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Educating for Democracy: The Graduation 'Numbers Game'

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A recent article in The New York Times (2/8) reveals that according to a report by the New York State Department of Education, only 23 percent of New York City students graduated "ready for college or careers in 2009." Bad as that news seems to be, that figure doesn't include the considerable number of "special-education" students in which case the "college ready" percentage would be even lower. This should come as no surprise to the proponents of Mayor Bloomberg's "school reform."

When faced with the threat of school closings, loss of jobs and other penalties to schools whose problems have far less to do with "poor teaching" than "poor families" and "poor support" for needed resources by the Department of Education, it should be obvious that teachers and administrators will do anything they can to "push through" as many under-educated students as possible to "improve" graduation rates. One such abused practice is "credit recovery," a way of watering down graduation requirements by accepting dubious writing and other "assignments" as equivalent to passing Regents exams.

And as recently reported in Ed Notes, Regents exams graders are "scrubbing" their scores by manipulating the numbers to turn failed exams into passing ones in order to increase graduation rates.

Of course, if the "school reform" mania reaches higher education, as seems to be likely, then the next step in the destruction of public education will be to tie funding to college graduation rates through standardized curricula and testing. The results will be a dumbing down of college-level requirements in order to "goose up the numbers."

This phenomenon of debasing a standard of excellence by measuring it for rewards and punishments is known as "Campbell's Law":

"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

"Campbell's Law" has been quoted in the past numerous times as a sound reason for objecting to "test stats" which do nothing more than to provide an excuse for the Mayor and Chancellor to continue with a policy that is both pointless and destructive to public education. And yet they continue to ignore their own data that prove the failures of this policy with the persistence of an adolescent who thinks that everyone will believe he can fly off the roof of his high school because he's dressed like Superman.

Still, the Mayor and Chancellor Black can take comfort that dismal as these numbers are, they are still far better than the college-ready rate in Syracuse -- 17 percent and Rochester -- 5 percent, according to The New York Times article originally cited. Yet it is only when the "education deformers" who are continuing to move in the opposite direction of true school reform realize that unless the "whole child" is addressed in examining the reasons for poor learning: poverty, dysfunctional families, unsafe neighborhoods, inadequate health care, poor nutrition, the high school "graduation rates" will continue to climb as harried teachers and supervisors are made more desperate to play the "numbers game."