Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mr. Klein Takes Credit for a Miracle

I'm going to quote Eduwonk, from an amusing post offering the Cliff Notes interpretation of recent New York State scores:

Anti-Bloomberg/Klein argument: Test score were up all over the state, Bloomberg and Klein are just riding a wave that's out there. In fact, because of everything they've done the scores in the city should have dramatically outpaced the state. It's a failure!

Pro-Bloomberg/Klein argument: Sure, test scores are up everywhere, and that's a good thing. But considering all the challenges in New York City and the fact that the system has 1.2 million kids, these gains are noteworthy nonetheless. The city hasn't always kept pace with the state and has now turned a corner. It's a success!

Of course, Tweed's claims assume the tests are valid. If the tests prove to have been easier than previous versions, their arguments are baseless. There's not much mystery--if the test is X% easier, there should be X% improvement everywhere. And if the test was not different, was there simply a miracle that caused scores to rise all over the state? Diane Ravitch has serious doubts:

How did New York State (and New York City) move from flat scores over the past few years to a phenomenal jump in 2008? Should we call it the miracle of 2008? From my experience with large-scale testing, I have learned to be dubious about any one-year changes that are large, whether up or down. One child may have an amazing improvement or loss, but it is unlikely that an entire district or state will see a sudden change of the magnitude reported by New York State.

I've received email asking other questions about this miraculous development. How did Buffalo and Rochester post bigger gains than NYC, despite a lack of "reforms," and despite fewer resources? Sol Stern, who also questions the validity of Tweed's claims, offers a few figures:

Pass rates in reading have also risen dramatically over the past two years—up 7 percent for the state overall; 6.9 percent for New York City; 12.4 percent for Buffalo; 8.2 percent for Rochester; and 8.1 percent for Syracuse.

Have they got an 80-million-dollar computer system? Have they got merit pay? Don't they too have to follow those state tenure rules that Chancellor Klein claims are crippling the system? And, they haven't even got mayoral control.

How could anyone outperform the city or succeed in any way without mayoral control? Well, Buffalo and Rochester have done it. In fact, while it's true the city hasn't always kept pace with the state, it's still behind the rest of the state. You don't hear Chancellor Klein mentioning that much. Perhaps he forgot. Or maybe he doesn't wish to draw attention to the fact that none of his "reforms" entail things that actually work.

And there is always the spectre of those nasty NAEP scores. The state was flat from 05-07, and the city was flat from 03-07, with notable exceptions for both in 4th grade math.

So why isn't the city doing better? Why is my school running well over double capacity? Why are my students studying in filthy trailers and unventilated closets? Why do we have the highest class sizes in the state? Why aren't we doing better rather than just keeping up and why do districts with fewer resources and "reforms" easily outperform us?

If every single district does better, it's very hard to conclude that Klein-Bloomberg "reforms" have anything whatsoever to do with it. Unless you believe in miracles, and you believe a distinctly different miracle occurred in the city than the one that occurred in the rest of the state.

Do you?
blog comments powered by Disqus