|The Mission of the Manhattan Institute is
foster greater economic choice and
By Raymond Domanico
The most basic indicators of the performance of New York City's public school system have remained unchanged in recent years.
That finding, in the Manhattan Institute's annual review of the city schools, is bad news for the city's students and parents - and it provides the clearest reason for radically altering the way in which the system is governed and for giving the mayor complete control of the school system.
The data included in our report, State of the City Schools, provide a snapshot of the school system's performance prior to the budget cuts necessitated by the city's economic downturn and the events of September, 2001.
* Though the system is preparing for budget cuts for next school year, it was actually spending 25 percent more per pupil in 2000-2001 than it was in 1996-97.
* Despite these increases, the percentage of students who were able to earn a high school diploma in four years was a scant 45.6 percent, barely above 1997's level of 45 percent.
* The percentage of students who were able to earn a diploma within seven years of entering high school was an appalling 59.7 percent in 2000, essentially the same level as in 1997.
Other indicators of the school system's success were mixed:
* Those students who are graduating are having more success with the Regent's examinations, and more of them are earning Regents diplomas than was the case five years ago.
* Elementary and middle school reading scores are up only slightly, but only 40 percent of the students are passing these tests.
* Math scores are not improving, and only 34 percent of students were able to pass these tests.
These numbers present a bleak picture, and they represent the diminished opportunities for tens of thousands of New York City's young people, who are simply not acquiring the skills that they will need to participate in the promise of America. The city's public schools are not improving, by any measure.
Given that so much in the city did improve from the early 1990s to 2001, it is clear that the Board of Education has lost its moral authority to retain control over the public school system. Too many futures have been sacrificed and too many children mis-educated for anyone to reasonably argue in favor of maintaining the current system.
Can we be certain that mayoral control will improve the graduation rate or the test scores of students? Of course not; there are no guarantees in this business.
We can be sure, however, that the system is not going to change itself, and that abolishing the Board of Ed offers us the hope of breaking a culture that protects jobs at the expense of children.
Abolition of the Board of Education will bring the schools one step closer to the people they are supposed to serve, and put the city's highest ranking official on the line for the system's performance.
Under the current system, the board's prime role has been to shift blame for the failings of the school system.
When budgets are tight, they blame City Hall for the low performance of the schools. When money has flowed freely, they often argued that the chancellor's programs needed another year to take hold. When that didn't happen, they blamed the chancellor, and the whole miserable cycle started all over again.
We've watched three mayors and five chancellors come and go in the past 15 years or so, and not one of them has been able to honestly say, "This is the best I can do for the students." All of these people have been men of good will and talent, yet the system they tried to lead was designed to limit their impact and to resist change.
The cost of shielding the schools from political accountability has been felt most acutely by Black and Latino students, whose school completion rates are forty percent lower than that of White and Asian students. It has also been borne more heavily by young males, whose completion rate is 20 percent lower than that of young women.
It is borne by all families in the neighborhoods that are only now beginning to pull themselves up after decades of despair and neglect. Crime is way down in these communities; vacant lots have been filled with new houses and new hope; but the city's almost 100 "Schools Under Registration Review" continue to thwart the dreams of young families and young people.
It is time to end this charade. Give the mayor the control he seeks. Allow him to manage this system and allow the voters to hold him accountable for the results.
Let our highest elected official put the needs of the students on a higher footing than the labor contracts of the system's employees or let him answer to the voters. No Board of Education has ever, or will ever do that.
And that is why we have the dismal results that we do.
Raymond Domanico is senior education adviser for the Metro-NY Industrial Areas Foundation.
©2002 New York Post
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