Bloomberg and the Achievement Gap
August 4th, 2011
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement earlier today of a major initiative to help young black and Latino men today, includes a big focus on education. Few would debate the wisdom of that.
Bloomberg has long patted himself on the back for narrowing the gap in academic achievement between the city’s white and Asian students on one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. Today Chancellor Dennis Walcott sounded the theme. “We’ve come a long way in improving achievement for black and Latino young men, helping to narrow the racial gaps in state exams and graduation rates,” he said.
But as Bloomberg basks in praise (and some almost fawning press coverage) for tackling a truly tough issue, his record on ending education disparities is — to put it charitably – mixed.
The mayor noted the city had narrowed the gap in high school graduation rates between the races. And the evidence backs that up. But in myriad other areas — test scores, admission to elite high schools, admission to gifted and talented elementary programs, suspensions — the gap has remained essentially the same or widened under the Bloomberg regime.
Let’s looks at the numbers – after the jump.
High school graduation rates: The figures compiled by the state and released by the city show an increase in graduation rates among all groups during the Bloomberg years. While 46.5 percent of all students graduated in four years in 2005, in 2010 almost two thirds – 65.1 percent – did. Black and Latino students remain less likely to graduate than their white and Asian counterparts, but the gap between groups has narrowed over the past five years: from a 23.89 percentage point difference between blacks and white in 2005 to a 17.6 point gap in 2010.
Certainly some dispute how meaningful this figure — and a New York City high school diploma — is. They note, for example, that about three quarters of students entering City University of New York community colleges last fall needed remedial work in at least one key area. Slicing and dicing various numbers, education expert Aaron Pallas, a frequent Bloomberg critic, has calculated that of black and Latin students who entered ninth grade in 2006 and graduated, only 12 percent were considered ready for college, according to state measurement.
An investigation, reported yesterday in Gotham Schools, into possible abuse of the so-called credit recovery system, which allows students to make up credits, could cast doubt on some of the graduation gains in doubt. The school in question – A. Phillip Randolph High School – reported an increase in its graduation rate of nearly 30 points.
The state is set to release data on the use of credit recovery as early as next month. “The data, which will show how widespread the use of credit recovery is, could challenge the credibility of the higher graduation rates that have taken place during the Bloomberg administration,” Gotham Schools wrote.
Standardized tests: For years -– most notably in 2009 when the mayor ran for re-election — Bloomberg and his then schools chancellor, Joel Klein, trumpeted the narrowing gap — and increase scores overall – on the state standardized reading and math tests for third through eighth graders. But then last year, everything changed.
The state, in response to rising concerns about alleged dumbing down of tests, recalibrated the scoring system. That reopened the gap, sending it back to its levels in 2003 –- before the Bloomberg/Klein reforms had taken place.
“Almost all of the progress that has supposedly been made since 2003 in the achievement gap has been wiped out by this new re-scaling of the tests,” Megan Hester of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform told NY1.
As the administration released test scores last year, we found that in 2003, 73.3 percent of white fourth graders and 46.3 percent of black fourth graders met state standards according to the tests, for a gap of 26.9 point. Last year, the gap rose to 31.7 percent. (The 2011 test scores have not been released.) The gap for Hispanics increased, too, though only slightly.
High school admissions: The number of black and Latino eighth and ninth graders admitted to the city’s academically elite high school has continued to decline. This year, blacks accounted for only 5 percent and Latinos only 6 percent of those offered a place in one of the city’s so-called specialized high schools that admit students based on their scores on one exam given in the fall. At the most selective school –Stuyvesant – the figures were even lower: 1.2 percent for blacks and 1.3 percent for Latinos. This even though 23 percent of the students who took the exam were black and 21 percent Latino. (Together blacks and Latinos account for more than 70 percent of city public school students.)
The city has expanded the number of specialized high schools but at the three older ones that use the test — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech — black and Latino enrollments has been on the decrease since the mid 1990s. In, 1994-95, for example, blacks accounted for 37.3 percent of Brooklyn Tech students. In 2008-2009, that number had fallen to 13 percent.
At the other end of the academic scale, the Independent Budget Office found that the student bodies at the “failing” school the administration moved to shut this year were 52 percent black and only 3 percent white, compared to 31 percent and 14 percent respectively for all city schools. (There was no significant difference for Latino students.)
Kindergarten admissions: The gap shows up early. This year 11 percent of all students admitted to gifted and talented kindergarten programs were black, down from 15 per cent just a year earlier. Latino youngsters accounted for 12 percent both years.
The Department of Education changed the system for admitting children to the programs in 2008, in response to charges the old admissions process led to favoritism and little racial diversity. The city now relies on a test. That critics say allows wealthier families to game the system by hiring tutors and sending four-year-old to test prep classes.
A 2008 New York Times analaysis found that while blacks accounted for 24 percent of students in gifted programs, their percentage would fall to 13 percent under the Department of Education’s new criteria.
None of this means the mayor’s focus and funding for programs aimed at reducing racial disparities does not deserve praise. It does mean, though, that after nine and a half years of Bloomberg, we also need to look at the record, not just the spin.By Gail Robinson on August 4, 2011, 3:34 pm
In category: City Hall, Civil Rights, Demographics, Education | 3 Comments »