Do the Math

New York City’s public-school students have once again demonstrated that given the proper tools and instruction, they are as capable of good work as any more privileged suburban student.

According to the State Education Department, some 65.1 percent of the city’s public-school students in grades three to eight demonstrated proficiency in a statewide mathematics exam. Last year, 57 percent achieved proficiency, so the 2007 figure marked a sizeable and noteworthy increase.

Overall, some 72.7 percent of students statewide achieved proficiency, up from 65.8 percent in 2006. Much of the increase statewide can be attributed to the work of New York City’s students.

New York clearly is doing something right. In Connecticut, for example, reading and math scores have gone down over the last several years. Just the reverse is happening in New York, and a lot of that is the result of rising scores in New York City.

Obviously, the city’s students deserve the lion’s share of the credit. They’re the ones who are prepping for the tests and excelling under the pressure. And scores show that New York is managing to narrow the achievement gap—that is, the gap between scores for white students and scores for black and Hispanic students. That is no small accomplishment, for the achievement gap has frustrated and puzzled many suburban districts in New Jersey and on Long Island. Moreover, math is a crucial skill in the modern economy. Improved math scores are vital for any student wishing to compete in the 21st century.

Ultimately, these test results help not just the students, but the city as a whole. The sorry state of the city’s public schools, combined with the exorbitant cost of private school, forced many families to flee to the suburbs, where a good and free public education was a given. Now, with city schools making serious gains, that allure is fading.

What’s more, some schools with predominately minority populations are outperforming even the wealthiest public schools in the area. For example, at the Harlem Village Academy, a charter school in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, 96 percent of seventh graders passed a recent standardized math test, compared with 69 percent in Upper East Side public schools, 67 percent in wealthy Douglaston, Queens, and 56 percent in solidly middle-class Staten Island.

Exciting things are taking place in New York City’s public schools. From improved instruction to innovations like charter schools, the city’s one million public-school students are getting a taste of the education they deserve. The city isn’t quite there yet, and now is hardly the time to relax. Nevertheless, public education clearly is getting better, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is consistently proving he’s the right man for the job.

How much of the math-score surge can be attributed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s direct control over the schools? State education officials aren’t ready to concede that claim. But those who wish to put an end to Mayoral control when it comes up for possible renewal in 2009 will have to make some pretty interesting arguments if they wish to return to the bad old days of top-heavy bureaucracy and unaccountable administrators.

After decades of accepting low scores by the city’s schoolchildren and thereby abandoning them to a life of poverty and strife, we are finally raising expectations and beginning to meet them. Do the Math