Stop the Presses!*

Another front-page story in the New York Times this morning is sure to stoke the Gotham education fires.  “Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in New York City Schools” makes it pretty clear that the recent goal line adjustment made by New York State’s new education Commissioner David Steiner did not affect all groups equally.  The story leads with some juicy quotes of Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasting to Congress and others of great progress closing the racial achievement gap – then proceeds to burst the Mayor’s bubble.

The State Education Department recalibrated the scoring of the tests this year, raising the number of correct answers needed to pass and saying that the previous standards were not accurate measures of what students needed to know at each grade level. When that happened, the passing rates of white and Asian students dropped a little, but those of black and Hispanic students plummeted.

Since there were many more blacks and Hispanics who just made proficiency under the old rules, they felt the pain of the change more than whites and Asians.

(This is all vaguely familiar. In a front-page story in the Times in November of 2007, the paper reported “no significant progress in reading and math” and “little narrowing of the achievement gap” on the NAEP.)

Our Mr. Petrilli sums up this year’s news quite nicely.  “The [Bloomberg] claims were based on some bad information,” he told the Times. “On achievement, the story in New York City is of some modest progress, but not the miracle that the mayor and the chancellor would like to claim.”

In the story I reported for Education Next in 2008, there is surely plenty of bluster from Mayor Mike and his former trust-busting chancellor Joel Klein – an image reinforced by a vivid cover illustration of the mayor, bedecked in shining armor with shield and sword, standing atop the city’s refurbished Department of Education building — and there is no doubt that Bloomberg and Klein will have to eat a bit of crow.

But they’ve done that before.  And the public relations battle is just that.  The good news is that, in large part because of NCLB and the accountability measures that federal law has encouraged at all levels of school reform – not to mention the dogged efforts of Diane Ravitch and Sol Stern to keep Bloomberg and Klein on their toes —  these arguments are smarter and more refined – and, yes, despite public relations – more transparent.

*Credit to Whitney Tilson here.

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