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StudentsFirstNY Weekly Education News Roundup: August 5-9, 2013

In this week's education news: everything you need to know about the New York State's Common Core test results, where NYC's charter school power really resides, a UFT school-choice lawsuit is driven by politics and NYC charter schools receive state grant money.

Low Test Scores Present Opportunity for Honest Assessment
New York Post // August 8, 2013

Last spring, all third through eighth graders in New York State took a new test called the Common Core. On Wednesday, the state released the sobering data. According to the New York Post, 7 in 10 students statewide failed to pass the new testing standard, and 8 in 10 minority students failing to pass.

In an editorial, the New York Post argues that these new test scores are not a setback. The real problem was allowing New York State students to be held at such a low standard before today:

"Now there's no hiding the failures. And that's a good thing. Because there's no way we can raise standards until we have an accurate measure in place.

"It's a good thing we're no longer letting our students get by with tests that show they are learning when they aren't. But it won't get better until we start insisting on the same for our political class — by not letting them get away with pretend solutions that leave the rotten status quo intact."

NYC Mayoral Candidates Should Not Blame Bloomberg for Test Score Drop
The New York Times // August 7, 2013

The sharp drop in test scores on the Common Core gave NYC's mayoral candidates new ways to criticize the efforts that Mayor Bloomberg has made to reform the City's schools. According to The New York Times, such criticism is misguided for several reasons:

The new scores were bound to be controversial in New York City thanks to the mayoral race. Some candidates are trying to curry favor with the teachers' union, which is taking a scorched-earth approach to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's educational policies.

Some candidates are looking for ways to blame Mr. Bloomberg for the drop in scores, even though the tests are overseen and managed by the state, and even though the city experienced less of a decline in scores than the state as a whole.

NYC Mayoral Candidates Offer Few Ideas for Education
The New York Times // August 8, 2013

After the Common Core test results were released, the NYC mayoral candidates were nearly universal in their critique of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's education policies and the drive to implement higher testing standards. But in an article, The New York Times noted that the candidates have not articulated their plans for the City's public and charter schools:

"The state test scores provided easy political fodder, but they also served as a reminder that many of the candidates have yet to articulate far-reaching visions for the city’s schools, which serve 1.1 million children."

NYC Students Lead the Way With Better Test Scores
New York Daily News // August 8, 2013

Across New York State, students largely failed to meet the new standards set out by the Common Core. New York City students fared no better overall - 30 percent of students were deemed proficient in math and 26 percent were proficient at English. The numbers are worse for minorities.

But by and large, New York City students are performing better than their peer school districts. According to the New York Daily News, New York City performed much better than students from all the other large school districts in the state:

"The math passage rate throughout the five boroughs was three times Buffalo's; our English passage rate, more than double. Rochester and Syracuse lagged still further behind.

"Finally, high-performing district and charter schools prove city kids, even low-income, minority city kids, can excel."

A Wide Range of Reactions to New York State Test Scores
GothamSchools // August 8, 2013

Following yesterday's release of state test scores for New York, education advocates, mayoral candidates, and more began to weigh in. While test scores dropped, including in New York City, most agreed the higher standards will help students succeed in the long run.

GothamSchools compiled a summary of the reactions, including one from Nathalie Elivert, StudentsFirstNY's director of educator outreach:

If we aspire to provide children with a meaningful public education that will expand their range of opportunities, we must invest our energy in an honest dialogue about what these results mean, one that is not about scoring political points. The possibility presented, in this moment, will be squandered if we approach the assessment of standards based learning with fear and accusation.

NYC's Real School Power Does Not Reside in Mayor's Office
New York Post // August 9, 2013

NYC's next mayor will oversee the Department of Education and has control of appointees within the department. But in terms of control over charter school expansion, two departments within the Department of Education are in control, the New York Post reports:

"The Office of Space Planning is akin to a surveying team that finds unused or underutilized buildings — now estimated at 200,000 seats. The Department of Portfolio, by contrast, assigns the space."

"In the weeks between now and November, our candidates for mayor will each be asked many things about education: about their plans for new contracts with the unions, about the Common Core standards, about teacher evaluations and so on.

"All worthy questions. But the one that will tell us what we need to know about a candidate’s commitment to school reform is this one: Who will you appoint to head the offices that control space for new charters?"

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Says to Keep Test Scores in Perspective
SchoolBook // August 7, 2013

While student scores on New York state tests are dropping, officials are urging parents and educators to keep them in perspective. SchoolBook reports on the comments of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan:

"In a conference call with New York State Education Commissioner John King, Duncan said New York is leading the country by adopting more challenging math and reading standards known as the Common Core. He said many states had fooled people into believing students were doing better than they really were by using tests that were too easy.

"'What's the goal here? Is the goal to look good on paper or to help students be successful?' he asked. 'I think the only way you improve is to tell the truth, and sometimes that's a brutal truth, but to have a very honest conversation and then to move from there.'"

NY Times Editorial: UFT Anti-School Choice Lawsuit Is "Political"
The New York Times // August 5, 2013

According to a New York Times editorial, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to close failing schools, open new ones, and expand charter schools, have improved education in poor communities throughout the city.

The Times notes that while this expansion of school choice has helped NYC students, the United Federation of Teachers has recently filed a lawsuit attempting to stop a plan that will open new schools or expand existing ones:

The suit's underlying point seems political: to send a clear warning to Mr. Bloomberg's successor that the union wants a new set of policies. Mr. Bloomberg rightly believes that shutting down failing schools and expanding the highest-performing charter schools are critical elements in any broader school reform. The union believes that things have gone too fast, and means to press the point.

NYC Charter Schools to Receive State Grant for Partnerships with Public Schools
New York Daily News // August 5, 2013

A state grant of $4.5 million will enable NYC charter schools to share best practices with traditional public schools. The New York Daily News reports on the new initiative:

"'We should all work together, because we all have the same goals,' said Bronx Charter School for Excellence leader Charlene Reid, who is collaborating with educators at nearby Public School 85. More than 86% of students at Reid's school passed state reading exams in 2012, compared with just over 20% of students who met literacy standards at PS 85."

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