Looking back

On WNYC, chancellor defends city's presentation of test scores

Possibly taking a cue from today’s New York Times editorial, Chancellor Joel Klein took to the airwaves today to try and explain the drop in scores.

On WNYC, host Brian Lehrer asked Klein when he knew that the state math and reading tests had become too easy and why he continued to trumpet the yearly score increases. Klein defended the way the city discussed test scores, saying the mayor began calling for tougher standards in 2006. He added that whenever the city called press conferences to announce the test scores, “we always put it in context.”

Anyone who sat through those announcements likely remembers that over time, Klein began to emphasize comparisons of the city’s scores to the rest of the state’s scores, rather than focus on the proficiency rates alone. But unlike state officials, he did not caution parents that their children’s scores were inflated.

Last year, while Mayor Bloomberg told the New York Times “It’s time for a celebration,” State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was full of warning. At the time she said:

“While on the face of things scores may be going up, a system where proficiency means you have at best even odds of not graduating, and will probably need remedial education, this is not a victory that we are defining in New York State.”

The following is a snippet of Klein’s exchange with Lehrer:

Lehrer: But then were you making claims of success based on the previous numbers, 69 percent, 82 percent, knowing on some level that they were a sham?

Klein: No but what we did time and again, Brian, is always compare New York City to the rest of the state and to other big cities.  So we always said, whether the tests got harder or easier, and there were arguments all over the place, we always said two things: that compared to everyone else New York City’s progress was indisputable.

If you look at the overall scores, if you look at the number of kids who are performing well in New York compared to other cities and the rest of the state. Second thing we said though is we need to raise them. We don’t set those benchmarks and the state does, but when we say under federal law and under state law that a certain number of kids are proficient, I think we are allowed to report that in good faith. By the same token, we were out there early saying raise the bar and the question becomes inevitably why did other people wait the time they waited.

Lehrer: In good faith you could trumpet the scores that you thought were less than 100 percent meaningful? Did you?  I don’t know. Did you have news conferences in 2009 saying, “Hey look we got 82 percent on the math passing?”

Klein: We did, but we always put it in context. You never saw us say…because this argument are the state tests too easy, are they too hard… And we were very clear about this: look at our gains compared to other large cities that are comparable to us in New York and compared at the rest of the state.

The chancellor also claimed that the city had closed the graduation gap — the disparity between black and Hispanic students’ graduation rate versus that of white and Asian students.

“We’ve closed the achievement gap with respect to graduation rates,” he said.

Perhaps the chancellor meant to say “closing” rather than “closed.” At best, the city’s graduation gap has slightly narrowed. In 2005, an average of 39 percent of black and Hispanic students were graduating from high school, compared to 65 percent of whites and Asians, a gap of 26 percentage points. Now the gap is 22 points.

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money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”