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Thread: Bloomberg vs. Board of Ed

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    Default Bloomberg vs. Board of Ed

    March 16, 2004

    Bloomberg Wins on School Tests After Firing Foes
    By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN

    The city's Panel for Educational Policy yesterday approved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan to impose strict promotion requirements for third graders, but only after the mayor and the Staten Island borough president fired and replaced three members just before the vote.

    Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced the changes to the panel, the successor to the Board of Education, at the start of a meeting last night at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But word of the dismissals had already spread, and he had to struggle to be heard over the jeers of a seething crowd.

    With three new members in place, the panel voted 8 to 5 to approve the mayor's policy. One of the mayor's appointees cast his yes vote by videoconference from Tokyo.

    "This is what mayoral control is all about," Mr. Bloomberg said last night. "In the olden days, we had a board that was answerable to nobody. And the Legislature said it was just not working, and they gave the mayor control. Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much. They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things that I believe in."

    For Mr. Bloomberg, who prides himself on delegating authority, it was an extraordinary display of unvarnished mayoral power, and by far the most muscular use of his control over the city school system, the nation's largest. But while he could claim victory last night, the wider implications were impossible to predict, both for future education policy and his own political fortunes.

    Under the state law that gave Mr. Bloomberg control of the schools in 2002, the mayor appoints 8 of the 13 panel members. The five borough presidents each name one member. They can be removed at any time by the official who appointed them.

    Mr. Bloomberg said he had amended his policy based on comments from panel members, but would not tolerate them voting against him.

    Although Mr. Klein said they had resigned, the three panel members said in interviews that they had been tersely dismissed and had intended to vote against the mayor's plan.

    The panel had been viewed as little more than a rubber stamp of the mayor's policies. But his plan to hold back students based on standardized test scores met stiff opposition, and seemed headed for defeat.

    Under the plan, students who score in Level 1, the lowest of four rankings, on next month's citywide English and math tests, will be forced to repeat third grade unless they score at Level 2 after summer school or their teachers successfully file an appeal on their behalf.

    City officials have estimated that the new policy could force as many as 15,000 of the current 74,000 third graders, or about one in five children, to repeat the grade — four times as many as have been left back in recent years based on teacher and principal discretion.

    Mr. Bloomberg announced the plan, intended to end the practice called "social promotion," as a centerpiece of his State of the City speech in January. "This year, for third graders, we're putting an end to the discredited practice of social promotion," the mayor declared. "We're not just saying it this time. This time, we're going to do it."

    A rejection of the mayor's plan would have been a devastating blow, especially after a week of embarrassing episodes stemming from the hiring of Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam's husband without the proper conflict-of-interest clearance and a subsequent cover-up effort.

    But the mayor's brash decision to remove panel members and stack the vote in his favor angered parents, elected officials and union leaders.

    As Mr. Klein introduced the new panel members, the audience mocked him, chanting: "This is social promotion. This is social promotion."

    Robin Brown, president of United Parents Associations, a citywide coalition of PTA's, said she was outraged. "I am disgusted," she said. " Politics first. Children last. It's just a clear indication of how bad this policy is when you'll do anything to get the vote. Corruption. Nepotism at its worst. This is one of the reasons we never supported mayoral control."

    Randi Weingarten, the teachers' union president, said that the mayor's actions should prompt the Legislature to rethink the school governance law. "It calls out for changes in the state law, because this is an abuse of process," she said. "To be able to do what is similar to the Watergate Saturday night massacre on a Monday night, it does call for changes to the state law."

    Predictably, the dismissals prompted an immediate drawing of swords by Mr. Bloomberg's political opponents, including Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president and a likely mayoral challenger, who attended the meeting last night.

    "I have always believed that we should have independence in a board that discusses issues of this magnitude," Mr. Ferrer said.

    Several panel members opposed to the mayor's policy said they were most concerned about its reliance on a single test score to force automatic retention of third graders. In many cases, the citywide reading and math tests given in April are the first major standardized exams that these children take.

    Critics, supported by a wide body of national research, say that large-scale retention programs are expensive and in many cases ineffective. They also say that the policies most heavily affect black and Hispanic children, who often lag behind their white and Asian counterparts in academic achievement as measured by standardized tests.

    Both mayoral appointees removed are of Hispanic origin: Susana Torruella Leval, director emeritus of El Museo del Barrio; and Ramona Hernandez, director of the Dominican Studies Institute at the City University of New York. The removed Staten Island representative was Joan McKeever-Thomas, a parent.

    In their place, Mr. Bloomberg appointed Tino Hernandez, the chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, and Alan D. Aviles, the general counsel of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. The Staten Island borough president, James P. Molinaro, named Joan Correale, who owns a bridal accessories business, as his new representative.

    Dr. Hernandez said that she had planned to vote against the mayor's plan because she objected to the use of the test scores to force retention. But she said she received a hand-delivered letter yesterday afternoon informing her that she was terminated immediately.

    "I have not presented a resignation," she said. "I have the letter in my bag." She said that she had still not absorbed the developments. "I am in shock," she said. "They tell you these kinds of things happen in the Dominican Republic."

    The dismissals and last night's vote capped four frenzied days in which city education officials scrambled to win support for the plan by revising crucial details, particularly related to the appeals process. Even yesterday, just hours before the vote, Education Department officials were still tinkering with the wording of the resolution.

    Officials also made arrangements for one of the mayor's appointees, David C. Chang, the president of Polytechnic University, to vote by videoconference from Japan, where he is traveling on business.

    But late yesterday officials concluded that even with Mr. Chang's participation, Mr. Bloomberg's plan was very likely headed for defeat, one administration official said.

    The Manhattan, Bronx and Queens representatives had all said they planned to vote against the mayor. One mayoral appointee who had raised serious doubts about the plan was Augusta Souza Kappner, the president of Bank Street College of Education, one of the nation's premier graduate schools for teaching and the most prominent professional educator on the panel.

    And over the weekend, the chancellor effectively rejected a compromise proposal put forward by the Brooklyn representative, Martine G. Guerrier, making her support unlikely.

    Dr. Kappner was the only mayoral appointee to vote against the plan last night. A motion by Natalie Gomez-Velez, the Bronx representative, to set aside the motion, was voted down last night. Also rejected was a motion by Ms. Guerrier to amend the plan to delay its being put fully into place.

    Ms. McKeever-Thomas said she had hoped the panel would put off voting on the proposal for a month, given all the recent changes made by the chancellor's office. "I was going to vote no," Ms. McKeever-Thomas said yesterday. "I was going to ask to table it for a month."

    But then she got a voice mail from Mr. Molinaro, the borough president, telling her that she was fired.

    As Mr. Klein entered the auditorium last night, his top aide, Matthew Onek, rushed to remove some of the name-plates of the ousted panel members. The new Staten Island representative scrawled her name on a folded piece of looseleaf paper that quickly fell out of sight.

    Mr. Klein opened the meeting by announcing the changes. "There are three panelists who today have resigned," he began. But the chancellor was cut off by Councilwoman Margarita López, who shouted loudly from the audience: "They have not resigned. They have been removed."

    Later, when Mr. Klein sought to move to a vote, by closing the public comments portion of the meeting, he was shouted down again. "We want democracy, not this hypocrisy," the audience yelled. Mr. Klein allowed the public comments to proceed.

    The abruptness of the changes was obvious at every turn. As Mr. Hernandez, one of the new mayoral appointees, arrived, he was stopped by Elisa Mandell, the chancellor's liaison to the panel, who has been working with the panel members on the retention policy for months. Ms. Mandell introduced herself to him for the first time.

    Ms. Gomez-Velez, the Bronx representative on the panel, was near tears as she reacted to the day's events. "I'm very upset," she said. "This is not something that we should be teaching our kids about democracy." Of her dismissed colleagues, she said, "All of them had the best interests of children at heart."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    Bloomberg and Klein had the right idea. Failing students are held back all the time in many public school systems outside of New York; the old system was not working so their opponents had no basis for continuing it. It's about time for a bit of tough love.

  3. #3

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    I agree that social promotion needed to come to an end, but the manner in which Bloomberg went about ensuring this is pretty gross.

  4. #4

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    How strange is it that "the best interests of children" are equated with the acknowledged under-education of monority students. :shock:

    Third grade is still early enough to help these kids.

  5. #5

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    March 16, 2004

    Appeals Process Gives Pupils Another Chance

    By ELISSA GOOTMAN

    Citywide tests for third graders, long a stress-inducing rite of passage, will take on new significance with the approval last night of stiffer requirements for promotion to the fourth grade.

    But an appeals process means that the stakes for those tests will not be quite as high as they first appeared when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the policy in January.

    The process starts on April 20, when third graders are to take a citywide test in English language arts. On April 27, they will take the citywide math tests.

    Students who score a Level 1, the lowest of four rankings, on either test will be in jeopardy of being left back.

    At that point, teachers can file appeals on behalf of students who they feel deserve to be promoted.

    To start an appeal, teachers must examine other aspects of a student's achievement, including writing samples, class work and the level of books read from classroom libraries. If a teacher can demonstrate from this other work that the student is performing in the high end of Level 2 - the second of the four levels, which is still considered failing - the appeal will be considered in June.

    Students who score Level 1 on one of the citywide tests but Level 3, considered passing, or above on the other test will also be eligible to be considered in June.

    Appeals for children who are not thought to be close to meeting standards will be decided in August, presumably after the children attend a new summer school program.

    The summer school program will also be open to second graders who are lagging academically.

    Teachers' appeals will be considered by principals, who, Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced earlier in the year, can forward appeals they deem worthy to their local instructional superintendents, who will be the final arbiters.

    The city estimates that about 15,000 third graders would be left back based on test scores alone.

    The revisions to the appeals process are the most significant changes Mr. Klein has made to the policy since Mr. Bloomberg announced it.

    Last night, Mr. Klein said the existence of the appeals process invalidated the argument that the new policy would hold back children on the basis of a single test. "The argument about one test is an argument that I think was a red herring this evening, because we had made clear that in addition to repeated testing, we are going to take into account the full panoply of criteria," he said.

    Critics, however, said the appeals process, while an improvement, did little to ease their concerns.

    The policy was recently altered to exempt some English as a Second Language students.


    NEWS ANALYSIS

    Mr. Bloomberg Plays Hardball

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

    There are three things that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rarely does: publicly denounce his adversaries, dabble in raw politics, or fire people. But last night capped a weeklong binge in which Mr. Bloomberg embraced the sort of hardball tactics that New York City mayors have depended on for decades in seeking dramatic changes to the status quo.

    Facing almost certain defeat in his effort to end automatic promotion for third graders, Mr. Bloomberg resorted to firing two of his hand-picked appointees to an educational advisory board to ensure that a new policy preventing the promotion of failing third graders passed.

    The battle to end the practice of promoting children, whether they are ready or not, a procedure also known as social promotion, was one that Mr. Bloomberg was in no way willing to lose. The mayor sought control of the schools through state legislation the year he took office, and has made improving the schools the centerpiece of his administration. Just last week, he made clear that he would tolerate no distractions from his goals and called for the resignation of the deputy chancellor who had become shrouded in an ethics scandal.

    Yesterday's situation underscored both the power and the peril of mayoral control. The issues facing the schools are so complicated, it is almost impossible to get a roomful of people to accept major changes, at least not without bruising debates.

    Rather than having to persuade people that they should see things his way, Mr. Bloomberg now has the authority to make changes almost unilaterally, and so it was yesterday that he chose a tactic that was more Donald Trump in his television boardroom than Mayor Bloomberg in his City Hall office: "You're fired!"

    Last night, as the board took its vote, Mr. Bloomberg addressed reporters outside a celebration for the Irish Echo. "Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much," Mr. Bloomberg said. "They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things that I believe in."

    The events played out swiftly. In the middle of the day yesterday, when it became clear that two of the mayor's seven appointees to an education policy panel were not going to vote for the social promotion policy, Mr. Bloomberg had a deputy mayor, Dennis Walcott, call both of them — Ramona Hernandez and Susana Torruella Leval — and tell them that their services would no longer be needed.

    Earlier in the day, Mr. Walcott had told Tino Hernandez, who heads the city's Public Housing Authority, and Alan D. Aviles, a vice president of the public hospital system, that they were likely to be called on to take new positions. Late in the day, Mr. Aviles was brought to meet the mayor at City Hall. Then he and Mr. Hernandez rushed over to the city clerk's office to be sworn in to their new positions, an hour before the panel was scheduled to vote.

    Mr. Bloomberg's aides said he was driven to the action by his passion for the issue, his desire to win, and his belief that his panelists were chosen to do his bidding. "The mayor's appointees are there to represent his views and help him change the system," said Edward Skyler, the mayor's press secretary. "If they didn't have the stomach to do that, they didn't have to stay."

    Some of the members of the panel suggested that a vote be delayed for as long as 30 days. Mr. Bloomberg, demonstrating a sort of impatience that has become his norm when changing education policy, rejected the notion, believing it would effectively scuttle the plan for this school year, aides said.

    The mayor and the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, also noted that the language used by dissenting members and the order of points made in support of the delay were often identical, suggesting that a coordinated effort to delay a vote was underway, two aides to the mayor said.

    Mr. Bloomberg never made a secret of the idea that his appointees to the panel were not meant to be independent. When the seven were named in July 2002, he said: "I do not expect to see their names — ever — in the press answering a question either on the record or off the record. That's exactly what's wrong with the current system." He added: "They don't have to speak, and they don't have to serve. That's what serving `at the pleasure' means."

    But Mr. Bloomberg's resolve to get the votes to end social promotion also demonstrates his particular fervor for the issue. Mr. Bloomberg is so certain that children who lack major academic skills should not be promoted out of third grade — a view that was by no means universally shared at the Tweed Courthouse where the Department of Education is housed — that he was going to go to almost any length to end the current promotion policies, his aides said.

    William T. Cunningham, the mayor's communication director, explained his view that the mayor's seven appointees to the board, the five from the borough presidents, and the one from the chancellor were selected to advise on policies, not form them. It was on the panelist's advice that certain changes to the policy were made over the last four days, he said.

    "The panel was functioning the way it was set up to function," Mr. Cunningham said. "But the policy was set two months ago in the State of the City address."

    That kind of single-mindedness has not always been the case with Mr. Bloomberg. When he wanted to change electoral politics in New York City by ending partisan elections, his hand-picked board voted not to pursue the change in 2002. He never said a rancorous word about that board, which was charged with making changes to the City Charter to alter the current election system, and politely accepted their decision. The next year, Mr. Bloomberg reappointed some of the same members. A referendum on the issue was defeated in November.

    Mr. Bloomberg's move yesterday drew immediate fire from several corners, including some men who might oppose him in 2005.

    "I am shocked by today's act of desperation by the mayor in order to win passage of his flawed promotion policy," said William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller. "His last-minute removal of panel members is more suited to a `Sopranos' episode than to enacting education policy for our public school children."

    Whether last night's episode becomes a victory for the mayor with parents and voters depends partly on how his tactics are perceived and at least as much on whether the new policy is a success. The end of social promotion in the third grade is greeted with skepticism from most education experts and has had mixed results in other cities. However, it will be years before this program can be judged in New York, and Mr. Bloomberg faces re-election in 2005.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    March 17, 2004

    Politics and School Promotion

    There is nothing about Mayor Michael Bloomberg that's more admirable than his determination to improve New York City schools. But lately he has been acting as if he believes he is the only person in town who cares about the welfare of the students. This week, he fired members of the public school governance board who disagreed with his new initiative to stop social promotion and rammed through that controversial policy. Mr. Bloomberg was wrong on two counts. He made a political mistake in reinforcing the worst fears of opponents of mayoral control of the schools. He made an educational mistake in imposing a plan that sounds good but is likely to hurt more children than it helps.

    The strict new promotion standard could cause as many as 15,000 children each year to repeat third grade — four times the number usually held back. The city tried a similar program once before, with the disastrous Gates program of the 1980's. That program held back legions of children, who ended up with little to show for the stigma and the extra time spent repeating grades.

    The city emerged from that disastrous period understanding that forcing huge numbers of third graders to repeat the grade would do little to improve their performance. What would really help would be smaller classes, skilled teachers and more intensive instruction.

    Mayor Bloomberg cannot point to any other city where a program like the one he is pushing has worked. But he argues, passionately, that the city has to try something to save lagging students before it is too late. His aides say the new program will be much better than the one that failed so miserably in the 80's, with more resources and a better structure.

    Obviously, if a child is not working at grade level, teachers need to intervene. The main disagreement between Mr. Bloomberg and his critics is the mayor's insistence that young students should be kept back on the basis of a single test. Even testing companies acknowledge that this is inappropriate. Attendance, participation, teacher evaluations and other information need to be part of the equation.

    The appeal of Mr. Bloomberg's more stringent standard lies in the impression that all third graders can be brought up to performance standards by simply holding them back until they master the material. There's little evidence that such a strategy has ever worked, or that children will try harder because of the fear of not being promoted. On the other hand, the data shows that students who repeat grades eventually become discouraged and stop trying.

    The mayor, who has virtually no experience in education, was given unprecedented powers to run the city schools by the Legislature. In exchange, the lawmakers required him to seek approval for new policies from a 13-person governing board, 8 of whose members were appointed by him. Despite the fact that most board members owed their appointments to the mayor, and knew that he could replace them at any time, Mr. Bloomberg could not rally a majority for his program. Most people would have taken that as a message that the policy needed reworking. Mr. Bloomberg took it as a mandate to fire the rebellious board members. It was far from his best hour.


    ON EDUCATION

    A Civics Lesson on Checks, Balances and Rubber Stamps

    By MICHAEL WINERIP

    MONDAY night, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein gave the one million schoolchildren of New York City a civics lesson. This three-hour course had no official title, but many possibilities come to mind. "How to Stack a School Board in One Day." "Voter Manipulation for Beginners." Or perhaps, for the more historically inclined, "How Democracy Worked in the Old Soviet Union."

    Supposedly, the 13-member board, the Panel for Educational Policy, had gathered at the High School of Art and Design to discuss and vote on the mayor's new plan to hold back third graders if they fail a standardized reading or math test. Politicians love this idea. It means they can say: "No longer will there be social promotion. No longer will children be passed along without mastering the basics!"

    Sadly, the research over the last 25 years is clear: it sounds lovely but doesn't work and is very expensive. The last time the city tried mandatory retention, the program was such a disaster - under Mayor Edward I. Koch in the 1980's - it became the model for what not to do. Students held back did no better than similar low-performing students who were promoted. And 40 percent of those retained eventually dropped out, compared to 25 percent of low performers not held back.

    Critics of mandatory retention - and most who filled the auditorium Monday were critics - say the money is better used to improve education starting in kindergarten, including reducing class size. (This year, class size has increased citywide in every elementary grade.)

    During the meeting, the chancellor repeatedly emphasized how much thought went into the new policy, and mentioned that panel members had been given thick packets to study.

    Sadly for the mayor and the chancellor, by Monday morning, after finishing their homework packets, 8 of 13 had decided to vote against the mayor's proposal. This was amazing, considering that under the reorganization giving the mayor control of the schools, he appointed 8 of 13 panel members.

    What's a mayor to do when his rubber stamp says, "No"? As long as the name Michael Bloomberg is remembered, children will know the answer to that question. Dump three opposing members and add three yes votes. Which is how the mayor spent his Monday afternoon. The result would make a perfect question for the third-grade math test: "What's the fastest way to turn an 8-5 deficit into an 8-5 victory?"

    An important civics lesson when stacking a board: it's best to be unfailingly polite. Mr. Klein had planned to allow an hour of comment, but people were so outraged, he permitted two and a half hours. He even thanked the three panel members who had been forced out. "Each of these people," Mr. Klein said, "has served this panel and this city with distinction."

    Distinction, extinction, what's the difference? When it came time to vote, Natalie Gomez-Velez of the Bronx beat the chancellor to the punch, and moved to table the motion. Mr. Klein ignored her, but then his counsel, Chad Vignola, said voting on her motion was the democratic thing to do. (For those keeping track, Mr. Vignola recently resigned for his role in the Diana Lam ethics flap, but is staying on until Mr. Klein finds a replacement; apparently it takes longer to find one new legal counsel than three new education panel members.)

    Even with his rebuilt board, the mayor was taking no chances. He had one of his yes votes, David Chang, who was away on business, hooked up on video remote from Japan. However, the hookup was so bad, Mr. Chang appeared to vote the wrong way once. As his image broke up, and formed again, Mr. Klein kept asking, "David, are you there?"

    IN the end, as any smart New York third grader now knows, if you take away three no votes, and add three yes votes, you get mandatory retention. However, it was still surprising to see in person. The panel has two student members. Grown-ups think it's cute including students; it makes the adults seem open-minded and the children's votes don't count anyway.

    But these two - both casting symbolic votes against the mayor - were furious. "This is hypocrisy," said Christine Cruz, a senior. "It was not something children should see."

    It is what they mean when they say children grow up fast in the big city. Afterward, the mayor's yes votes all exited quickly, while the no votes stayed behind to tell reporters that this was more shocking and smellier than a sudden wind shift at the Fresh Kills landfill.

    Mr. Klein and Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott did return to answer reporters' questions. They said they were making this tough decision for the benefit of the children. "We now have the whole system focused properly," Mr. Klein said.

    Reporters had many civics questions. They wanted to know how long the three new members - a city housing director, a lawyer for the city hospital system and a bridal store owner - had spent studying those packets Mr. Klein was so proud of. "Just today," Mr. Walcott said.

    They wanted to know why three panel members who had planned to vote no were forced to resign, when Augusta Souza Kappner - the lone mayoral appointee who actually was permitted to vote no - was allowed to stay. Was it possible, they asked, that even the mayor was too ashamed to fire Dr. Kappner, president of Bank Street College, one of America's premier educational institutions?

    Mr. Walcott said Dr. Kappner had made clear she was voting no several days before, while from the other three, "we couldn't get a clear answer."

    And if the other three had made their no votes clear sooner, would the mayor have kept them? "I don't deal with conjecture," Mr. Walcott said.

    Mr. Walcott emphasized that panel members served at the mayor's pleasure, and the reporters asked where the checks and balances are when you can kick anyone off the panel who disagrees with you.

    "The mayor has said when he runs for re-election, that he should be held accountable," Mr. Klein said.

    That was the night's final lesson. It may not be as sophisticated as what Madison, Jay and Hamilton constructed in the Federalist Papers, but at least the children now know Mr. Klein's vision of checks and balances. Every four years, come election time, there's a check and a balance, and until then, just say yes, or be gone with you.

    E-mail: edmike@nytimes.com

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    New York Daily News
    March 18, 2004

    Mike: Go ahead and cry!

    By JOE WILLIAMS
    With Lisa L. Colangelo and Maggie Haberman



    Mayor Bloomberg had only tough love yesterday for failing 8-year-olds held back under his new education plan.

    "Yes, they may cry a little bit. But children in the third grade cry a lot, and it's part of the growing-up process," Bloomberg said in a radio interview.

    "They have to learn that they've got to do the work," the mayor said. "And they've got to learn if they don't have the skills, people shouldn't walk away from them and society should work with them."

    His comments came as the mayor used a massive dump of school data by the city and state to highlight his argument that the system still needs big changes.

    Never mind a diploma - a third of the city's high school freshmen are having trouble getting out of ninth grade, according to one of several new studies that came out.

    An astounding 36% of the 93,700 ninth-graders last year were repeating the grade.

    It was even worse for sophomores: 43% were re-doing that year.

    Statewide, the percentage of repeating freshmen was just under 15%, according to figures released by the state.

    Unprepared students are nudged into high school, where they can't pass classes and earn the credits they need to move up, Chancellor Joel Klein said.

    "This is why we can't continue going where we're going," he said. "This process is not working."

    Klein and Bloomberg pushed through a plan Monday night to hold back third-graders who flunk standardized tests, but the plan passed only after he jettisoned three members of the Panel for Educational Policy who disagreed.

    Bloomberg's tactics got an endorsement yesterday from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani: "He has to deliver results. So therefore, he had a right to have on the board appointees who are gonna agree [with him]."

    But the policy is costing Klein some allies.

    "By retaining more kids, he will eventually just send more overage kids to ninth grade who still won't have the skills they need," said Norm Fruchter, a professor at New York University who worked on Klein's massive reform plan.

    Another new study shows that 58% of the city's high school dropouts have been held back at least once.

    "If we already know that so many kids who are retained are dropping out, why do we want to hold back more?" Fruchter said. "It doesn't make any sense."

    But Klein said his plan will focus on providing a better education for those kids. "Retention is not the strategy," Klein said.

    In more troubling news, just over half - 53% - of the Class of 2003 graduated on time last year, a slight increase over the previous year, with only 18% getting a Regents diploma.

    The city's graduation rate last year was particularly poor for black and Hispanic students, with 47.4% and 43.4% graduating, respectively.

    Even when students are given more than four years to graduate, the results are still dismal: Another study confirmed that 31% of students who were supposed to graduate in 2000 have never gotten a diploma.

    Copyright 2004 Daily News, L.P.

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    March 20, 2004

    Schools Stance Scores Points for the Mayor, Strategists Say

    By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

    There may not be agreement over the educational value of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's strict new standards for promoting third graders, but it is clear that the very act of imposing those standards - and the bare-knuckle manner in which he imposed them - will be central to his campaign for re-election in 2005.

    Political strategists and politicians said it could work for Mr. Bloomberg in two ways. The mayor can portray himself as a reformer, fighting an entrenched bureaucracy. He can also try to paint his Democratic critics as supporters of the status quo, and more pointedly, as proponents of an automatic promotion policy that polls show voters want stopped.

    This is not to say that education policy is being driven by political calculations. Certainly the mayor says it is not. But those decisions will ultimately be judged in political terms once campaign season arrives and millions in campaign dollars start to flow into television commercials, radio advertisements, fliers and posters.

    The political equation is not all on the mayor's side. Democrats say the mayor's actions work for them, too, betraying him as an autocrat whose solution for undereducated children will not work. But that is a position they will have to sell, as opposed to a concrete action the mayor can point to, political strategists said.

    "If he wants to end it, and they want to prevent him from ending it, then there is no other conclusion but they are supporting it," said former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who during his tenure in City Hall also moved to end social promotion, the practice of letting failing students move on to the next grade.

    Pollsters, strategists, public officials and potential candidates said that as long as there was no new security crisis, education would be the central issue for the 2005 mayoral race. Under scrutiny will be the events of the last week: the mayor's 11th-hour firing of three members of the city's Panel for Education Policy, and his ramming through a policy that is expected to hold back as many as 15,000 third-grade students in the first year.

    While all sides will try to spin the events to their benefit - and have already begun to do that - there is a sense among Republicans, and even some Democrats, that in political terms Mr. Bloomberg hit one over the wall. If nothing else, it helps him bolster support within his Republican base: middle-class homeowners outside Manhattan who, with crime down, see education as the city's priority. It also could broaden his support by helping him to overcome an image as a weak leader, said political strategists in both parties.

    "It's a home run for the mayor," said Michael McKeon, a public relations consultant in Manhattan and former director of communications for Gov. George E. Pataki, a fellow Republican with whom Mr. Bloomberg has sometimes had chilly relations. "People expect accountability and results, and the mayor is demonstrating leadership on the most important issue."

    Mark Green, a Democrat who lost to Mr. Bloomberg in 2001 and opposes his policy of holding children back, acknowledged, however reluctantly, the plus for the mayor.

    "It looks strong and mayoral for him to say, 'This is my top policy and I will do anything lawful to assure that mayoral control means mayoral control,' '' said Mr. Green, who announced recently that he would not run for mayor in 2005. "And while it was ham-handed and it's bizarre, most people who glanced at the news saw him as more decisive than foolish."

    As a candidate, and then again as mayor, Mr. Bloomberg said he wanted his tenure to be judged on his stewardship of the schools. By dismantling the bureaucracy and shaking up the status quo, Mr. Bloomberg will be able to position himself as a reformer - an otherwise unlikely moniker for a rich, low-key businessman who inherited a relatively stable city government where many changes had been forced through by his predecessor.

    The role of reformer has a deep tradition in New York, and in many ways is critical to a successful mayoralty. In virtually every case, reformers emerged following weak leaders - like Fiorello La Guardia, who took control after corruption raked the city; Mr. Koch, who helped lead the city out of the 1970's fiscal crisis; and Rudolph W. Giuliani, who made public safety the hallmark of his tenure following years of out-of-control crime.

    "The reform tradition has always been about the fact that the Democratic machine was spending too much money and not getting enough for it," said John H. Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York's Graduate Center. "Getting control of a bureaucracy and getting it to perform is something that is very much in this reform tradition."

    But the strategy is not without its risks. Public education is one of the most intractable problems the city faces. Success is difficult to achieve over the course of one mayoralty.

    That works to the benefit of Democrats, who will try to label the mayor as having failed in his top priority, Democratic aides said. Their goal will be to define success broadly - to look at test scores and violence and every measure possible - and compare it to the pre-Bloomberg era.

    "Right or wrong, that will be a major litmus test for him to pass in '05," Mr. Green said.

    The mayor will likely point to his tangible successes: his winning passage of legislation in Albany that did away with the Board of Education and gave the mayor control over the schools; his structural reorganization of the school system; and, finally, his decision to end automatic promotion of third graders. While his critics will argue that his method of ending social promotion will not actually help better educate children, there will be no way to demonstrate that in real terms in the year and a half left before the polling stations open.

    "Mayor Bloomberg's efforts have zero to do with politics and everything to do with reforming our schools so we can provide the city's children with the education they need and deserve," said Edward Skyler, the mayor's press secretary. "When New Yorkers judge his record on education, they will recognize that he is the first person to instill accountability in the school system and give hope to parents and students."

    Voters go to the polls on Nov. 8, 2005.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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