Mayors are judged by falling crime rates and increasing student test scores and graduation rates.
The reasons for falling crime rates are complex and controversial, Giuliani boasted of a “broken windows” strategy, Bloomberg pointed to “stop and frisk.” Criminologists and sociologists muse: ComStat, better policing, more cops on the street or maybe Roe v Wade (See the Roe v. Wade arguments here and here)
Donohue-Levitt hypothesis that legalized abortion in the 1970s explains a substantial part of the crime decline in the 1990s …individuals born into poverty in high crime neighborhoods who were likely to commit crimes were never born.
Bloomberg touted higher test scores and graduation rate increases, although the test score claims were widely challenged. Graduation rates did rise and the closing of large dysfunctional high schools and the creation of small schools were responsible. Too many high schools had been floundering for decades, the board of education leadership simply followed a triage model, allowing schools to fail by tracking kids to failing or succeeding schools; Taft in the Bronx and Jefferson in Brooklyn were the dumping grounds. Klein closed the schools beyond the tipping point as well as many schools that were addressing the issues. The creation of hundreds of small schools led to greater personalization, teacher collaboration, and, unfortunately “progressive” policies that verged on inappropriate – “generous” scoring of regents exams and granting of credits for subpar work. The Farina administration continued the same highly questionable practices; until the recent New York Post assault.
Article after article exposed egregious acts, changing grades (‘rescoring”) and the dubious practice called credit recovery – kids who failed subjects received credit for minimal work School principals set passing quotas, complaints were brushed aside by the investigative arm of the department and Sol Stern takes the chancellor to task for a career of “progressive” ideas that, in Stern’s opinion have resulted in ill-prepared students and teachers.
The department has responded by claiming that only .15% of high school students (6,000 out of over 300,000 earned credit through credit recovery) and intends to closely monitor and reduce the number sharply in the future.
The goal of education policy must not be to elect mayors or burnish legacies; the goal is to graduate kids prepared for post-secondary education. High student failure rates are distressing and the blame should be placed at the feet of the electeds and school district and state leaders who established the flawed policies.
There are core questions that must be explored: Are current New York State graduation requirements fair and equitable for all students? Are we asking too much of students, or, are we appropriately preparing them for the cold, cruel future in a rapidly changing economy?
Over the last twenty years the state has made dramatic changes to graduation requirements
In the mid-nineties the regents began the phase-out the local diploma and move to a single regents diploma. The majority of students in the state were settling for a local diploma that did not require any regents exams – the “regents competency test,” the RCT, was at the eighth or ninth grade level. The move to the single regents diploma was highly controversial. The plan was to drop the “passing” grade on all regents to 55 and phase up to 65 over four years – it took ten years to totally phase out the RCT. Along the way the regents changed: the English exam from a two-day six hour exam to a one-day three hour exam, the global regents will move from an exam covering the ninth and tenth grade curriculum to a tenth grade only exam.
The state is beginning to phase in the common core regents exams; the plan is to phase in the exams over eight years with the scores being scaled each year until fully phased in.
As we continue to ratchet up the rigor of the work, basically raising the bar for students, teachers and school leaders, how are we addressing the students who are unable to meet the new, higher standards?
New York State does have the highest standards of any state in the nation.
Most states across the country demonstrated large discrepancies between student proficiency rates as reported by state tests and rates measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” However, New York was one of only two states to achieve proficiency benchmarks that are more rigorous than NAEP
Should we applaud and pat ourselves on the back or should we be concerned with the 25% of students who do not graduate?
Latest state data reports that the six year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 53% – the state graduation for all students is 76%.
Students with disabilities have an Individual Education Plan, an IEP that determines levels of services, perhaps a self-contained class with lower class size, or a class with a paraprofessional, or, guidance services, the student is expected to pass the same regents exams as all other students. In other words the IEP directed services are expected to “cure” the student of the disability.
The Committee on Special Education and the school-based teams that determine levels of services should also determine graduation requirements appropriate to the handicap of the student. The IEP should become the Individual Education and Graduation Plan. Should we assume that students with dyslexia can master the common core Algebra regents? These decisions should be left to the educators who determine the student’s education plan.
Currently there are two choices: a regents diploma or the C-DOS credential. The C-DOS credential is not a diploma – the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential is intended for moderately to severely handicapped students, a small percent of students with disabilities. The modifications to the regents diploma could be attached to the diploma. Currently we condemn a cohort of kids who have passed all of their subjects, and pass some of their regents. The failure to pass regents due to a handicapping condition should not bar a student from a regents diploma.
Additionally English language learners (ESL) only have a graduation rate of 31%; Afro-American male students have distressingly low graduation rates. As we look around the state some schools have graduation rates for ESL students that approach the rates for all students, and, the same holds for Afro-American male students: why are some schools highly successful and others stumbling? The skills of the school leader and teachers? Greater access to funding? Larger numbers of teachers with language skills or minority teachers and school leaders?
Before the state embarks on major changes to graduation requirements, aside from the obvious changes regarding students with disabilities, the state should explore: who are the 25% who fail to graduate, and why do they fail to graduate?
I suspect the large percentage of kids who fail to graduate have dropped out of school; I also suspect we can identify kids most likely to drop out early in their school career.
We could probably provide a school with a list of fourth graders likely to drop out of high school and require the school to intervene and track the success, or lack thereof, of the intervention.
The Cuomo approach: flail teachers and school leaders is asinine. Chase out the “bad” teachers has resulted in discouraging kids from entering teaching.
Let’s allow educators to guide not only the student with disability education plan but also the requirements for graduation and let’s take a deep dive into who is not graduating and why?