Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why I Resigned - Diane Ravitch

New York Sun
Why I Resigned

February 15, 2008

A story on Wednesday in the The New York Sun reported that I resigned from the editorial board of Education Next. I resigned because Education Next published a deeply flawed account of Mayor Bloomberg's school reforms. I resigned with regret because I admire Education Next. I have found it to be the most consistently interesting and lively publication about American education currently available.

That is all the more reason why I was surprised to read Peter Meyer's article, "New York City's Education Battles," which is a thinly veiled puff piece for reforms that have been both costly and ineffectual. As a member of the editorial board of Education Next and as someone who has written extensively about education in New York City, I was stunned that I did not see the article until after it was published.
The article treats school reform in New York City as a matter of conflicting opinions, of "he-said, she-said," rather than as a matter of verifiable fact, even when facts are available.

For example, Mr. Meyer says that the New York Times reported "no significant progress in reading and math" between 2003 and 2007 for city students on the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress and "little narrowing of the achievement gap." Mr. Meyer then quotes a hedge fund manager and blogger, Whitney Tilson, who said that the Times' story was "lousy" and that city students actually made gains in three of the four measures.

But the NAEP scores are not a matter of opinion; the facts can be easily checked — google NAEP TUDA 2007 and look at pages 50-51. Anyone who does check will learn quickly that New York City students made no statistically significant gains between 2003 and 2007 in fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading, or eighth-grade math. There were no significant gains for black students, white students, Hispanic students, Asian students, or lower-income students. New York City was the only city (of eleven tested) where eighth-grade reading scores declined for black, Hispanic, and lower-income students, and the achievement gap grew. Only in fourth-grade math did city students make statistically significant gains. If facts matter, Mr. Tilson's opinion is wrong.

Despite these dismal outcomes, writes Mr. Meyer, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein "defended the results." Mr. Klein said they showed "good progress." But at the same time, Mr. Meyer says, the mayor and chancellor were "sobered." Why would they be sobered if they thought the results showed "good progress?" Certainly they were not chastened enough to throw out the failed reading program that they had mandated citywide in 2003 nor did they open an inquiry to find out why eighth-grade students made no significant gains in math.

The two graphs accompanying the article were even more misleading than the text. One shows state and city test scores in math and reading between 2001 and 2007. The text on this graph says, "Both Mayor Bloomberg and his critics seek to prove their points by comparing city and state trends in student test-score performance. Each side picks certain tests and certain points in time to make their claims and counterclaims."

But it is not simply a matter of opinion about when the Bloomberg school reforms began. The state Legislature passed the mayoral control law in June 2002. The mayor and chancellor spent the fall of 2002 considering reform proposals. In January 2003, they announced what they planned to do the following September.

At the very time that they made their announcement, New York City students in fourth and eighth grades were taking state tests. When the scores were released in May (for reading) and October (for math), there was a large jump in the city's fourth-grade scores, with double-digit gains in some of the poorest neighborhoods.

Others were jubilant about the good news, but newspaper reports said Chancellor Klein's reaction was "muted." He knew that these were not his gains since his new programs would not be implemented until September 2003. The graph in the article, however, leaves it up to the reader to decide whether Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein should get credit for the test score increases in the two years from 2001 to 2003, before their programs started.

Another graph shows a closing of the achievement gap between black students in New York City and black students in New York State. This is an irrelevant factoid. The term "achievement gap" invariably refers to score differences between black/Hispanic students on one hand, and white/Asian students on the other. Thus, this graph celebrates the closing of a gap that is of no significance, while ignoring the achievement gap that is of greatest concern.

I admire Mayor Bloomberg but I do not admire what he has done to the public schools. I hope that the state Legislature, when it reconsiders public school governance next year, abolishes the bumbling, tyrannical Department of Education and restores an independent Board of Education, appointed by the mayor.
The school system needs checks and balances. It needs a regular, independent audit of graduation rates and test scores. It needs a leadership in which education decisions are made by educators. Such changes won't solve all of our schools' problems, but they will end the pointless turmoil of the past five years, provide honest information about academic progress, and reestablish the role of the public in public education.

Ms. Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University, is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution. She also is the author of "The Great School Wars," a history of New York City's public schools.

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