Progress report on mayoral control in NYC

Mayoral control in New York City is hitting some bumps in the road. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein regularly trumpet their "historic gains" in test scores. They say that since the mayor gained control, scores have gone up by 12 percent in reading and 19 percent in math. It turns out, however, that the New York City Department of Education has vastly inflated its gains by adding in the year that preceded implementation of the mayor's reforms in September 2003. A review of the New York State Department of Education website reveals that, in fact, there have been no historic gains.

Over three years of testing since the mayor's reforms were installed, reading scores for 4th grade students are up by 6.4 percent, or 2.1 percent per year (meaning that an additional 2.1 percent of students in that grade are meeting state standards each year). In math, instead of a gain of 19 percent, as the mayor's office claims, the actual gain over three years is only 4.2 percent (or 1.3 percent a year).

Normally, school leaders would be happy to have steady gains, but these are not "historic gains." The big gains of 2002-2003 (6 percent in reading and nearly 15 percent in math) were the culmination of improvements launched by Chancellor Rudy Crew (now in Miami) and Deputy Chancellor Judith Rizzo (now at the Hunt Institute in North Carolina), and sustained by Chancellor Harold O. Levy (now at Kaplan Learning). Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein had nothing to do with the test scores posted in May 2003 and October 2003. The stories in the press at that time make clear that they reacted not with jubilation but with a certain disdain, knowing that a very high benchmark had been set for them to meet or exceed. It is now clear that they simply absorbed that high benchmark as part of their own portfolio.

This week, the New York City Department of Education is busy negotiating with the New York State Department of Education about graduation rates. For some time, Mayor Bloomberg has boasted that the city's graduation rate has risen to 58 percent for the class of 2005. Meanwhile, the State Education Department reports that the same cohort has a graduation rate of 43.5 percent. The two agencies are now trying to arrive at a common formula for calculating and reporting the rate.

More trouble surfaced on March 14-15 when a survey was released by the highly respected Quinnipiac University Polling Institute that had good news for Mayor Bloomberg and bad news for Chancellor Klein. The poll showed that 73 percent of New York City voters approve of Mayor Bloomberg. It also showed that only 33 percent approve of Chancellor Klein and 43 percent expressed their disapproval of him.

By a 58 to 31 percent margin, said the survey, voters want the schools to be controlled by an independent board of education, not the mayor. Only 19 percent of voters citywide are satisfied with the public schools; 64 percent are dissatisfied.

Chancellor Klein gets a resounding vote of no-confidence in this survey. The strongest disapproval rating--52 percent--is registered by parents of public school students.

Nearly five years into mayoral control, the public is not satisfied with its public schools. They don't trust the Department of Education. They want an independent Board of Education. This is an unfolding story, but it will surely dampen the editorial boards' unbridled embrace of mayoral control. 

You, too, can check out the New York State website to see the data for yourself. Remember that mayoral control began in mid-2002, the mayor's reform agenda was announced in January 2003, and the literacy program (balanced literacy and the Lucy Calkins "workshop model") was installed in September 2003; the math program (Everyday Math) was phased in over two years, starting in September 2003.

Grade 4 English; Grade 8 English; Grade 4 mathematics; Grade 8 mathematics

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