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Bloomberg and Klein Fail the Test

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In 2008, brimming with pride and boasting of success, New York City Mayor Michael "Moneybags" Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel "Clueless" Klein testified at a congressional hearing that they had found the "magic bullet" that would improve the academic performance of inner city minority youth. They claimed, "Over the past six years, we've done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap" between White and Asian students and Black and Latino students and "in some cases, we've reduced it by half."

In 2009, while running for reelection on his record of supposed success in improving education in the city, Bloomberg trumpeted, "We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever." As proof, Bloomberg presented test scores that showed seventy percent of the city's students were meeting state standards.

For this supposed miracle, Moneybags and Clueless were praised by President Bush as champions of his No Child Left Behind initiative and the city received a prestigious award in urban education from the Eli Broad Foundation.

Unfortunately, the old maxim, "If it appears too good to be true, it's because it is too good to be true," once again proved to be accurate. When New York State reconfigured scoring guidelines to make standardized tests better predictors of student academic performance, passing rates plummeted, especially for Black and Latino students. On some tests passing rates dropped by 25% and the performance gap between Blacks and Latinos and Whites and Asians climbed significantly higher. The racial achievement gap is now at the same level as it was when the Bloomberg/Klein team took control over the city's school system in 2002.

In the elementary and middle schools, only 40% of the Black and 46% of the Hispanic students met state math standards. Meanwhile 75% of the Whites and 82% of the Asian students passed. In English, roughly a third of the Black and Latino students are proficient readers, compared to 64% of the White and Asian students.

The new larger racial performance gap actually mirrors what the National Assessment of Educational Progress has been telling us for more than a decade. The performance gap never decreased on the 8th grade math test or the high school math SAT. Student improvement on state tests was either illusory or fraudulent.

What the new test scores show is that the entire Bloomberg/Klein reform plan is fraudulent. They have been closing "failing" schools, blaming teachers and the union, creating designer theme and charter schools, and moving children around the city in the name of school choice. While middle class largely Asian and White students may have benefited, for working class and poor minority families the only choice is between one inadequate test prep academy and another.

Test scores went up incrementally for Black and Latino children because students in the test prep academies were constantly prepared for the exams instead of really being educated. Scores went up modestly, but enough students did better so the city could claim the percentage of Black and Latino students passing the tests, not doing well, just passing the tests, had risen significantly and the racial gap had disappeared. But once the state reconfigured the scoring guidelines, and borderline scores became failures, it became clear that the miraculous improvement was all smoke and mirrors. It was really just a pretense to justify moving children from middle class families into designer schools while segregating lower performing working class and poor Black and Latino youth into the test prep academies.

In an interview with The New York Times, Joel "Clueless" Klein remained "unbowed." He still felt "awfully good" about the Department of Education's performance under his tenure and denied having claimed in the past that the city had performed miracles. Klein promised to continue the same strategy Bloomberg and he had been following for the past decade with such "outstanding" results.

This means that Moneybags and Clueless will continue to send middle class kids from all racial and ethnic groups to designer high performing small theme or charter schools while squeezing working class and poor minority youth into test prep academies where administrators beat on and blame teachers until test scores rise incrementally. After all, Moneybags and Clueless have fooled a president, prestigious foundations, and voters in two reelection campaigns, so there is no reason to change anything.

Unfortunately the Obama/Duncan "Race to the Top" is premised on the same assumptions and strategies as the New York City "miracle" and they are just as unlikely as Bloomberg and Klein to admit that student academic performance will not significantly improve until conditions in inner city neighborhoods and for inner city families gets much better. Maybe they need a simple spelling test. The answer to improving education is spelling J-O-B-S.