Thursday, June 16, 2016

Correction requested from NY Times on high-stakes admissions policy of specialized HS; five of eight schools under the Mayor's control

This morning I sent the below letter to the editors of the NY Times, which had made an error in an article on the admissions policy of the eight specialized high schools in NYC, claiming that in the case of all of these schools, it would take an "act of the State Legislature" to alter their policy of basing admissions on a single high-stakes exam.

The truth is that in five of these schools, all it would take is a decision of the Chancellor to remove their designation as specialized high schools and a vote of the Panel for Educational Polcy, which has a super-majority of mayoral appointees and rarely if ever overrules his wishes. 

Yet in my experience, it is far harder to get a correction in the NY Times than in any other media outlet -- not because the paper is error-free, but because of an apparent attitude on the part of the editors that if the Times says it, it must be true. Note the experience I had trying to get the Times to correct their stories promulgating the myth of  rising  student achievement during the Bloomberg years -- prominently displayed on the front page while Bloomberg was trying to renew Mayoral control and overturn term limits.

These articles consistently refused to report on the contradictory data provided by the more-reliable NAEP scores -- or the fact that the state test scores were wildly inflated, a fact long confirmed by the reporting of bloggers and every other major media outlet, including the New York Post and Daily News.  Though I never got a correction in that case, my attempt and the ensuing controversy was reported in the Village Voice by Wayne Barrett.

As I subsequently wrote on my blog, "Two days after the Times article ran, the NY State Senate voted to renew mayoral control without any checks and balances, essentially allowing Bloomberg to retain his stranglehold over the schools.  The "paper of record" could not have done a better job at burying the story that DOE's gains were illusory than if they had actually tried."

The Times only conceded that there was state test score inflation years later, after NYSED and the Commissioner admitted the truth of what had been common knowledge by anyone paying attention over the previous three years.   Our subsequent analysis of NAEP scores shows during the Bloomberg years, NYC came out second to last among large cities in student achievement gains, when the scores are disaggregated by racial and economic status.

Or note the way in which a gullible reporter for the NY Times  Magazine section delivered the DOE's myth of rising test scores even after the state test score bubble burst -- by reporting figures of a rise in test scores derived by a fraudulent graph that Klein and DOE produced, re-arranging the cut scores to where they had been before as though inflation had never occurred.  In that case, after two weeks, I got a correction of a sort -- but only after another Times reporter interceded to say I was right.  Even  then, the wording of the correction was so confusing that no one reading it could understand what it said.

It once took six months for my husband, a scientist, to get the NY Times to correct a clear scientific error about acid rain- and he had to marshal many other scientists to weigh in.  Even then he had to go over the heads of the departmental editor to the Managing Editor for a correction.

Why is this important in this case?  As pointed out in the NYC Kids PAC report card, while running for Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to “make sure that all children, regardless of SES and race/ethnicity have access to our city’s selective and specialized high schools.”  The administration recently  announced a new initiative that is unlikely to have this effect -- by expanding a test prep program that even now, enrolls a minority of black and Latino students.

By neglecting to mention that the Mayor could change the admissions policy at will of five of these schools, the paper of record is letting him off the hook -- just as the Times let the previous Mayor off the hook when he expanded the use of these high stakes exams.  These eight schools are the only public schools in the country to base admissions on a single high stakes exam and enroll a steadily diminishing number of black and Latino children.  Moreover, the test has never been analyzed for racial or gender bias, and also has allows the admission of fewer high-achieving girls as well as student of color.

The "paper of record" also falsely reported big improvements in achievement, when the evidence pointed otherwise, bolstering Bloomberg's ability to renew Mayoral control and be re-elected to a third term.  Let's see if the editors are any more responsive this time!


The NY Times article entitled “New York City to Help Blacks and Hispanics Attend Elite High Schools,” June 8, 2016, says the following:

"There are eight specialized high schools in the city, like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical High School, that admit students based solely on their performance on a single assessment, the Specialized High School Admissions Test. ....The city cannot change the admissions criterion at these schools; that would require an act of the State Legislature.”

Actually, the state law specifically mandates the admissions process of only three of these schools: Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science.  The six other specialized high schools were put in that category by Joel Klein when he was Chancellor, and all it would take to change their admissions policy would be a decision by the current Chancellor and a vote of the Panel for Educational Policy to undesignated them as specialized high schools.
The six specialized schools that are not named in state law are: the HS for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; the HS for American Studies at Lehman College; Queens HS for Sciences at York College, Brooklyn Latin and Staten Island Tech. 

“Although the City has no control over the test only mandate for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical High Schools, it does have the authority to designate and un-designate specialized status for the five newer high schools that were established during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor.” [Actually, Staten Island Tech is not a new school and its more holistic admissions policy was changed by Joel Klein.]
As the Gotham Gazette article points out, for each of the others, “As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy."
Or as state law 2590-H puts it,The special high schools shall include the present schools known as:
 the Bronx High School of Science,  Stuyvesant  High  School,  Brooklyn  Technical  High  School,  Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and  the Arts in the borough of Manhattan, and such further schools which the  city board may designate from time to time.”  See
Clearly, it would NOT takean act of the State Legislature,” as your article claimed, to change the admissions process of these six schools. Please make a correction as soon as possible.
Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

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