Non-stop community discord. Administrative cheating scandals. Knowingly inflated claims of educational improvement. Falsified and artificially inflated graduation rates. Wasteful spending and financial fraud. School children being used as guinea pigs in ungrounded educational experimentation. Closed-door selection of a blatantly unqualified cocktail-party friend as schools chancellor. The virtual sale of public education to wealthy private interests.
Seems like those reasons would be more than enough for a citizenry to rise up and reclaim control of its public school system from a haughty, emotionally disconnected mayor. In any suburban community in the NYC metropolitan area, most certainly so, but not apparently in the city itself, where citizens are powerless, media editorial boards serve at the mayor's pleasure, and most politicians cower before the imperious billionaire.
Last week’s announcement (on January 26) by the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) of its forty 2011 Finalists brought yet another round of bad news for NYC’s school system. For the first time in memory, NYC was entirely shut out of the final round, achieving not even one Finalist spot. This is the second time in history that the city’s public high schools were shut out (the first occurring in 2006, also under mayoral control), but 2011 marked the first time that the city’s combined public and private high schools earned no Finalist candidates among them.
Two weeks earlier, STS announced its annual list of 300 Semifinalists, and city public schools hit a new, all-time low of just 14 awardees. As I wrote on this site at that time, this result continued a pattern of “de-Klein” in Intel STS performance that coincided almost exactly with the advent of mayoral control and Joel Klein’s chancellorship. A similar pattern has occurred among Finalists, the highest level performers among an already highly select group of student achievers.
For many years, from the 1940s and 1950s, when the competition began under the Westinghouse name, through the 1980s and 1990s, NYC schools virtually owned the STS competition, finishing some years with well over 100 Semifinalists, some years accounting for nearly half of that group. Since 2002/2003, however, NYC schools’ participation in STS has dropped by nearly half, and the level of Semifinalist winners by nearly three-fourths. Results that were formerly trumpeted with immense pride by the local newspapers are now barely mentioned; the New York Times this year was reduced to writing not about NYC students’ achievement but about Ossining HS in Westchester and their eight Semifinalists. And that not until fourteen days after the STS Semifinalists announcement! Only Yoav Gonen in the NY Post addressed this issue head on, as the catastrophic failure it is.
The following list of STS Finalists, drawn from what I could find available in local newspaper online archives for the years before 2002, illustrates the city’s steady science achievement decline, one that has accelerated with devastating consequences under Mayor Bloomberg’s education stewardship. Note not just the number of Finalists but the steadily declining number and variety of schools those students attended:
1986 -- 13 Finalists (Bronx Science 3, Cardozo 3, Stuyvesant 2, Hillcrest HS, Forest Hills, Brooklyn Tech, Midwood, Beach Channel)
1987 -- 13 Finalists (Bronx Science 5, Stuyvesant 5, Cardozo, Long Island City HS, Martin Van Buren)
1990 -- 14 Finalists (Stuyvesant 5, Bronx Science 5, Brooklyn Tech 2, Midwood, one unknown)
1992 -- 11 Finalists (Stuyvesant 4, St. Ann's, Townsend Harris, Hunter College HS, St. Francis Prep, Murrow, Midwood, Sinai Academic Center)
1993 -- 4 Finalists (Stuyvesant 2, Bronx Science, Midwood)
1994 -- 11 Finalists (Bronx Science 3, Stuyvesant, Murrow, James Madison, Midwood, Townsend Harris, Hunter College HS, LaGuardia HS, Martin Luther King)
1996 -- 9 Finalists (Stuyvesant 4, Bronx Science, Townsend Harris, Hunter, Brooklyn Tech, LaGuardia HS)
1998 -- 2 Finalists (Stuyvesant, Collegiate)
2000 -- 3 Finalists (Midwood 2, Stuyvesant)
2001 -- 4 Finalists (Stuyvesant 3, Brooklyn Tech)
2002 -- 6 Finalists (Stuyvesant 2, Bronx Science 2, Midwood, Horace Mann)
2003 -- 5 Finalists (Stuyvesant 3, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech)
2004 -- 3 Finalists (Stuyvesant, Midwood, Susan Wagner)
2005 -- 4 Finalists (Hunter College HS, Midwood, RFK, Brearley)
2006 -- 1 Finalist (Horace Mann)
2007 -- 3 Finalists (Staten Island Tech, Chapin, Abraham Heschel)
2008 -- 4 Finalists (Stuyvesant 3, Bronx Science 1)
2009 -- 4 Finalists (Stuyvesant 2, Bronx Science 2)
2010 -- 1 Finalist (Stuyvesant)
2011 -- NONE
If nothing else, the collapse of NYC schools’ science competitiveness offers just one more area of proof that mayoral control has been an utter catastrophe, one from which the city likely will never fully recover.