It seems that when the press needs to find a negative voice about New York City schools, you have become a pundit of choice. Your writings often echo the same themes. I agree that our record of progress is not without setbacks and I’m all for balanced reporting, but your persistently one-sided perspective and refusal to recognize the improved outcomes of students during the past six years is over the top.
Consider what we’ve accomplished in the six years since Mayor Bloomberg won control of the school system:
- Our students are making substantial, consistent progress in both math and reading. Since the start of the administration, the percentage of students in grades 3-8 meeting or exceeding standards in math has risen 37 percentage points. In reading, we’ve seen an 18.3 point gain. And we have been steadily closing the gap with the rest of the state – an indicator that controls for any fluctuations in the difficulty of the tests from year to year. In 4th grade, the gap separating the City from the rest of the State has narrowed 18 points in math and 8.4 points in reading since 2002. In 8th grade, the gap has narrowed 11.7 points in math and 2.7 points in reading.
- We are narrowing the racial achievement gap. Since 2002, the gap between African American students and their White peers has narrowed 12.5 percentage points in math and 6.4 percentage points in reading. The gap between Hispanic students and their White peers has narrowed 13.2 points in math and 3.8 points in reading.
- New York City’s graduation rate has risen 9 percentage points between 2002 and 2006 (the most recent year reported) and 6 percentage points between 2004 and 2006, whether you use the City’s or the State’s method of calculating it. By contrast, the graduation rate rose just one-tenth of one percentage point in the entire decade before 2002.
- We have created the most sophisticated accountability system in the country. Every school received a letter grade (A-F) this year based heavily on the progress of individual students from year to year. At the same time, we’ve empowered principals with the authority they need to help their students succeed. We’ve also given them the resources they need by redirecting millions of dollars from the bureaucracy to schools and creating a fairer, more transparent method of school funding.
- We’ve created new educational options for students. By the start of the 2008-09 school year, we will have opened 284 small schools and 78 charter schools during the course of this administration. Those schools are soaring.
- We’ve raised teacher salaries by 43% since 2002 and created innovative incentive programs to help us attract and retain excellent teachers, including one that will reward teachers whose schools meet student achievement targets.
- New York City won the 2007 Broad Prize for Urban Education, the nation’s most prestigious education prize. According to the Broad Foundation, New York City is a “model of successful urban district school reform.”
To be sure, the gradient – while steeply up – experiences an occasional plateau. We are not making progress in 8th grade reading at the same rate as we are for younger students. You point, correctly, to evidence of that on the most recent NAEP. But here’s what you don’t report about the NAEP:
· The percentage of New York City 4th graders scoring at or above basic has risen 12 percentage points in math since 2003. Our 4th graders are now just 2 percentage points behind the national average in math.
· Our African American 4th graders have made even more impressive gains: 14 points in math since 2003 and 14 percentage points in reading since 2002. They are achieving at higher levels than their peers in large central cities and the nation as a whole, and they are first in reading and second in math among their peers in large urban districts.
· Because of a state change in testing requirements, the number of 4th grade ELLs taking the NAEP nearly doubled between test administrations. Normalizing for that change, reading scores increased.
· While the NAEP is important evidence of progress, it is not “high stakes,” not based on state standards, and given to a comparatively small sample. At minimum, the significance of the NAEP needs to be considered in the larger context of state tests, which are high-stakes and are taken by all.
You frequently argue that the Mayor and Chancellor should not be given credit for the growth in achievement in their first year. To the contrary, they instituted important changes during that year. Obviously what happened in the past affected the results, just as our work will affect the results of the next chancellor, but that first year was on our watch. Had scores gone down, can there be any doubt that you would have attributed the decline to the Mayor and Chancellor? Moreover, our progress remains striking even if you measure from 2003. Indeed, the Broad Prize was based on our performance between 2003 and 2006, and the pace of our improvement has continued since then.
Finally – and I have to admit, this is my personal favorite – last month the State announced record gains for NYC and very strong gains across the state. By virtually every measure, this was a strong year for New York’s schools. Your response? The results are too good to be believed (a point you will need to take up with Commissioner Mills and the psychometricians who validated the test to confirm its year-to-year reliability).
Our schools today are at an entirely different level than they were in 2002. Achievement is way up, tens of thousands of students are on track to graduate who wouldn’t have been six years ago, and we have put in place a body or reforms that will continue the progress. This is a record that should give any objective education reformer a reason to smile.