Monday, September 10, 2007

Spin City: Bloomberg Disses NYC Public School Parents Yet Again

Last year, Mayor Bloomberg dismissed parents’ concerns over the cell phone ban by claiming that his office had only received about 500 calls on the issue and that they were probably the same person calling 500 times.

Just today, after saying he would ignore the City Council's override of his veto of their legislation on cell phones, he again trivialized our concerns by suggesting that parents only want to discuss with their kids whether to have fish or beef for dinner. Never has a NYC Mayor publicly treated his own constituents with such haughty condescension. It is the mark of a man who has never been a public school parent or educator and who obviously believes he is smarter than the rest of us. In his mind, there’s simply nothing to discuss.

Last week’s announcements from the DOE of their much-touted surveys provided the Mayor with an opportunity once again to spin the results, revealing the same dismissive attitude toward NYC public school parents. As the New York Times quoted the Mayor, “When somebody stands up and says, ‘I speak for all parents and we want smaller class sizes,’ that’s just not true.” Yet the Mayor conveniently ignored the fact that it was the number one choice of parents in his own survey! Given the administration's previous unwillingness to incorporate the changes requested by members of the focus groups created for the survey’s preparation, it's hardly surprising that the results are now being interpreted to show nothing but support for their favored policies.

Let’s take a closer look, leaving aside for the moment the statistical truism that any survey in which respondents self-select their participation (by mailing back their response in this instance) is not random and is automatically invalid as representative of the full population of (in this instance) public school parents.

  • The press release from the Mayor’s office claimed that 45% of parents chose the non-existent category “More or Better Programs” as their highest improvement priority, compared to “just” 24% who cited “Smaller Class Size.” At the press conference, the Mayor himself said that parents preferred “more enrichment” two to one or smaller classes – a claim he repeated the next day on his radio show.

As pointed out in a previous entry, while the press release was highly misleading, the Mayor’s statement was flat out wrong. More enrichment came out second (at 19%) to smaller class size (at 24%).

  • The Mayor’s continued insistence that parents do not consider class size as an important issue appears to be contradicted by his own survey’s results. A review of the results for all 194 schools in Districts 1, 2, 3, and 4 (all that I have been able to analyze so far) showed that in a whopping 87 of them (45%) , parents identified smaller class size as their #1 most desired improvement. (See this excel file.) Smaller class size came out as the top preference for parents in each of these districts, although it tied for number one with enrichment in District 4. The percentages of schools where parents chose class size as their number one concern ranged from 55% of those in District 1, 50% in District 3, 42% in District 2, and 39% in District 4.
  • The District 2 results were skewed somewhat since the list of schools in that district consists of many small alternative high schools with relatively low class sizes. Still, parents at most of the district’s large high schools, ranging from the highly selective Stuyvesant to lower-performing high schools like Washington Irving, Murray Bergtraum, and Norman Thomas, chose smaller classes as the improvement they would most like to see in their children’s schools.
Similarly, across all four districts, parents in 24 of 39 schools (61.5%) with enrollments of over 700 selected smaller class size as their highest priority improvement. In the 18 schools in those four districts with enrollments over 1,000, parents in 15 of them (83.3%) indicated smaller class size as their top choice. Despite the Mayor’s assertions to the contrary, there is clearly a sizable parent constituency that sees class size as the biggest problem in our schools that needs addressing.
  • Mayor Bloomberg has publicly made the patently absurd claim that parents want more time spent on test preparation as compared to less time by a factor of 10 to 1, as if thousands of parents want less test preparation (or could conceive of “less preparation” as an “improvement”) in the era of high stakes testing he himself has promoted. First, this was not the stated preferences of parents overall. Rather, these numbers were taken out of context, representing the small percentage of parents who chose these two categories out of the same list of ten preferences offered in the survey, including smaller classes and many other compelling needs for our schools. That is, only 10% and 1% of the 26% parents who responded to the survey chose these answers– meaning 2.6% vs. .26% of parents overall.
Few high school parents would argue against more test preparation for State Regents exams which determine whether a student will graduate from high school. Indeed, given the fact that this administration has decided to base all promotion decisions on test scores, it is understandable that many parents would want their children as prepared as possible – in fear that they would be held back.
  • In his public statements, the Mayor intentionally conflated a survey item labeled as “More Time for State Test Preparation” into massive parental approval (or lack of disapproval) for all testing. From the New York Times:
The mayor said the statistics discredited the idea that there was widespread discontent with testing and test preparation. “It’s a tiny, trivial number of people who scream the loudest who get the press, but it can send you totally in the wrong direction,” he said.

Nowhere were parents given the option of responding whether they believed that their children were being tested too much (not to mention all the new tests coming this year to be fed into ARIS) or that too much emphasis overall was being placed on tests. Preparation for State tests has zero relationship to the educationally stifling testing regime Chancellor Klein is planning to implement in NYC public schools, and this survey cannot in any way be construed to constitute parental support for it.

Back in the late 1990’s, ABC ran the Michael J. Fox comedy series “Spin City” about the NYC Mayor’s office. Who could have known that the show’s title would so perfectly prefigure this administration?

--- by Steve Koss

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another point about the ranking of class size in the responses is that many supporters of smaller class size supported the boycott of the survey, indicating that if that group had responded, they would have all checked "smaller class size" and sent it's ranking way higher.