Did Bloomberg’s Education Policies Lead To Improvements In NYC?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to overhaul the city's schools have increased graduation rates and class sizes while test scores remain largely unchanged, leading to mixed reviews of the mayor's education agenda.

In the last 12 years, New York City's graduation rates are up, but some other indicators of student achievement remain flat or have declined. The city's students are not improving tests scores and gains on the National Assessment of Education Progress test have mostly failed to overtake other cities. In 2013, less than one-third of city kids passed tougher state reading tests, writes Ben Chapman of New York Daily News.

"They threw everything they had at the problem, but the levels of learning are about the same as they were before," said Brooklyn College education Prof. David Bloomfield. "It's amazing how small the improvements are."

The mayor's policies, which resulted in closing some failing schools, placing charters in public school buildings and high-stakes testing, drew a wave of opposition, and those policies are likely to be scaled back by his successor.

In 2001 Bloomberg ran for office on a pledge to make the public schools his greatest priority. He gave himself the nickname the Education Mayor, and he moved the Education Department from Brooklyn to Tweed Courthouse, a grand building next door to City Hall. Within a few months, Bloomberg finalized a deal with the state to gain control of the schools and end the long reign of community school boards.

The move provided Bloomberg the ability that earlier mayors only dreamed of to circumvent the powerful unions and drive change in city classrooms. Bloomberg closed schools with poor results and open hundreds of smaller ones in their place. The new schools, often located in the same buildings as the old ones, routinely outperformed what they replaced on many measures, but not everyone was pleased.

Critics said the tactic disrupted communities and concentrated more poor and minority students in troubled classrooms. "It's driving toward the system of a free market, and schools don't belong in the free market. Schools belong in communities," said education historian Diane Ravitch. "The most successful schools are those that build a culture and a community."

However, proponents said that the new schools were offering parents with better options. Joel Klein, chancellor from 2002 to 2010, said that overall gains made by all student groups were what counted.

"If African-American kids go up five points and white kids go up six points, that widens the achievement gap," said Klein. "But I think that's a much better outcome than if African-American kids go up two points and white kids go up one point, which closes the achievement gap."

In New York City, privately operated, city- and state-funded charter schools currently make up 10% of all schools, with the mayor's policy of giving charters free space in city buildings drew some opposition.

But as the mayor's legacy is determined, education analysts and critics seem to agree that the most dramatic misstep by Bloomberg may have been choosing publishing executive Cathie Black as chancellor in 2011 — an appointment saddled with controversy that lasted just a few months.

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