chances for kids who are successful in post-secondary education.”And much more of a life change for those who are left behind.

Not only the high school dropouts but also many of our graduates, too. In “Remedial class nightmare at CUNY”(New York Post, October 23), Susan Edelman adds this postlude to Joe Klein’s career: “A rising percentage of city public-school grads who go to CUNY—now 22.6 percent—need ‘triple remediation,’or catch-up classes in all three areas—reading, writing, and math—data obtained by the Post show.”

And nearly 80 percent of those who get into the city university not only have to take remediation classes but also “most languish there—never earning a college degree.”

So here we have the Education Mayor publicly glorying over what he insists is a significant rise in our students getting into college. Confronted now by the naked facts of what happens to many who do get through the door, Bloomberg first airily said: “College isn’t for everybody. There are other career paths.”

But to make a decent living in those other paths requires not only basic skills but also a command of critical thinking. Watch an electrician at work, as I have in grateful wonder recently when he got my record player working. Or a plumber or a locksmith.

Early in his time as chancellor, I asked Joel Klein if he intended to energize the fading vocational classes in the school system. He assured me he was working on it, and that was the last I heard about it.

Bloomberg, however, after reminding us about those “other career paths,”but giving no information on the state of the city vocational classes, went on to agree that “having a high school diploma is a very big deal. You can’t join the military, you can’t work for most city agencies without a diploma.”

But gee, have I forgotten about our high schools with an A rating? Surely these select students graduate in impressive numbers. However, dig this from Santos of the New York Times: “There were [in the new high schools report card] many exceptions among A schools. At It Takes a Village Academy in East Flatbush, more than 90 percent of students graduate in four years, but only 9 percent meet the college readiness criteria. At South Bronx Preparatory, the graduation rate also topped 90 percent, but the college-readiness rate was closer to 15 percent.”(Emphasis added.)

The Occupy Wall Street legions, railing against the gross class-based inequalities in our nation, should also camp out at the Department of Education—if they have any real-time, real-life changes to propose, unlike their present widely contagious hollow rhetoric.

Clearly, there are thousands of parents—and students—with concrete demands for essential and feasible ways of getting our school system to provide fulfilling futures for the great majority of public schools students—including the still neglected youngsters with special needs and disabilities, English language learners, and those with attention deficits and hearing and vision problems.

As our leading educators, are Dennis Walcott and the Education Mayor aware of the growing “whole child”approach to education? Dig this, gentlemen: “In any group of young people, you will find a range of physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills and abilities.

“No two students have the same strengths and challenges. . . . A whole child approach requires a strong belief that each child can learn, develop and be successful in a setting where the school and community ensure he or she is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged [by] supporting and developing the diverse needs of each student.”(

Standardized tests as a phony measure of student—and teacher—development and achievement bring to mind Albert Einstein’s being amazed that “imagination can survive our methods of formal schooling.”

It’s also amazing that critical thinking would survive our system, as well as joyous self-confidence as students become lifelong learners.

And if all this is too demanding of you, Chancellor Walcott, what are you at least doing to bring back civics classes—our tumultuous history of striving to be a self-governing free people? As the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan put it to me: “How can we bring the Bill of Rights into the lives of students?”

This is happening in an increasing number of classrooms across the country. And I’ve done it—in a few fifth-grade and middle school classrooms over the years in this city—by telling them about the Bill of Rights and what it takes to keep those rights alive.

Meanwhile, coming back to the present bleakness of much of our school system, despite Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, and now Dennis Walcott, the “racial gap”in learning achievement continues. And as the city, state, and national economy shrivels, it will go on as there are more “layoffs,”to use the euphemism, not only of teachers but of lowest-paid support staff, including parent coordinators and school aides.

A New York Times October 3 headline lays it out: “School layoffs about to fall heaviest on the poorest and most struggling.”

There will be occasional slowdowns in the firings; but at one point as Santos of the Times reported: “Schools that serve large numbers of poor or struggling students are disproportionately affected, as are schools receiving federal money to improve results years after years of weak performance.”

I regularly read The New York Beacon newspaper ( for diverse black views and analysis of local, state, and national developments. In its October 6–12 issue, Juliet Kaye, reporting on impending layoffs, quoted Assemblyman William Scarborough (under the heading, “Pink slips for 800 school aides will impact communities of color”: “These layoffs threatened the most vulnerable in our city, many of them single mothers with children, and will have a devastating ripple effect on our economy. They must be rolled back.”

They are hardly likely to be rolled back under our incumbent mayor and Department of Education. When you vote for our next mayor, first ask yourself if he or she will be fundamentally different from Bloomberg and will insist that the Department of Education assure that our public school children actually have a future worth having.

But now, I kid you not, dig this invitation to a November 30 New York City dinner honoring, among other “Leaders in 21st Century Education,”none other than Joel Klein. It comes from the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association.

See if you can stop cheering what Klein is being honored for: “He made the New York City School System a national and international model for success. . . . During his tenure, the city’s high school graduation rose to a record 65 percent. . . . Over the past decade, Joel Klein has been one of the most important forces in public education in our country.”

What planet are we on?

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They should go to New Jersey. The NJEA advertises almost as much as GEICO about the fabulous job they do in making New Jersey public school students the best and brightest and most college bound in the universe. Would they lie?


It must be something in the water here in the U.S. because it appears that almost every nation in the world can educate their populations better that we can. That group includes many first-world nations who spend a smaller percentage of their GDP on education than we do.

Of course there is another possibility and that is the massive education - 'you can't rate us' - bureaucracy is more interested in their pay, perks, and job protection than they ever will be in education.

Nah, that can't be it, our children and young adults are just dumber than those in the rest of the world; that's got to be the answer.

Mary Conway-Spiegel
Mary Conway-Spiegel

...which is why I advocate for Career Technical High Schools in New York City. Schools like Samuel Gompers in the Bronx and the High School For Graphic Communication Arts in Manhattan offer students the opportunity to learn a trade, like web design and digital photography while also getting a traditional academic education (CTE students get no credit for the extra load they carry).These schools "fail" because the hypnotic chant of, "College Ready," has mesmerized our city/country into ignoring how the middle class used to get its start--vocational schools, as they were called in my day. This hypnotic chant has led to starvation of funds, aides, opportunities and teachers for these incredibly important schools that are facing phase out.Because testing is the new gold standard in measuring competency, CTE schools have been forced to teach to standardized high stakes tests as Career Training has taken a back seat to the more valuable skill of filling in bubbles. "College is not for everyone" and CTE schools like Jane Addams, Alfred E Smith, Maxwell and the two listed above are now, as a result of 10 years of failed policy,"failing" schools...what do we do now?

Kenien Spann
Kenien Spann

Fact: Until changes are made at home none of these discussions will matter. Too may kids dont even want to learn, grow, and work. They've either a sense of entitlement or lethargy, or worse, both.


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The year is 1970 and I'm standing, with my partner, in front of a bunch of Yahoos demonstrating in front of Quens College for Open Enrollment.I said, "If these assholes win kiss the American educational system goodbye."Well, they won..and now?Q'ell suprise!!

Tom Hilliard
Tom Hilliard

As my kids would say, somebody put on his cranky pants this morning.

I have my own concerns about the way Joel Klein ran the public school system in New York City. And he hasn't covered himself in glory since leaving. But it's just painful reading an opinion column from somebody who hasn't bothered to do the slightest bit of research. The fact is that the study on college readiness described by the Times is new information. That's why it ran on the front page. All over the country, school systems are finding out how unprepared their graduates are for college-level material. It's actually not the same problem as the traditional criticism that young people don't learn enough in high school. Rather, the problem is that they're not learning the right material to enter college without taking developmental education classes.

NYC is implementing the Common Core Standards, like cities in 46 other states, to begin shifting the goalposts of the p-12 education system. That's not proof of NYC's backwardness, but rather encouraging evidence that our city is confronting its challenges.

And yes, career and technical education (or vocational education) in NYC is behind where it should be. But that's not because DOE is indifferent to CTE - an allegation for which Hentoff has not the slightest shred of evidence beyond some unsatisfying cocktail-party conversation with Klein. In fact, the largest obstacle to vocational education is in Albany, where the Board of Regents has shown little enthusiasm for alternative paths which they deem to be less rigorous than the mainstream superhighway to a high school diploma. And they have a reasonable argument to make. It's so inconvenient when the people standing in the way of your great ideas have rational arguments of their own to make.

Few people are completely comfortable with high-stakes testing. But it is characteristic of this author's intellectual laziness that he takes no interest in grappling with the arguments in favor of standardized testing, which are compelling. The fact that he bludgeons Joel Klein with the results of a standardized test showing inadequate college readiness, mere paragraphs before condemning the very idea of standardized testing as an offense to "whole child" learning, suggest that he hasn't thought the issue through very carefully.