Home > Uncategorized > NY Mayor de Blasio Frames the Debate for Public Education in the Future

NY Mayor de Blasio Frames the Debate for Public Education in the Future

December 19, 2020

The headline for this blog post is not an overstatement: in his penultimate year as Mayor of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made a bold decision that will not only frame the use of standardized tests as the major issue for the forthcoming election of his successor, but also frame the national debate on the use of standardized tests as the primary metric for schooling in general.

In reporting on this decision, NYTimes writer Eliza Shapiro notes how deeply rooted the use of standardized testing is in the DNA of city schools… and how that use plays out in determining the demographics of it’s “selective” secondary schools:

New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions requirementsthan any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.

While a lot of the reporting on the Mayor’s decision will focus on the high schools, the real shift is happening at the middle school level where screening will be eliminated entirely. This will have an impact that will reverberate all the way through the system, as these paragraphs imply:

Middle schools will see the most significant policy revisions. The city will eliminate all admissions screening for the schools for at least one year, the mayor said. About 200 middle schools — 40 percent of the total — use metrics like grades, attendance and test scores to determine which students should be admitted. Now those schools will use a random lottery to admit students.

In doing this, Mr. de Blasio is essentially piloting an experiment that, if deemed successful, could permanently end the city’s academically selective middle schools, which tend to be much whiter than the district overall.

And… in doing this he will be eliminating the pressure that students entering ALL levels of schooling feel when their parents are riveted on admissions to “selective” middle schools. When the “selective middle schools” examine the report cards of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students with the same level of scrutiny as “selective” colleges examine the report cards of high school students it changes the entire focus of teaching and learning… and when test scores are emphasized even MORE than grades— which is the practical reality— it skews teaching and learning even more.

The most important point in Ms. Shapiro’s article is a political one: in announcing the timeline for rolling out the new plan for abandoning middle school selectivity and abandoning the reliance of test results for high school screening, Mr. de Blasio made certain that his decision would be a focal point of the forthcoming election for his successor:

The time frame for a final decision on whether to get rid of middle school screening for good — which will come shortly before Mr. de Blasio leaves office on New Year’s Day in 2022 — instantly created a quandary for the phalanx of candidates vying to replace him.

The candidates are likely to be pressed on whether they would resume what has been a particularly contentious practice: measuring the academic achievements of fourth graders to determine if they can attend a selective middle school.

It took several months for the Mayor to get the response to the pandemic right… and several years and a pandemic for him to untether the “selective” admissions policies from test results and focus on diversity… but I think he has done 90% of what he could do and for that deserves he deserves credit. In the coming months, as candidates for mayor weigh in on de Blasio’s decisions, I expect the debates on New York City’s schools to b in that national spotlight, especially as President-elect Biden’s choice to replace Betsy DeVos struggles with the role test scores dominate the debate on school quality.

And here’s the REAL bottom line. Like Mayor de Blasio, Governors and colleges and universities across the country face a dilemma when it comes to their reliance on standardized tests. If it is impossible to administer tests that yield meaningful results because of the wide variance in educational opportunity created by the remote instruction required by the pandemic, what can be used instead? But as readers of this blog realize, the pandemic did not create this inequity of opportunity— it only shined a light on it…. and the pandemic didn’t create the flawed use of standardized testing— it only shined a light on it. And now that the dirty secret of inequity and the misuse of standardized tests is out in the open, what will we do about it? That debate is not limited to NYC— it is one that the Biden administration should tackle.

%d bloggers like this: