Bloomberg and Walcott Are School Dropouts

Standardized tests 'tried-and-untrue' method of measuring students' learning

Across the nation, more teachers and school systems are discarding standardized collective testing in reading and math—along with the additional class time spent in testing for these exams.

But in this city and state, starting in April, these tried-and-untrue annual tests for students in third through eighth grades will continue and even take longer hours. So the state education department decrees. There are no objections from Education Mayor Bloomberg and City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

By contrast, there are illustrations of what digital e-learning—each student on a laptop—can do to take into account the strengths and problems of each individual student during a class-wide high-stakes test or any test.

But first, a cautionary warning: In some of these virtual classrooms during tests, there is no teacher directly, humanly involved as the online tests proceed. When this happens, the identities of individual students are cast aside as they are in this city's standardized tests—the result of which will now also be used to judge the performances of the teachers. But the teachers don't design and authorize these tests.

The United Federation of Teachers objects; and for once, I agree with the union, although the UFT still lacks commitment to focus on the whole individual child during his or her continuing time in school.

But digital learning can work. Here is how what is called "blended learning" works—each student is connected both to advancing digital technology and to a real-life teacher.

From "Online Learning, Personalized" (New York Times, December 5), in a ninth-grade charter school in San José, California, the teacher, Jesse Roe, "has a peephole into the brains of his 38 students. . . . Each student's math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he enters the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures."

The reporter, Somini Sengupta, credits what's happening in this classroom to 35-year-old "Salman Khan, whose Khan Academy math and science lessons on YouTube . . . have attracted up to 3.5 million viewers."

But what is taking place in San José has not generally yet become part of curriculums across the country, and that has become Salman Khan's mission.

In Time (November 14), Fareed Zakaria reports that "last year, Los Altos, California, decided to use the Khan Academy videos and software in its public-school classrooms."

But next year, New York City public-school parents will again share the stomach-turning anxiety of their children's preparatory testing for the dreaded actual standardized tests that can stamp them as "non-proficient" learners. This leads some kids to decide they're dumb or not fit for school. That's a familiar way in which dropouts are created.

We still don't know what happens to each of this city's dropouts.

But in Los Altos, California, parents can witness their kids "watching the Khan Academy videos at home and solve problems in class, where the teacher's talents can be put to use most fruitfully."

This way, "students can learn at their own pace—re-watching videos—until they actually understand the material. The early results show huge leaps in student skills."

Sure, there has to be more experience with this "customized interactive" learning in many more schools to get a clearer and deeper knowledge of how effective and durable this form of digital e-learning can be.

I'm trying to call attention to this need in the Voice because a September 7 New York Times headline—"Poll Finds Fault on Schools on Mayor's Watch"—remains acutely accurate. During follow-up interviews of those polled in the story, their frustrations included "the system of school choice, services for disabled children [a subject of a future column here] and the emphasis on standardized tests."

The story quoted a retired Queens bank officer, Robert Kemp: "What they're teaching is too narrowly focused. It's all 'let's pass tests;' it's not about turning out educated kids."

That's kids for whom critical thinking has become a natural kick, leading to their being lifelong learners. The joy of learning is not endemic in the Bloomberg-Walcott classrooms.

Also, a grim theme I've been continually returning to: the "racial gap" nationally and here from before and after the 1954 Supreme Court ruled public-school segregation inherently unconstitutional—as it still is, not by law but by residential boundaries.

From the Times's report on the September 7 poll: "Blacks and Hispanics, whose children make up 70 percent of the enrollment in public schools, expressed the most dissatisfaction, with 64 percent of blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics saying they are generally not satisfied, compared with 50 percent of whites."

It's certainly time to also poll all the kids themselves—not through quick quiz-like responses but in attentive interviews. That would be a genuine public service that some of the big-time donors to the Bloomberg-Walcott school system could realistically invest in.

Through decades of talking to public schoolkids for this column and my books, I've found many to be penetratingly specific about what ways schools fail them. That includes some who dropped out because they saw no meaningful reason to stay.

Finally, for a time, let's go back to Fareed Zakaria in Time (he can also be seen and heard regularly on CNN): "I went through the Asian educational system, which is now so admired. It gave me an impressive base of knowledge and taught me how to study hard and fast. But when I got to the U.S. for college, I found that it had not trained me that well to think.

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Dr. John Little
Dr. John Little

Mr. Hentoff: Your points here are well taken. They are entertaining and somewhat informative.You need to know, though, that the reporting of student progress is of the utmost importance to the educational process. Further, you need to know that there are three basic modes for such reporting: (1) individual progress, (2) progress compared to peers, and (3) progress in achieving stated goals and objectives. A discussion of student achievement without these modes of evaluation is meaningless. Further, the achievement records of students, according to these modes of reporting, should be made available to students, parents and those who finance public education.

Please note that in group comparisons students with inherently low academically ability tend to grow up and have more children than do students with high academic ability. Go figure.


Was this article auto-translated from another language? It certainly feels like it.

The sentences are stilted and dart this way then that way on their way to a point, sometimes mutiple half-completed points. Semi-colons, ellipsis, and hyphens don't substitute for a series of well-formed sentences to explain or construct an argument.

For example, is the following even a sentence? "So the state education department decrees."

What about this train-wreck: "Finally, for a time, let's go back to Fareed Zakaria in Time (he can also be seen and heard regularly on CNN): "I went through the Asian educational system, which is now so admired."

I'm no writer, but I would expect better editorial control from the Village Voice


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Michael Meyers
Michael Meyers

Eva Moskowitz lost her last attempt at elective office in large part because of the strong and unrelenting opposition to her from the NYC teachers' union, which represents the best and the dumbest of the teaching profession. What teachers know--or don't know--is a big factor in raising the levels of academic achievement of our chidlren. Indeed, a recent Harvard study confirms that great, knowledgeable, caring and effective teachers can impact the lives of children in ways that follow them into adulthood, instilling in them critical thinking skills, a passion for knowledge, learning, and inquiry, and increasing their chances of success in college and the work place. Hence, it is very important for teachers to be evaluated on the basis of their students' academic performance.

Minority students, in particular, need effective teachers--who are these chidlren's earliest role models.

The whole system needs to be reformed in ways to get the best teachers in the lowest performaning schools--which requires major changes in the Teachers Contract as well as the imposition of a rigorous system of evaluating teachers that allows for the termination of awful professionals, they who have negative attitudes toward children, who baby-sit, rather than teach, and those who don't have the requisite knowledge and skills to convey high caliber teaching and expand learning opportunities. Mostly, teachers should have high expectations of their students and welcome a system of evaluation that demonstrates their competence at instruction and inspiring learners. Successful charter schools are that way because their teachers are carefully screened and challenged and evaluated based on attaining dramatic results as to academic achievement levels. Those charter schools that fail, like other public (tradiitonal) schools ought to be closed. Teachers who can't or won't teach, ought to be removed from the classroom.

The irony is that while the system is raising academic standards for children--albeit through standardized testing to measure their competence and knowledge levels--teachers resist such accountability when it comes to being evaluated on the baiss of their ssudents' test scores or their students' academic achievement, however that achievement--or lack thereof, is to be measured. Moreover, the system--the Mayor and the State Education Department (meaning the State Education Commissioner, at the behest of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, dumbed down the qualifications for NYC Schools Chancellor. The past three, four Schools Chancellors got waivers of the educational qualifications and school experience that the state law required. That's because Mayor Bloomberg--in whose trust and direction the State Legislature placed the responsibioity for our public schools--chose cronies and dilettantes like Catherine Black, and people without the requisite taste, talent, and qualifications to lead and evaluate teachers. They skipped over--not even conducting EEO searches--probable candidates who know something about curriculum, professional development, and how to properly hold students and professionals to high standards.

What are our pupils to think when the State lowers and waives repeatedly the standards and qualifications for the city's Schools Boss?

The resignation of Cathy Black as Schools Chancellor was necessary because the powers that be--the Mayor, the State Education Commissioner, and the Board of Regents' Chancellor, made it possible for an underqualified non-educator, a veritable dunce (a minion of Bloomberg's), to take charge of the city's public schools. After making that big mistake, the same characters repeated it by granting yet another waiver of the statutory qualifications for a schools superintendent certificate so that Mayor Bloomberg could appoint yet another of his cronies (Dennis Walcott) to the top post of NYC Schools Chancellor.Ugh.Put the dunce cap on all these amateurs!.

Michael Meyers, Executive DirectorNew York Civil Rights CoalitionManhattan, New York


Second paragraph correction: the first line should read academic--not academically.


Mr. Meyer, As much as I respect you and believe that your intentions are good, I am somewhat dismayed at your naivete in this very vital area of concern.Granted accountability for all stakeholders in the educational system should always be a vital component. Where your naivete shows is in your fairly blind,unquestioning acceptance of standardized testing as a proper means to achieve the end of student accountability.Anyone with even a basic knowledge of psychometrics and the statistical basis thereof is aware that the population upon which the test is normed has everything to do with the ultimate results. Knowing that, some among us who stand to gain, whether in terms of power or financial remuneration,have also come to this conclusion and have endeavore to "game the system" by using their influence to induce changes in that basis. For example, a mayor in control of a school system which is entering contract negotiations with its teachers may find that low scores on the test are in his best interest. Could not an infusion of green make a difference in the manner in which the norming sample is selected, thereby skewing the results? Or in a different scenario, when there is an election or a vote on continued mayoral control of the same system, could not the influence of lucre again be brought to bear to obtain the desired higher test scores?It is not beyond credibility for our stats fudging illegal third term purchasing current mayor to conceiving the idea of obtaining for himself what has unfortunately come to be known in NYC teaching circles as " the best test scores money can buy." The mayor rode his testing bubble for quite some time, much as Wall St. had ridden the housing bubble, until it burst, at which time, Joel Klein, the beneficiary of this largesse strode into the warm embrace of the reptilian Murdoch, and Cathy Black became a welcome distraction for City Hall from the troubling questions which were sure to follow. It was a perfect circus of plausible deniability,the old flim -flam writ large.Of course, blame went to the usual suspects as per the Post's MO= blame the teachers! So, Mr.Meyer, are we to assume from all which has occurred that it is wise to not only continue the prescription of this medication which so obviously does not work, but to increase the dosage and add many more unproven elements to the treatment, all at tremendous co=pays? I think not! Please reexamine your stance towards acceptance of standardized tests as indicative of anything beyond statistical manipulation and huge outlays of taxpayer dollars.

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