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30 Sep 2006 - 22:19
Well, well, well. What do you know? The fabulous reading scores that sent Mayor Bloomberg sailing back into office were a one-shot deal. Something told me that was going to happen.
Last year, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein announced the results of the state and city reading tests in a press conference at a Bronx elementary school, Public School 33. In this ancient building they announced that a great miracle had taken place. While scores rose in every elementary school grade citywide, nowhere did they rise more than in this virtually all-minority school, where nearly every child is so poor that he qualifies for free lunch. This was an event of significance, taking place as the campaign for Mr. Bloomberg's re-election was heating up. The announcement of the "historic gains" in reading scores was so powerful, that for all intents and purposes, it removed education as an issue that could be pursued by the mayor's Democratic opponents. P.S. 33's remarkable scores last year became the symbol of the success of the mayor's Children First initiative. The percentage of children reading at grade level in the third grade rose by 13.9%, to 47.9% from 34%; in the fifth grade rose by 30.5%, to 85% from 54.5%, and in the fourth grade rose by an astounding 46.7%, to 83.4% from 36.7%. It is unlikely that the mayor or Mr. Klein will return to P.S. 33 this year. That is because this school has now become a symbol of the reality of Children First, not really reform but rather a massive, unprecedented public relations effort with no real achievement behind it. Virtually all the gains of the previous year at P.S. 33 have been wiped out, according to the latest test scores released this past week. While third-grade scores in the school rose by a respectable 4.8%, the results in the fourth and fifth grades were disastrous. Nearly 36% fewer fourth-grade students passed this year than last, while in fifth grade the pass rate plummeted to 41.9% from 85%. So much for miracles. [snip] If one examines results from the last testing prior to the establishment of the mayor's Children First program, the exams taken in the spring of 2003, P.S. 33 children performed better than they did this year. In 2003, over all three grades, 50.5% of children were on grade level, a figure that has now declined to 47.1%. Beginning with the first testing after the institution of the mayor and chancellor's [ constructivist ] program in reading in 2004, scores have increased citywide by 6.4%. Since the current testing program began in 1999, about 25% more children are reading at grade level, most of the increases coming during what we're told was the "old, failed system."
middle school slump strikes again
The short-term improvement is welcome, but prospective employers and institutions of higher learning are not interested in fourth-grade scores. [snip] A pattern of improved scores in the elementary grades and declining performance in the middle grades cuts across all schools, public, private, parochial and even charter schools.While the overall results are better in schools where children come from privileged backgrounds, the decline is still evident.The results released last week in New York state gave this well-known trend new emphasis as this was the first time the state administered tests in each of grades three through eight.
The Knowledge Deficit
What is it about American schools that is breeding this culture of decline and failure? I agree with the noted educational theorist E.D. Hirsch Jr., who points to the removal of content learning from our nation's schools, beginning in the earliest grades. It is one thing to be able to decode simple reading passages, such as those on fourth-grade tests that speak of general things like making friends and playing in the park. By eighth grade, these passages are more complex, requiring contextual knowledge to be fully understood. New York City public schools, like most in America, have removed structured textbook learning in history, geography, science, music, and art in favor of large "literacy" blocs, where the reading of fiction greatly predominates. Learning is achieved in small groups working on "projects," rather than as a whole class under the direction of a teacher. [snip] That is why history will not remember Mayor Bloomberg as the "Education Mayor." Rather he and Chancellor Klein will be recalled as the ultimate public relations spin doctors, trying and ultimately failing to camouflage yet another decade of educational failure. The Spin Doctors ($)
Neoprogressive educators believe that reading and writing are skills, or, alternatively, tools. To the neoprogressive way of thinking, reading tools and writing tools are like a hammer. You can hit anything with a hammer, a nail, a board, your thumb. Take your pick. The tool theory of reading and writing, which I've always believed, too, turns out to be completely wrong. Reading is nothing like a hammer. Decoding, maybe. Decoding letters on the page might be like a hammer. But reading a book or an article and understanding it is nothing like a hammer. Ditto for writing. Professional writers turn out to be "obsessive" readers, and their obsessive reading turns out to be about amassing huge bodies of domain knowledge in the subjects about which they write.* I didn't know! I thought writing was prose style, structure, clarity, and the occasional paradigm tweaking, didn't-see-it-coming analogy. I was wrong. Good writing is all of those things, but when you look at what professionals writers actually do you see that they spend many waking hours acquiring more content or rehearsing and reworking the old content they already had. Professional writers are a lot like Cliff Claven. They know stuff.
Still mulling what this means for writing instruction. Suffice it to say, however, that tossing subject matter classes like social studies and science overboard to spend many hours drilling disadvantaged children in reading strategies is a very bad idea.
The Knowledge Deficit
Brian Lehrer Show on NYC scores 2005
stupid mayor trick
Thank you, whole language
guess and check reading
stupid mayor trick part 3: the good news
The Spin Doctors reading scores 2006
City's Fourth-grade Test Scores Rise More Than the State Average 2005
National Reading Panel (official website)
The Partnership for Reading
(govt website: "bringing scientific evidence to learning")
National Reading Panel report full text (pdf file)
invention of middle school & EM in Schaumberg
Is middle school bad for kids?
linking hs scores to grade school
fourth grade slump
NY scores slump
* "Professional Writing Expertise" by Ronald T. Kellogg
in Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance
-- CatherineJohnson - 30 Sep 2006 Back to main page.
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"tossing subject matter classes like *social studies*" Itself the bastard stepchild of what were once known as History, Geography, and Civics. -- OldGrouch - 01 Oct 2006
We called it "Social Studies" even as far back as my 4th grade class in 1973-74. My parents took "Civics" in the 1940s. Not sure when the name "Civics" fell out of disfavor. We did, however, take "History" and "Geography" in junior high and high school in the mid-1970s thru early 1980s. -- GoogleMaster - 02 Oct 2006
Itself the bastard stepchild of what were once known as History, Geography, and Civics I know! It's pretty bad when your meatiest subject has already been way watered down & now even that's getting the ax -- CatherineJohnson - 04 Oct 2006