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The New York Sun

Mayor Bloomberg’s recent trip to Los Angeles may be attracting more attention for what it says about his presidential aspirations than for the message he delivered in respect of education reform, but no one can gainsay that education evangelization. Especially so since the day after he spoke at a school in Los Angeles, his schools chancellor back home released numbers showing that city students have again beat their peers elsewhere in the state on key English exams. Certainly the city’s schools still have a long way to go. But there are encouraging signs in the latest numbers that the mayor and chancellor are on the right track.

In a year when harder exams appear to have contributed to declining test results in many parts of the state, New York’s fourth graders held nearly even with the performance of last year’s cohort. The proportion of city fourth graders scoring in the passing range on the test stood at 58.9% this year, a decline of only 0.6 percentage points from last year. In contrast, 73.5% of students outside the city scored as well but that represents a 2.7 point decline from last year. In the other four large urban centers in the state — Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers — only 49.2% of students met the standards and that paltry number was a decline of 5 points over the previous year. On the eighth grade exam, 36.6% of city students met the standards, an increase of 3.8 points, compared to 24.2% in the “big four,” an increase of only 0.7 points.

The city schools have made big strides over the past four years. Fourth grade performance has improved 12.4 percentage points, so that 58.9% of students now meet the test’s standards. That’s still far off the 73.5% of students outside the city who perform that well, but marks a significant improvement over where the city was before. Likewise in eighth grade, where the 36.6% city pass rate lags the non-city students’ 55.6% rate but is nonetheless up 7.1 points from 2002.

It’s impossible to attribute the gains to only one factor. Rather, several forces appear to be at work.Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein rolled out a uniform reading curriculum early in their terms, and although critics have assailed the curriculum’s lack of rigor, it still includes meaningful doses of phonics — scientifically proven to be the most effective method for teaching reading — for students who lag their peers. The schools are getting better at spotting struggling students earlier and stepping in with extra help, and the education department has rolled out a program under which more experienced teachers mentor colleagues working in schools with at-risk students.

These results don’t include students in charter schools, which means the numbers don’t account for children who are benefiting from the most important innovation championed by Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein. Nor are the latest data an excuse for the city to rest on its laurels. Despite the improvements, more than 40% of fourth graders and 60% of eighth graders still aren’t meeting standards. And the fact that the city’s public schools are improving doesn’t mean today’s students shouldn’t have the option of going elsewhere with the help of a voucher if their particular schools or teachers are sub-par. But even with all those qualifications, these numbers are good news for city schools, and especially city students and parents, who for too long had too little to celebrate.

The New York Sun

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