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Queens Chronicle

Give Bloomberg credit for school reform, improvement

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Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:34 am, Thu Dec 26, 2013.

Mayor Bloomberg is all about statistics when it comes to making a point. And nowhere is that more obvious than in his evaluation of his own performance as mayor on the education front.

High school graduation rates are up 42 percent since 2005, with 66 percent of students, an all-time high, finishing in four years in 2012, he’ll tell you. Among black students, the four-year rate is 59.8 percent, compared to 40.1 percent in 2005, and among Hispanics, it’s 57.4 percent vs. 37.4 percent.

The dropout rate has been cut almost in half, from 22 percent in 2005 to 11.4 percent in 2012. Violent crime in schools is down 55 percent. The percentage of students earning Regents diplomas has more than doubled, from 30 percent to 61.5 percent. So has city spending on education, from $5.9 billion to $13.7 billion. More than 650 new schools, including 175 innovative charters, have been created. And so on, and so on, and so on.

As with many things, the mayor’s right for the most part but seems oblivious to the downsides of his policies. City students are doing far better since he won control of the school system in 2002, but reform has caused massive disruption and public angst, especially in the very neighborhoods it’s designed to benefit the most, which is a shame.

Take the case of Jamaica High School, which is being phased out and replaced with several smaller schools of the kind the mayor has created all over the city. The first thing Jamaica students and teachers noticed as phaseout began in 2010 was the “tale of two schools” it entailed. Advanced placement classes such as AP government and AP Spanish were cut. Science classes were reduced, robotics and engineering gone. While students in the new schools got the latest in technology, those stuck in the old JHS lost even their music classes. Just imagine entering your senior year after previously excelling in high school and having to explain to a college admissions officer that you stopped taking language and music classes because they were simply cut.

Several other Queens schools on the mayor’s chopping block survived only because the teachers union fought their closure in court. But the process didn’t exactly create a stable environment for the students. Those at Flushing High School, for example, ended the 2011-12 academic year thinking their institution was closing, only to see it survive into the September, only to see it become a target of the administration’s latest school co-location plan.

In the case of the school shutdowns that create a second class of students, we saw the teachers union’s point. On the other hand, we side with the administration when it comes to allowing charter schools to flourish, as they are important incubators for new ideas and demonstrate that public schools unencumbered by union work rules can do a better job serving students than some traditional schools. Charters are the vanguard of the national education reform movement, and Bloomberg is to be commended for encouraging them, even if his decisions on where to locate some have been lacking.

Any massive reform effort will entail some failures, such as the administration’s loss in the school closure lawsuit and, most embarrassing of all, the brief, stumbling moment of Cathie Black’s appointment as chancellor. And we agree that standardized test scores are not the only way to measure success. But overall, the mayor has made significant, positive reforms to the school system, ones that have shown some benefit already and will show more in years to come, as long as they are not reversed under a future administration. We’d give Bloomberg an A-minus. Not too shabby.

Welcome to the discussion.