The Home Front

Bloomberg vs. de Blasio on NYC Public Education

The New York Post has been covering a troubled elementary school in Queens, PS 106. The first story was published on Sunday, with a follow-up yesterday and an editorial today

The stories focus on the horrible conditions at the school while the school’s principal, Marcella Sills, is paid a $125,000+ salary and is seen frequently in fur coats and in a BMW. 

Here’s an excerpt from the Post’s editorial today hitting de Blasio for wanting to end Bloomberg’s policy of closing down allegedly failing schools like PS 106:

Bill de Blasio and Carmen Farina: Meet the test of your education policy.

It’s called PS 106 in Far Rockaway. And as The Post’s Susan Edelman laid out in horrific detail Sunday, it’s one of this city’s failure factories. So the question is: What do the mayor and his new schools chancellor intend to do about it?

Mike Bloomberg’s education policy wasn’t perfect, or PS 106 wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks as long as it did. But Bloomberg was pretty clear about what he wanted to do with failing schools: He wanted to close them down.

In sharp contrast, de Blasio campaigned hard against that policy, and presumably his new schools chancellor agrees.

So we’re eager to see what this means for PS 106. On Sunday, The Post characterized it as a “school of no”: no Common Core textbooks, no gym or art classes, no real library, no nurse’s office, no special-ed teachers, no substitute teachers. One parent says kindergartners sit in “dilapidated trailers that reek of animal urine.” And sources told The Post that the principal, Marcella Sills, is a frequent no-show.

But here’s the problem: PS 106 was not failing. Far from it, actually. That is, if you believe in the Bloomberg policy that gave letter grades to the schools. PS 106 was rated an A in 2011 and a B in 2012:

Maybe PS 106 “fell through the cracks” as the Post claims, but if that’s the case, PS 106 fell through the cracks for the very reason Bill de Blasio said a school like PS 106 would fall through the cracks. Here’s a NYT article from November explaining the de Blasio position:

Mr. de Blasio has denounced the letter grades, which were introduced in 2007, as blunt instruments that do not convey a nuanced portrait of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said on Wednesday that letter grades offered “little real insight to parents and are not a reliable indicator of how schools are actually performing.”

I have some experience with this as my son attended a public school in Harlem for three years before I moved to Florida. The grading system that Bloomberg uses is inherently flawed, and the parents I knew never felt the grade ever gave a true picture of the school. Here’s a summary of the Bloomberg system, from that same NYT piece: 

Mr. Bloomberg took the idea of grading schools to a new level, inviting data experts to design a model that did not penalize schools with high populations of disadvantaged students, in the hope that they could be judged more fairly against affluent schools.

The result was one of the most complex grading systems in the country, which compared schools serving similar student populations and focused on how much progress students made each year on exams — not just their overall performance.

To sum that up, you have schools that are graded an “A,” but all that really means is that they’re the best of the worst schools in the city. That’s worthless information to a parent, and it obscures schools that, even if they are improving, are still failing their students.

De Blasio’s educational policies might prove to be a disaster, but the Post should spend some time focusing on what Mayor Bloomberg did wrong during his tenure rather than simply make this a de Blasio vs. Bloomberg policy fight.