Getting Bitten by the Big Apple on Education

Well, Eduflack really stepped into it yesterday.  Writing about the future of NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in an Obama Department of Education, I remarked that NYC has seen improved student achievement during the Klein era, an observation gathered through personal experience, conversation, news coverage, and other third party sources.

Eduwonkette quickly pointed out that the numbers under the Klein regime have not improved, and, in fact, the achievement gap has either frozen or widened during the Klein era.  And I’ll be the first to admit, there are few, Diane Ravitch comes to mind, that know the NYC data like Eduwonkette does.
As I’ve stated, the legend is that NYC is a district on the upswing.  Test scores up.  Achievement gap closing.  Improved engagement.  One reader suggested it is all just good PR, and the results aren’t there.  So I decided to get up in the wee hours this morning, and check out some of the NYC data itself.
My first stop was the NYCDOE itself, and the data it makes available on its website — data that every school district is supposed to make available to the concerned public.  I hate to admit it, but I found very little of use.  What I did find was fairly positive.  For the current year, the four-year graduation rate is at an all-time high — 55.8%.  And the graduation gap has narrowed for both black and Hispanic audiences.
In 2007, NYC’s ELA scores, grades 3-8, rose from 53.2% proficient to 56% proficient or better.  This represented gains in every grade but third grade.  And the percentage of students with serious academic problems significantly declined.
Unfortunately, the math data was a little more troubling for me.  There are bold headlines declaring “Grades 3-8 Math Progress,” but the link has been disabled.  So if there is real math progress, it is being undermined by a technology deficiency.
I recognize some would say a 55.8% grad rate and 56% reading proficiency are hardly data points to trumpet and be proud of.  But improvement is improvement.  If you boost your grade rate from 45% to 55%, that is a start.  You just have to figure out what to do for those remaining 45%.  Gains are gains, even under our current AYP structure.
Unsatisfied with the NYC-provided data, I decided to check in with our California friends out at the Broad Foundation. After all, NYC won the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2007.  It was touted as the top urban district in the nation.  So what data did Broad use to make that determination?  Using 2006 data, Broad found:
* NYC outperformed other schools in the state serving students with similar income levels in reading and math achievement, at all grade levels — elementary, middle, and high school.
* NYC’s African-American and Hispanic students outperformed and showed greater improvement than their peers in other NY schools
* NYC narrowed the African-American and Hispanic achievement gaps in both reading and math for both elementary and high school students
* NYC increased the number of African-American and Hispanic students performing at the most advanced levels
All positive points.  All validated through Broad’s independent research and independent review process.  
So what’s the verdict out there?  Is NYC an education success story?  Is it a complicated game of smoke and mirrors?  Do we simply trust the data made available to the public, or is there more important data we aren’t seeing?  Eduflack may be a native New Yorker, but I’ll yield to those up in the field to set the record straight.  And yes, Eduwonkette, I’ll even provide you the full rostrum here.  No need for just commenting.

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