With much fanfare and little scrutiny, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina praised the miniscule increases the City students achieved on the 2013 State tests and have proclaimed that 100% of the NYC school children will be passing the State tests. However, when one takes into account the lower cut scores and the large "opt out" cohort, any real academic progress is simply "smoke and mirrors". The politicians can crow all they want about imaginary academic gains but the truth is that these supposed gains are illusionary. Moreover, the unacceptably wide racial/income academic achievement gap has not improved and this is shown by the analysis done for the 4th grade citywide. According to the report, the top schools are predominately made up of students that come from the surrounding diverse middle class neighborhoods or are screened, while the worst preforming schools are in neighborhoods of deep poverty and nearly 100% Black and Hispanic.
The question is how can we improve the academic ability of the New York City school students? There are ways. However, the new Mayor and his disappointing Chancellor has done little to take strides in that direction. For example, despite the Mayor's pledge to reduce class size, the opposite happened, class sizes have actually increased once again for the elementary and middle schools. Numerous studies have shown that class size has a significant effect on classroom learning and the City has the largest class sizes in New York State. Until class size is reduced significantly, don't expect any academic improvement.
Another issue, is the lack of "quality teachers" in the classroom. The new administration has continued the destructive "fair student funding" policy that encourages principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their schools. Since 50% of these teachers will leave the profession in five years and over 80% from the school they started at, few will ever become a "quality teacher" for the school that hired them. Moreover, the steep learning curve "newbie teachers" experience makes their students guinea pigs until the teacher has demonstrated good pedagogy skills and gets tenure three years later, if their the lucky 60%. A seven year study showed how difficult it was for struggling schools to attract effective teachers. Even the offer of $20,000 extra for a two year commitment met with few takers. How does the DOE expect to attract teachers to struggling schools for a measly $5,000? The answer is they don't. Combined with a hostile and stressful classroom environment, is it any wonder that retention is a problem? High teacher turnover and poor academic achievement in these struggling schools go hand in hand.
Shockingly, Chancellor Carmen Farina froze already tight school budgets at 2013 levels and that is 14% less than in the 2007-08 school year. She unwisely kept the money sucking and useless "Children First Networks" and worst of all, the Chancellor has made the demonetization of the 2,000+ ATRs part of the new contract, meaning that the DOE will waste money and talent by having high priced "babysitters" rotating weekly from school to school.
Finally, under the new Chancellor, the failed policies of the Bloomberg Administration are still evident and many of his architects are still in control of Tweed. Rather than "clean house" she has kept many of them in place and the classroom environment is still as hostile as ever with loads of paperwork, Leadership Academy Principals" and inadequate school resources a norm.
What needs to change to make real academic progress? Lower class sizes, the elimination of "fair student funding" with all staff salaries coming out of DOE Central like it used to be. Downsizing and folding the Children First Networks into the Superintendent's Office, with the savings going back to the schools for resources and the placing of ATRs back into the classroom with the 160 million dollar annual savings being used for hiring of more teachers which will lower the average class sizes, especially in deep poverty neighborhood schools.
Mark my words, without the usual academic tricks any real academic progress will be illusionary and will; not result in the narrowing of the racial/income academic achievement gap.