Saturday, February 07, 2009

Testimony of Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, New York University, Hearings of New York State Assembly Committee on Education, February 6, 2009

I am a historian of education on the faculty of New York University. My first book was a history of the New York City public schools, entitled The Great School Wars. It was published in 1974. It is generally acknowledged to be the definitive history of the school system. Since then, I have continued to study and write about the New York City school system.

When the Legislature changed the governance of the school system in 2002, I supported the change. I supported the idea of mayoral control. I looked forward to an era of accountability and transparency. From my historical studies, I knew that mayoral control was the customary form of governance in our city's schools for many years. From 1873 to 1969, the mayor appointed every single member of the New York City Board of Education. The decentralization of control from 1969 to 2002 was an aberration.

Having observed the current system since it was created, however, I have become convinced that it needs major changes.

It needs change because it lacks accountability. It lacks transparency. It shuts the public out of public education. It has no checks or balances. It lacks the most fundamental element of a democratic system of government, which is public oversight.

Never before in the history of NYC have the mayor and the chancellor exercised total, unlimited, unrestricted power over the daily life of the schools. No other school district in the United States is operated in this authoritarian fashion.

We have often been told by city officials that the results justify continuation of this authoritarian control. They say that test scores have dramatically improved. But no independent source verifies these assertions.

The city's claims are contradicted by the federal testing program, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The federal tests are the gold standard of educational testing.

New York City is one of 11 cities that participate in the federal testing program. On the NAEP tests, the city's scores were flat from 2003-2007 in fourth-grade reading, in eighth-grade reading, and in eighth-grade math. Only in fourth-grade math did student performance improve, but those gains had washed out by eighth grade. The eighth-graders were the product of the Children First reforms, yet these students showed no achievement gains in either reading or math. The federal tests showed no significant gains for Hispanic students, African American students, white students, Asian students, or lower-income students. The federal data showed no narrowing of the achievement gap among children of different ethnic and racial groups.

The SAT is another independent measure. This past year, the city's SAT scores fell, reaching their lowest point since 2003, at the same time that national SAT scores held steady. The students who take the SAT intend to go to college; they are presumably our better-performing students. Yet the SAT reading score for New York City was an appalling 438, which is the 28th percentile of all SAT test-takers. The state SAT reading score was 488, much closer to the national average than our city students.

Are graduation rates up? The city says they have climbed from 53% to 62% from 2003-2007. The state says they have climbed from 44% to 52% from 2004-2007. Either way, the city's graduation rate is no better than the graduation rate for the state of Mississippi, which spends less than a third of what New York City spends per pupil.

We must wonder whether we can believe any numbers for the graduation rate, because the city has encouraged a dubious practice called "credit recovery," which inflates the graduation rate. Under credit recovery, students who failed a course or never even showed up can still get credit for it by turning in an independent project or attending a few extra sessions. A principal told the New York Times that credit recovery is the "dirty little secret of high schools. There's very little oversight and there are very few standards." (NY Times, April 11, 2008). Furthermore, the city doesn't count students who have been discharged; these are students who have been removed from the rolls but are not counted as dropouts. Their number has increased every year. Leaving out these students also inflates the graduation rate.

We have all heard that social promotion was eliminated, that students can't be promoted from grade 3 or 5 or 7 or 8 unless they have mastered the work of the grade. Nonetheless, a majority of eighth-graders do not meet state standards in reading or math. And two-thirds of the city's graduates who enter CUNY's community colleges must take remedial courses in reading, writing, or mathematics. These figures suggest that social promotion continues and that many students are graduating who are not prepared for postsecondary education.

The present leadership of the Department of Education has made testing in reading and mathematics the keynote of their program. Many schools have narrowed their curriculum in hopes of raising their test scores. The Department's own survey of arts education showed that only 4% of children in elementary schools and less than a third of those in middle schools were receiving the arts education required by the state. When the federal government tested science in 2006, two-thirds of New York City's eighth grade students were "below basic," the lowest possible rating. These figures suggest that our students are not getting a good education, no matter what the state test scores in reading and math may be.

The Department of Education, lacking any public accountability, has heedlessly closed scores of schools without making any sustained effort to improve them. Had they dramatically reduced class sizes, mandated a research-based curriculum, provided intensive professional development, supplied prompt technical assistance, and taken other constructive steps, they might have been able to turn around schools that were the anchor of their community. When Rudy Crew was Chancellor, he rescued many low-performing schools by using these techniques in what was then called the Chancellor's District. Unfortunately this district—whose sole purpose was to improve low-performing schools–was abandoned in 2003. There may be times when a school must be closed, but it should be a last resort, triggered only after all other measures have been exhausted, and only after extensive community consultation.

The Legislature owes it to the people of New York City to make significant changes in the governance of the New York City public schools.

First, the governance system needs checks and balances. Having the chance to vote for the mayor once in four years is no check or balance, nor does it provide adequate accountability. The school system needs an independent board, whose members serve for a fixed-term, to review and approve the policies and budget of the school system. This board would hold public hearings before decisions are made. It would review the budget in public and give the public full opportunity to express its concerns.

Second, the performance of the school system should be regularly monitored by an independent, professional auditing agency. This agency should report to the public on student performance and graduation rates. Those in charge of the school system should not be allowed to monitor the system's performance and to give principals and teachers bonuses for higher performance. Such an approach does not produce accountability; instead, it only encourages principals and teachers to find creative ways to boost their test scores and graduation rates.

Third, the leader of the school system should be appointed by the independent board, not by the mayor. The chancellor's primary obligation is to protect the best interests of the students. If elected officials say that they must cut the schools' budget, the chancellor should be the voice of the school system, fighting for the interests of the children and the schools. If the chancellor is appointed by the mayor, his first obligation is to the mayor, not the children.

There are many challenges facing the New York City school system. Many of the students that it serves are disadvantaged by poverty, are English language learners, or have special needs. Changing the governance of the school system will not solve all the problems of educating more than one million students.

Nonetheless, the Legislature must learn from experience. It should correct the flaws in the law passed in 2002. That law went too far in centralizing all authority in the Mayor's office and in excluding the public from any voice in decisions affecting their communities and their children. It is time to change the law.


Anonymous said...

Holy Mother of God! This article tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth! This is the article I have been waiting for ICE to put out for the longest time! I have been writting on this blog, so many times about the fake graduation rate and how our kids are getting short changed! At Tilden High School 10 graders have skipped a grade and become 12th graders in an effort to get these students out of Tilden and close the school fast! Many of my students are crying saying that they are not ready for college yet. They are too young! Most of them play sports and are cheated out of their senor year, because the pricipal wants them out of the building fast! Credits are showing up out of nowhere. Recovery Credit all over the place! P.M school that gives out Credit just as long as a student's name is on the roster. The student does not even have to come half the time. These P.M School classes take place two days a week. They started in Late October and end by Dec 20 th. They never put in the required state time for a course. Math teachers teach physcial Education course in the class room as independent study while our physcial education teachers where made into ATRS and shipped out at the tax payers expense! The A.P of Security who has no Phs.Ed License is teaching a fenching course where students mostly don't go and he give them Phys.ed credit for the course so they can graduate faster! Our chapter leader at Tilden Joe Cook turns a blind eye to all of this so he can be in the pricipals good grace at cost of his union brothers and sisters! This article and everything else most be made public! The Public should read this article. Send it to the news papers. Post it in every school. MANY TEACHERS DON'T KNOW ABOUT ICE AND WHAT IT STANDS FOR. WE NEED TO EDUCATE OUR FELLOW TEACHERS ABOUT ICE OR ELES RANDI WILL WIN ANOTHER ELECTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That's how she wins. Like Mayor for life Bloomberg she controls the media! Most teacher don't know about the ICE Blog! GET THE MESSAGE OUT! This last article is great. Send it around to news papers and T.V news. Or else Bloomberg will win Control of the schools and Randi will be more than happy to give it to him. Not to mention the get give backs she going to give Bloomberg in the next 2009 contrack! Hey maybe she will allow him to Fire ARTS who can't find a job after two years. That way Bloomberg can keep all the new teachers teaching in the new schools that he has open up. Like Tilden where all the old Tilden teachers where shipped out of there beloved school where they have been teaching for years, and new teachers have taken their place in the new schools. SO WEAR RED ON FEB. 10 NOT BLUE FOR THE BLOOD OF THE ATRS AND OLDER TEACHERS WHO HAVE LOST THEIR JOBS BECAUSE RANDI GAVE TOLL CONTROL OF THE SCHOOLS TO THE MAYOR!!!!!!!!
And no one should go to the rally on March 5. What the hell are we going there for. To give the Mayor what he wants! More money to keep younger teachers while we try and fire the older ones. We are playing right into Bloombergs hands! Does anyone really think that he is going to let go of all those new younger teachers that he hired to replace senor tenored and more exspenive teachers who say no to pricipals! He does not what the ATRS to go back to the new schools that open up and give them their jobs back. He trying to fire them! This is the break that we have been looking for! If he cuts 15,000 teacher, (which he will never do! These new schools are his new born babies)its like a legal strike. 15,000 teachers don't report for work! How will the schools run? and who looks bad if it happens? Yeah great article. I would have just add one thing to it! How is Boomberg still closing schools and open up new ones when the city has no money to spend! Did anyone out there do a study on how much tax payers money it cost to close a big school and open up several new ones in it place!
Blue Devil!

Anonymous said...

AT my High School last June only 20 of the 200 seniors were going to be able to graduate. So what did the principal Diane Varano do? You guessed it, she changed all the grades. She went back three years on student transcripts and changed failing grades to passing. With PE grades she changed the failing grades to a 9 which is passing with a medical excuse. One student was graduated because her mother came up and made a big scene even though she hardly attended school and all her PE grades were changed. And why did she do this, so that she she could get a new school in the building. She should have been the closing principal at Tilden.
And when the UFT was told about this all they said was, we only deal with teachers. And our UFT Joe Cook did nothing since he is trying to get a position in one of the new mini schools.
If your department failed too many students it did not exist after Sept. 19th. All these closing schools are concerned about is getting these students out at any cost to the student.
The Math A Regents was just given ,did anybody see the grade sheets. A raw score of 31 is passing. A 31 raw score equals a 65 on the curve. A 31 raw score equals 35%. This is a watering down of our educational sysytem. If the students can't pass a test cureve it with a 30 point curve. So don't believe Bloomberg when he keeps saying all the scores are up, its just a myth.

Anonymous said...

What da .....?????

You guys are nuts.

Anonymous said...

Diane Ravitch statements are completely true. The saddest part is that the UFT was the coolaborator for these terrible results in education.

Anonymous said...

Ravitch has potential as a chancellor.