It was perhaps fitting that the Mayor of New York most associated with education reform stayed in office just long enough to see an entire grade of students move through the entirety of the school system from first grade to 12th.
When Michael Bloomberg first took office in January of 2002, the students scheduled to graduate high school in June of 2013 were just taking their first, tentative steps in their academic journey. Now, City Limits Magazine profiles some members of the Class of 2013 — who are sometimes dubbed “Bloomberg’s Babies” — who ended up being the first to feel the impact of the reforms introduced by the “education mayor” in his effort to change the landscape of urban education.
Of the first batch of changes introduced shortly after Bloomberg put Chancellor Joel Klein in charge of the New York City Department of Education, it was probably the standardized testing that made the greatest impact on the Class of 2013. The standardized exams, mandatory for students in grades 3 through 8, were put into place in the first few years after Klein took office.
Today, these teens are also the first crop to have encountered DOE’s policy prohibiting social promotion – that long-critiqued but widely practiced policy of passing of students up the grades, whether or not sufficient academic progress had been made. They are the first to go to schools that have been graded for performance – and shuttered for “failure” or inadequate gains. They are the first generation to be rewarded financially, in some districts, for taking advanced-level work, like AP classes in high schools – and the first to see those incentives removed, when the experts who’d pushed for the practice discovered it didn’t work.
Shane Thompson, a Crown Heights, Brooklyn teenager who at 17 is in his last year at the High School of Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow, felt the impact of one Bloomberg reform drive in a very personal way. Thompson spent his whole academic career in and around Crown Heights schools as he followed his dream of becoming an airplane designer. When the time came for choosing a high school, he applied – using the city’s rather confusing and occasionally impenetrable matching process – to Transit Tech High School, which was located a good 90-minute commute away in East New York.
When the atmosphere at the school proved a poor fit, Thompson attempted to transfer out. New York City students have the option to transfer in their sophomore year, but transfer opportunities during 9th grade are limited, in part because Bloomberg’s overhaul included shutting down “zoned” high schools all over the city. The initiative included Wingate High School in Crown Heights, which might have accepted Thompson “over the counter.” He was stuck in Transit Tech for the whole of 9th year, and, as a result, he was behind the curve when he finally obtained a transfer to HSPS one year later.
But he recovered — even while struggling to make up the work, Thompson found that HSPS was the school for him.
“I love it here,” he said in September. “Everyone’s in a nice mood. The teachers here are friendly and down to earth; they’re really here to help us when we have a problem.” Shane appreciated one teacher’s patience with a missed deadline – and the school’s practice of requiring “mastery” projects to demonstrate knowledge of specific subject areas, like the presentation he gave last year in Spanish. “I was really nervous, but I got up and it just flowed,” he said. “I got a perfect score, 100 percent,” still basking in the moment.
It’s hard to figure out what might have been if Thompson never had a chance to transfer at all or if he had been allowed to transfer earlier. However, he does credit the atmosphere of HSPS – including the personalized attention made possible by the smaller student body – for putting him where he is now: studying for the SATs and filling out college applications. The next set of hurdles he will have to overcome will be in part financial as he’s not sure he’ll be able to afford to attend Penn State or Syracuse like he hopes, and in part it will be readiness. Although under Bloomberg’s watch the high school graduation rates have risen, too large a percentage of graduating seniors will still require remediation in order to perform well in college.