In its loftiest Orwellian doublespeak, the Wall Street Journal of July 18th informs us that the number of New York Students who scored proficiency level on state-wide standardized English tests has jumped from 52.8% to 55%. In New York City, the number of students who achieved proficiency in English has leaped from 43.9% to 46.9%. In other words, the news that only slightly more than half the 436,000 students taking the test throughout the state passed it, and that the majority of students taking the test in NYC flunked it - is headlined in the WSJ as “Student Test Scores Jump in New York.” These students would have to be olympic pole vaulters to make this “jump” anything but shocking, shameful and totally discouraging. If the staggering sum of 18.82 billion dollars that gets funneled into the Department of Education’s annual budget can’t bring most students to a passing grade, why do we continue to fund it? Though a better headline might be “New York City Jumps Ship As It Closes Rotting Dept of Education,” Mayor Bloomberg congratulated Chancellor Denis Walcott with the salvo of “a wonderful accomplishment,” a line that would surely have elicited a smile from that great, dead satirist, Jonathan Swift.
In behavior consistent with the parody of educational achievement, the parents and educators are disturbed less by the failure of the students to perform than with the growing length of the exam and the fact that these scores will be used as a significant part of teacher evaluations. Judging by these scores, what needs to be radically lengthened is the number of hours and days that students attend school and the number of hours and days that educators and administrators should spend revising whatever pedagogical approach has led us to this disaster - without being paid overtime. There are no real surprises here. Students are failing upwards as they continue to be promoted regardless of their capacity to work at grade level. English as a Second Language has been nothing more than a holding cell for students, preventing them from being immersed in a language which they might learn within six months, as foreign students have proven in Israel utilizing the ulpan method of learning Hebrew and as our immigrant forbears managed to do when they came to NYC at the beginning of the last century. In those days, progress was measured not by the increasing numbers of translators available for every immigrant child to understand the test material in his/her native language but by the ability of foreign and native students to comprehend, speak and write just one language - English.
Until we return to that primal function of the elementary and middle school system, most of the activity that takes place inside the classroom is a sham. Students have no chance of success in school or society without mastering English - their ability to succeed in every other subject is dependent upon that pre-requisite. While the mayor continues to dissemble about the great job that the Chancellor and Department of Education are doing, I propose that to go along with this charade, we make one small change in nomenclature so that from now on, the Department of Education will more accurately be titled the Department of Day Care. Its efficacy should be measured strictly by attendance and not by the expensive pretense of testing for academic progress under its auspices. To return to the jumping metaphor, if you needed to save your life by jumping across a chasm, would you feel confident about your odds knowing that 46.9% of jumpers previously made it across?
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