Wake Up New York: Our Schools Are Failing

A school buses idles in front of a school in Manhattan's East Village on January 15, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A school buses idles in front of a school in Manhattan’s East Village on January 15, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) Mario Tama/Getty Images

You could hear the sound of backs being slapped from the Tweed Courthouse—where the NYC Department of Education is housed—to the state capitol. The results from the statewide student proficiency exams in English and math just came in. And it appears, at first glance, that there were improvements in student performance across the state, especially among city children.

But appearances can be misleading. There were asterisks next to the 2016 results warning that the current proficiency numbers could not be compared to previous years’ results. That’s because the current tests were shortened, time limits were eliminated and more than 20 percent of kids opted out—they chose not to take the tests. So, to compare this year’s results with last year’s would have been akin to assessing a child’s ability to ride a bike—with and without training wheels.

Yet the headlines—enthusiastically fed by the education bureaucrats—screamed, “Improvement!” The more accurate announcement should have been, “Two-thirds of all students still not proficient in reading or math!”

The percentage of students who really understand math drops to under 18 percent in math and a shocking 12 percent in English.

The results are even more dismal if one looks a little closer. The proficiency measures include kids who score a 3 or 4 on the exam. Eliminate the “phew-I-got-a-3” and the percentage of students who really understand math drops to under 18 percent in math and a shocking 12 percent in English. And the proficiency rate among black and Hispanic students was about half that of their white peers.

Some 1.1 million students in the third through eighth grades were eligible to take the tests. More than 250,000 chose not to, egged on by the Teachers Union and activist parents to opt-out. On Long Island, almost 50 percent of kids stayed home. The Teachers Union has objected to “high-stakes tests” to be used as a basis for teacher evaluation.

Eager to find good news in the dismal reality that two-thirds of city kids can’t pass basic proficiency tests in either math or English, bureaucrats noted that children in the five boroughs are performing at about the same level as students statewide. That is no consolation. Cheating students of the skills they need to succeed in an ever more competitive world is nothing to be proud of.

There were two other statistics buried in the late-Friday announcement—timing that almost guarantees the story will get minimal coverage. First, there was a statistically significant difference in the performance of charter school students and traditional city-run schools: charter school students far out-performed their regular school peers in both math and English.

Second, as poorly as NYC public school students did, some other large cities like Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester were even worse, with some proficiency rates in the single digits.

What is going on? How can local or state officials be so complacent? How can the Teachers Union officers look at themselves in the mirror every morning without asking, “Why am I perpetuating a system that is failing so many of our children?”

Politicians are quick to point at year-to-year improvements as a way to say “Wait, I see the problem and I’m doing something!” But both Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo know the testing has been rigged and should take no comfort in the dismal performance of far too many children. They are responsible—and accountable.

Wake Up New York: Our Schools Are Failing