Bloomberg’s Disgrace

This week, New York State released graduation and college readiness statistics, data which was announced with much fanfare in New York City. The city saw graduation rates reach a new record high, with 65% of students graduating (this number includes August graduates, which the state does not count). Unsurprisingly, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott lauded the data and took much credit for the increase. Although some criticism has arisen due to the much lower (22%) rate of college readiness–assessed primarily by Regents exam scores–the reception in the media and around the city has generally been positive.

Bloomberg also highlighted the achievement of black and Hispanic students in the city, with 61% and 58% graduating on time, respectively. Compare this with white and Asian students, who graduated at rates of 78% and 82% respectively. By this measure, it would seem that the much-talked about “achievement gap” has shrunk under Bloomberg’s reign. Indeed, these numbers paint a relatively rosy picture of the performance of racial minorities in the city, good news for all.

Now let’s look at types of diplomas: here, unfortunately, the racial achievement gap remains. In NY state, students can earn a local, Regents, or Advanced Regents diploma (easiest to most difficult). In the city, 14% of Hispanic and 13% of Black students graduated with the local diploma–which will no longer count in 2011–compared to 9% of white students. More strikingly, 32% of white students earned an advanced diploma, compared to 8% on average for minority students.

Only 22% of city students leave high school “college ready” by the state’s measure, and the vast majority of these are white and Asian students. Minorities remain at the bottom of the barrel, barely graduating when they do, while huge proportions still fail to complete high school. One interesting part of this story is where the college-ready grads come from: over half of the students meeting this benchmark come from 20 high schools, including Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, LaGuardia, and Francis Lewis–all schools which serve disproportionately few students of color. At Stuyvesant, often regarded as the top high school in the city, only 7 black students were admitted in 2011, out of over 950 total.

In fact, under Mayor Bloomberg the racial achievement gap has remained steady or possibly even grown. Despite the mayor’s assertion that “We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever,” as he said in 2009, the gap appears to have remained stagnant in real terms. The data used to support such claims prior to 2010 was based on flawed state tests that had been getting easier and easier. After the state called in psychometric experts and rejiggered the tests, the achievement gap reared its ugly head again, calling out this administration for its failure to serve minority students. Using this more reliable data, the achievement gap widened in the city.

Many smart commentators have written about the disgraceful achievement gap in NYC schools, but this isn’t even the disgrace I refer to in the title. Over the past several years, leaders of NYC’s school reform movement have done little but trumpet the supposed gains made since Bloomberg took control of the schools and hired Joel Klein as Chancellor. Nationwide, observers took notice of the progress the city seemed to have made. Yet on the NAEP, the most reliable exam to judge progress, NYC made no more progress than other urban districts, and the achievement gap stagnated.

What is most disgraceful is the credit-claiming that has gone on unabated, despite the altered information. The data clearly suggests a reversal on the achievement gap, with action required to remedy the situation, but instead we hear only brags from Emperor Bloomberg.

Education is about learning how to check for bias and evaluate a situation objectively. On this front, and many others, the Mayor needs to go back to school.

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