Tuesday, January 05, 2016

If Reforminess Worked, NYC Would Be a Utopia

I read with interest a Daily News editorial rating Bill de Blasio on education. They say the graduation rate is inching up, and paint that as a legacy of Bloomberg. But Bloomberg controlled the city schools for twelve long, long years and despite his uber-reforminess they are not perfect. Of course it's hard to achieve perfection when people are not perfect. Bloomberg was certainly not perfect, or he wouldn't have bought himself a third term. But as a self-serving, self-important megalomaniac with billions of dollars, he had little choice.

The problem is, under Bloomberg and the geniuses who reside in the Ivory Towers of Albany, our students had little choice too. I remember when special education students could take RCT exams instead of Regents exams. I remember when ESL students were exempt from taking an English Regents exam specifically designed for English speakers. In fact, I'm so old that I remember an English Regents exam that expected me not only to have a knowledge of English and American literature, but also to understand English spelling. Spelling is incredibly illogical in English, but fortunately so am I. Personally, I've found the newer versions of the Regents exams to be not only more and more tedious, but also less and less challenging.

The Daily News looks at the graduation rate as something important, and I don't disagree. But now that we fail to differentiate (funny how teachers are expected to differentiate in classes but there's no such thing in assessment), it's tough for a lot of kids to pass required tests. I teach newcomers, and any reasonable educator would give them an alternate mode of graduation. The state's notion that we can replace English instruction with Common Core-laced subject classes via Part 154 is blatantly idiotic, and will result in even fewer ELLs graduating on time. Of course, this is the price you pay for stacking the Regents with people who are utterly ignorant of language acquisition. I'm sure that they don't bother making allowances for other special needs either.

The News, like most Americans, doesn't bother to question the one-size-fits-all reformy agenda. Most politicians are right there agreeing with them. Now here's the thing. There is nothing wrong with our schools. There is nothing wrong with our teachers. Sure, they aren't perfect. But the fact is every so-called failing school, without exception, has a high percentage of high-needs kids. To assume, because these schools get lower test grades, that they are not as good as schools full of affluent students is simply idiotic. And when I read editorials (not the one to which I linked) saying that poor-scoring schools have poor teachers, I'm also amazed. It doesn't take a genius to know that some kids score higher on standardized tests than others, or that income is among the best predictors of who those kids will be.

That, of course, is why the Moskowitz Academies need a "got to go" list. That is why Geoffrey Canada had to dismiss entire cohorts from his charter school. That's why the charters who boast of their 100% college enrollment rates forget to tell us that they've managed to lose 30-60% of the kids with which they started. Where are the ones that left? Surely in the same public schools being vilified for being so miserable.

Here's an idea. Instead of going on about how the schools suck, why don't we do something about the fact that 23% of our children live in poverty? Why don't we raise taxes on folks like Michael Bloomberg and actually help these kids? Because I'll tell you something--when you're hungry, when your house is cold,  when your parents can't afford to take time off from their multiple jobs, when parents have no time for their kids, when you have no health benefits or care, standardized tests become a whole hell of a lot less important.

That's why Bloomberg made no difference (though I don't recall the News or any paper holding him to task over that), and that's why, as long as de Blasio accepts reformy premises, he won't make a whole lot of difference either.
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