Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Ineffectual Reforms of Bloomberg / Klein

To commemorate Mayor Bloomberg's decision to seek a third term, despite the will of the people, here's a guest post by Sarah Scrafford:

We’ve heard of sweeping changes in education that are meant to usher in a wave of revolution, and there couldn’t be a better example than that championed by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg soon after he was elected to office in 2002. In a controversial move that still raises the hackles of many educators and academics, the mayor, along with his appointee Chancellor Joel Klein, took control of the city’s education system that includes over 1,400 schools, 80,000 teachers, 6,000 staff members working at both the central and regional levels, and 1.1 million students, and introduced a common curriculum and various other reforms. Six years down the line, we see why those reforms have been proved to be ineffectual:

  • In spite of promising a back-to-basics curriculum, the reforms saw the introduction of the Month-by-Month Phonics reading program (and the simultaneous cancellation of the successful, phonetics-based, Success For All reading program) and the Everyday Math elementary mathematics program. The former is a misnomer that does not address the needs of students from low income and minority households with its whole language approach. New York University professor Diane Ravitch, a fierce critic of these reforms, says that this approach works only for kids who grow up in a literacy-rich environment that is augmented with the availability of and access to books and reading material. The elementary math program has come in for its share of criticism from university mathematicians who are of the opinion that it does not address how basic computational skills are taught.
  • The regime has been accused of falsifying scores to claim success where there is none; the claims of a 12 percent increase in Reading and a 19 percent increase in Math scores are inflated, according to Professor Ravitch, who says that scores from the year 2002 – 2003 have been included in these statistics, which means that they do not count. Bloomberg introduced his reforms only in September 2003, although they had been in the pipeline since early 2002. Without the 6 percent increase in Reading and the 15 percent in Math in 2002 - 2003, the figures read a dismal 6.4 percent rise in Reading and only 4.2 percent in Mathematics.
  • Those in charge of effecting the reforms have been accused of micromanagement, of dictating a common curriculum that takes authority away from teachers (and parents) and tells them not just what to teach but how to teach and when to teach as well.
  • New York City’s educational budget has grown from $12.5 billion per year to $20 billion under the aegis of Mayor Bloomberg and Klein, a massive increase in costs that has not been justified in terms of results. According to the National Assessment of Educational Programs (NAEP) scores of 2007, there was no significant improvement in 4th Grade Mathematics, 8th Grade Reading and 8th Grade Mathematics. The only area that did show some improvement, 4th Grade Reading, comprised a record 25 percent of English Language Learner students whose scores are accommodated or adjusted on account of their handicap.
  • There has been no real improvement in the performance of blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and low income students between 2003 and 2007, the years Mayor Bloomberg’s reforms took shape, according to statistics from NAEP.
  • The scores prove that black students in New York City performed better than their counterparts in New York State, a fact that has led the Bloomberg & Co. to claim an achievement in terms of closing the racial gap. But this figure does not take into account the performances of New York City black students when compared to whites and Asians in the same area, thus ignoring the racial gap that exists and widens by the day.
  • New York City was the only one of the 11 tested by NAEP to have scores decline in 8th Grade Reading for blacks, Hispanics and low income students.
  • Larger schools have been broken up into smaller schools with 500 students or less each under the reforms, with the new ones struggling with inexperienced teachers and low academic standards and discipline. To make matters worse, poor planning has forced most of these new schools to remain unopened, with the result that students allocated to these schools are now forced to be accommodated at the remaining larger schools which are overflowing beyond their capacities.

Amidst all this criticism and complaining, only one thing remains certain – that the children of New York City are being bandied about with nary a thought to their education as the adults continue to rule on what’s best for them academically. The all-important question is still unanswered – are the reforms making sure that they are getting education of a better quality?

This article is contributed by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the subject of top top online universities. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address:

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