Monday, March 01, 2010

The One That Got Away

If you read Bob Herbert's column last week, you were wowed by the incredible progress of the Harlem Village Academy.   Who could question the good work being done there?

The majority of the youngsters come into the middle schools performing at three to four years behind their grade levels. Within a very short time, they are on the fast track toward college. In 2008, when the math and science test scores came in, Ms. Kenny’s eighth graders had achieved 100 percent proficiency. It was not a fluke.

And indeed it was not a fluke.  What it was, in fact, was a whopper.  I'm skeptical of the miracle stories I hear about charters, particularly after having read Diane Ravitch's new book.  There's certainly an advantage when all your kids have proactive parents, but lately there've been stories about highly selective charters, stories I believe are far more common than MSM would have you know.

And I did not have to wonder long before I got an answer, in the form of an excellent and thorough column at NYC Public School Parents Blog, written by Steve Koss.  Koss writes:

...Bob Herbert has shown that he belongs to the Nick Kristof club of "journalists" who helicopter into an issue, traipse around for a few hours, get treated like royalty and receive a king's tour, hear a one-sided pitch, watch a show being put on for their benefit, and then go write a story as if they actually know something about the broader topic.

And there's an awful lot of that around, I'm afraid.  For one thing, it turns out they pass 100% by dumping an awful lot of kids by the wayside.  Are they "counseled out" like the kids in Albany?  Who knows?  But claiming 100% success when a sizable portion of your kids don't make it through is a stretch, if not an outright lie.  Scratch that--it is an outright lie, and remember they've already got only kids of parents proactive enough to do research and enter a lottery.

Is it significant that this school had fewer than 2% ESL students, while the nearby public school had 48%?  Not to Bob Herbert.   Does it matter that the charter leader, Deborah Kenny, pays herself 420,000 bucks, and doesn't even function as principal of a single school?  Does it matter that this amounts to over $1,000 per school kid in her program?  Bob Herbert doesn't give a golly gosh darn.  In fact, it never occurred to him even to ask, as far as I can see.

In Mayor Bloomberg's New York, it's a free ride for charters, while neighborhood schools can all go to hell.  Where I live, heads would roll if they neglected public schools the way they do here.

I don't suppose Bob Herbert has noticed.  After all, New York Times writers are state of the art, preoccupied with Very Important Stuff and can't be bothered to do research, ask questions, or keep informed.

It's incredible that such shoddy journalism could take place on the so-called "paper of record."  The NY Times can't even keep up with the blogs, where standards appear to be higher.
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