Attack on public education hurts test scores

The results have come in for a New York statewide test aligned with the Common Core, a new and more “rigorous” standard for grades 3 through 8. They were abysmal.

Fewer than a third of the students who took the test this past April passed. Last year, the passing rate for a different statewide test was two-thirds.

By 2015, similar tests are scheduled in the 44 states that have adopted the Common Core.

The achievement gaps remained: according to the State Education Department, “Only 16.1 percent of African-American students and 17.7 percent of Hispanic students” passed the test.

The gap is even more striking when you look at the figures for individual districts. Hempstead, a small district on Long Island that is almost totally Black and Latino/a, had a pass rate of under 10 percent. Garden City, a wealthy, nearly all-white school district that abuts Hempstead to the north and is about the same size, had a pass rate of over 60 percent. (SED report)

This disparity points to how education is financed in New York: from taxes on local real estate. A wealthy town with high-priced homes, like Garden City, has more to spend on education than neighboring Hempstead. And the parents have money for private tutoring if needed.

Compared to last year, the percentage of students in New York City scoring “proficient” on English dropped from 47 percent to 26 percent, while those scoring proficient on math dropped from 60 percent to 30 percent. Nearly half the families in the city use a language other than English at home.

Statewide, large city school districts — Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and New York — had an English proficiency average of 10 percent and a math proficiency average of 9 percent.

Since the Reagan era, the drive to privatize public school systems in the United States — cutting public spending while increasing private profits — has involved promoting high-stake testing, national standards and charter schools, while attacking teachers’ unions that make the connection between their members’ working conditions and the conditions under which their students have to learn.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 63 percent of all public school teachers are union members, the highest rate of unionization of any major employment group in the U.S.

A bunch of educational bigshots — Dennis Walcott, chancellor of the NYC schools; John King, commissioner of the State Education Department; Joel Klein, former chancellor; Arne Duncan, Obama’s secretary of education — say this failure rate is a big step forward and will propel the students who failed it to study harder and get ready for college.

Of course, they all claim that these results will not be used to evaluate teachers or schools. At least, not yet.

As a New York University historian of education, Diane Ravitch, points out in her blog (dianeravitch.net), “Common Core has never been subject to trial or field-testing anywhere. No one knows whether it predicts or measures readiness for college or careers. No one can explain why all 8-year-old students in America should be tested to see if they are on a path for college.”

Under state rules, Ravitch points out, New York City is obliged to provide “academic intervention services” for students who failed, which “will take money away from the arts, physical education, foreign languages, history, civics and other essential subjects.”

There is another question beyond the validity of the test itself and the value of high-stakes testing in general. How did the charter schools, those supposed beacons of enlightened education, do on this test?

Gary Rubinstein, a master mathematics teacher from Houston, subjects the data from the State Education Department to some preliminary analysis on his blog. Using simple statistical tools called scatter plots, he graphically demonstrates that almost all the charter schools in New York City did worse on the test than the public schools.

Rubinstein shows that “just 23 percent of charter students scored proficient in language arts, compared with 31 percent in public schools overall.” Out of the 500 schools he analyzed, which included 35 charter schools, 22 of these mostly for-profit schools — about two-thirds — were among the 100 schools where scores declined the most from 2012 to 2013.

Rubinstein points to the fact that “the most stunning example is the famed Harlem Village Academy, which had 100 percent passing in 2012, but only 21 percent passing in 2013, for a 79 percent drop.”

Education is a human right. All workers need good public schools for their children — not only for the skills they impart but to understand the society they live in. But education in the U.S. is delivered in a racist and classist way that deprives the 99% of what they need. n