Monday, December 17, 2007

Grading Mr. Bloomberg

The New York Sun features an op-ed piece by Diane Ravitch that confirms my worst suspicions about Mayor Bloomberg's short-sighted grading system. This is the same pattern the mayor used for his first reform, and he appears to have learned nothing from it.

The grading system itself is questionable because it awarded high grades to many schools on the state's and federal government's failing lists while stigmatizing some highly regarded schools with grades of D or F. More than half of the nearly 400 schools that the state or federal government has identified as academically weak received an A or a B. At the same time, 99 schools that are in good standing with the state and the federal government received a D or an F from the city.

The city's grading system produced some other odd results. For example, I.S. 289 in Tribeca, the only middle school in the city that was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its superior performance, received a D. And P.S. 35 in Staten Island, a school where more than 85% of students regularly pass the state tests, was labeled an F.

The reason for these strange outcomes is that the city gives greater weight to improvement than to performance. High-scoring schools are handicapped by what is known as the "ceiling effect." If their students score consistently well on the state tests, a one-year dip in the scores can get them branded with a D or an F.

What happens to a school in which 100% of the students pass these all-important tests? Well, if fewer than 100% pass the following year, under this absurd system, it could be "failing," just like the above-mentioned school in Staten Island.

A lot of local parents actually know which school are better and which are worse. That accounts for schools like mine, bursting at the seams and accepting additional students as though there were a place to put them. That accounts for the regular class size violations at schools like mine, and to a lesser extent, the little-known contractual loopholes that permit them.

But overcrowding and class size don't figure into this mayor's calculations. That's because you can't blame unionized workers for such ills, and under this mayor's grading system, they're the only souls accountable for anything. In fact, when Mayor Bloomberg's chief accountability officer has to deal with real parents, he picks up his briefcase and heads for the hills.

Mayor Bloomberg has devised an elaborate system of assigning blame that has little to do with accountability. It's his fault, entirely, that the dysfunction of this school system has yet to be addressed. Though he can continue to blame schools, even schools that are doing well, the fact is there's been no substantive improvement under his watch.

And expert though he may be at blaming others, the unconscionable overcrowding, the highest class sizes in the state, the wasteful hours spent at pointless meetings, the very worst school facilities in the area, and an unparalleled expertise at passing the buck will be his true legacy.

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