Sunday, November 25, 2007

What A Bargain!

According to Sol Stern, the New York City public school system budget has increased by $7.2 billion dollars since Mayor Bloomberg announced his Children First reforms in January 2003.

Back in 2003, the school financing budget was $12.5 billion dollars, including pension costs and debt service. In the current fiscal year 2008, the budget is $19.7 billion dollars, including pension and debt costs.

The additional $7.2 billion dollars is a 50% funding increase in the last five years.

When Bloomberg first gained total control of the New York City public school system in 2002, he said that he was going to “make sure we get the most value for the school system’s dollar.”

Stern decides to take Bloomberg up on his challenge and see.

Stern examines the release of the 2007 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) of the federal government’s National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which compares the fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores on the NAEP exam of 11 of the nation's largest urban school districts, to see just what the extra $7.2 billion dollars has bought.

Stern finds not much.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, New York City students showed little-to-no improvement on the tests.

New York City was the only 1 of the 11 urban districts to show no improvement on eighth grade math scores from 2003 to 2007. In fact, scores remained flat for every ethnic and racial subgroup in the city.

Fourth and eighth grade reading tests were even worse. There was no significant change in proficiency on the fourth grade reading tests between 2003 and 2007 while the reading scores for eighth graders actually fell from 2003 to 2007.

Only fourth grade math scores increased from 2003 to 2007.

Stern concludes:

These results may surprise people who have heard so much over the past five years from the Bloomberg administration and some of the media about New York City’s “historic” gains on the state’s math and reading tests. But the NAEP doesn’t lie; it measures achievement far more accurately than state tests do. No doubt the administration will put the best face on the latest test data. But the reality is that $7 billion in extra education spending has so far produced only pennies’ worth of academic improvement in most grades. The sooner the city faces up to the bottom line, the sooner we can start speaking honestly about how to remedy the situation.

So the additional $7.2 billion has bought a slight increase in fourth grade math scores, a slight decrease in eighth grade reading scores and no significant change in fourth grade reading or eighth grade math scores.

What a bargain!

So, what did Bloomberg spend all the extra money on?

Well, clearly some of it went to teacher compensation. By May 2008, the United Federation of Teachers says teacher salaries in New York City will have increased 40% between 2002 and 2008.

While the editorial writers at the Times, News, Post et al. like to call that increased compensation "raises," the truth is that teachers have given up days, time, a sixth class, grievance rights, seniority rights and other job protections to win the extra compensation.

Nonetheless, it is true that some of the $7.2 billion has gone to salaries for personnel.

Where did the rest of the money go?

Decreased class sizes?

Nope. In fact, Bloomberg and Klein fought the state to use additional state education money on anything but reduced class size:

City educrats have agreed to reduce class sizes in 75 failing, overcrowded middle and high schools in order to collect $258 million from Albany.

The state money was the subject of a dispute between the city and state until a final deal was announced Monday.

Gov. Spitzer had insisted the "Contracts for Excellence" money could be used only to reduce class sizes or support four other state educational priorities, but city officials wanted to support Mayor Bloomberg's agenda, including a program that gives kids standardized practice tests 10 times a year.

Now of course reducing class sizes in 75 schools is, as Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters told the Daily News, "totally inadequate compared to the critical need," but the fact that the state had to take on Bloomberg and Klein to force them to use the money on reduced class sizes in critically overcrowded failing schools goes to show just how little they care about the issue.

So if Bloomberg hasn't used the additional education funding for reducing class size or reducing populations at severely overcrowded schools, what has he used it on?

Well, there is the $80 million dollar ARIS computer system and the additional 8-10 standardized tests New York City public school children will be required to take every year starting in February 2008.

And of course you can't have 8-10 additional standardized tests a year without a testing contract handed out to McGraw-Hill to create those 8-10 additional standardized tests a year.

So far, nobody at the school level actually knows what these 8-10 additional standardized tests a year will look like or what they will test, but I'm sure they'll be great.

What else did the mayor and the chancellor spend the additional education funds on?

Well, there was the constant reorganization of the school system (we're now on our third reorganization in the past five years), the closing of the school districts and the opening of the school regions and then the closing of the school regions and the reopening of the school districts.

Then there was the city-wide reading and math curricula that were added after the mayor took total control of the schools in 2002. The rationale here was that every child in every classroom in every school across the city should be learning the same problem at the same time on the same day as every other child in the same grade.

The key to these curricula changes was "sameness."

So we had the city hire people to measure bulletin boards to make sure the margins were "regulation" and investigate classrooms to make sure they had reading rugs (teachers with irregular bulletin board margins or without the proper reading rugs were written up.)

The reading and math curricula have since gone away and were replaced with a mania about data.


The mayor and the chancellor brought in an outside entity to conduct "school quality reviews" that were heavy on the "what are you doing with your data" variety.

The mayor and the chancellor also took the $80 million dollar ARIS computer system and ran the testing and graduation rate data along with student, parent and teacher surveys through it and kicked out school report cards that managed to give D's and F's to many schools that did very well earlier in the year on the "school quality reviews." Many of these schools also have very good test scores, but the report cards measure "progress," not "performance," so schools with excellent test scores in math and reading still managed to receive very low or failing report card grades.

The 8-10 additional standardized tests to be added next year will be added to the ARIS stew and used for the school report cards in the future.

At least until the next mayor comes in and cleans up the mess this one has created.

But to get back to the matter at hand, the mayor has also spent budget money on merit pay for teachers and merit pay for students, closing large overcrowded schools and creating lots of small overcrowded schools in their place, turning toxic waste dumps into school buildings, doling out no-bid contracts to cronies like the Snapple company, holding teacher fairs to alleviate the high teacher turnover problem and let's not forget adding lots and lots of public relations to win over the public and the media to their reforms.

That's a ton of stuff that Bloomberg has spent education money on in the last five years and he sure has little to show for it.

The ironic thing is, if he had taken the $7.2 billion dollars and spent it on lowering class size, reducing overcrowded schools, fixing the existing school infrastructure and providing new and safe school infrastructure for the future, retaining quality veteran teachers and attracting new teachers who learn their profession and stay in the system beyond 3-5 years rather than hiring a bunch of Teach For America/Teaching Fellows missionaries who are trained for 3 months before they're tossed into the classroom to sink, Bloomberg could have done a whole lot more to improve the school system and the NAEP test scores.

But of course Bloomberg and Klein didn't really come in to improve education in New York City.

They came in with an ideology that what the public sector - especially public education - needs to improve is market-based, privatization solutions that will convert the public sector into a quasi-private sector run with a corporate mindset that privileges quarterly results, constant "progress", and ruthless efficiency over long-term results and realistic progress.

Let's call it the "Walmartization" of public education

Never mind that children shouldn't be treated like widgets and quarterly test scores cannot be used to measure school effectiveness the way quarterly profit margins can be used to measure a corporation's performance.

Never mind that constant reorganization of the school system and constant changes to the curricula hurt children who need stability and constancy the most.

Never mind that the Jack Welch/Mike Bloomberg way of treating employees (make them fear for their jobs) has created an environment of hostility and anger in the system rather than forged a partnership between school administration officials and teachers to try and move schools forward together.

You see, when you have billionaire businessmen, failed anti-trust lawyers and their wealthy private sector cronies making 100% of the calls on education policy with no say from anybody outside of their narrow circle, you get a school system that is heavy on the spending, heavy on the p.r., and heavy on constant change, but pretty light on actual results.

Oh well.

The mayor knows that nothing improves a school system better than additional money spent on public relations efforts to fool the public and the media into thinking the smoke and mirror reforms are working.

With Bloomberg set to run for president in '08 as an independent, you can bet we'll see a lot more TV commercials and print advertisements lauding Mayor Bloomberg's education reform record.

But it's all phony.

As Sol Stern and other education experts like Diane Ravitch have noted - the NAEP results don't lie.

There has been little-to-no progress since Bloomberg and Klein started their dog and pony education reform show back in 2002.
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