Archive for April, 2003

25th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 25, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Whenever our friends in the New Tweed Ring — the Department of Education — want to discredit the growing number of opponents to their structural plan, they always chant the same old mantra: Political leaders who disagree with Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein’s plan to eliminate the existing 32 school districts and create in their place 10 regions simply want to preserve the status quo. Parents and community leaders are similarly interested in preserving their influence and — of all things — their property values.

Certainly, the current system is imperfect. But it has been improved by previous reforms of recent vintage. Now, an imperfect system is being replaced by a sinister structure, one that would warm the heart of the man who built the building the Department of Education now occupies.

The abuses of William MarcyTweed and others of his time led to the creation of a civil service system. We can scoff at the bureaucratic excesses that this system created, but it seems that every time we relax, more sinister demons come flying at us.Those of us who supported mayoral control of the school system are now shaking our heads in a combination of dismay and disgust. A flawed system is turning into a malignant one, with all of the potential pitfalls that unrestrained power and patronage can bring. (more…)

24th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 24, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Parents of children in New York’s best private schools are finding that they are getting less information about their children’s performance than they expected, due to a new testing policy. This has raised concerns that the private schools are falling victim to the same type of lowered expectations that afflict many public schools. The new policy comes from the Educational Records Bureau, the New York-based non-profit organization that prepares and administers tests for 1,400 private schools and suburban school districts across the country. Rather than provide percentile scores that allow parents to evaluate and compare their child’s performance in a specific way, the ERB’s CTP 4 tests for the youngest children now give results in just three categories. These are different from the tests that the ERB administers on behalf of private schools that are used for admission purposes.

The ERB describes the new policy on its Web site in the following way: “Important to note is that Levels 1 and 2 are standards-based tests that avoid undue attention to comparisons for very young children. Committees of elementary school teachers from ERBmember schools reviewed samples of papers to decide levels of student performance defined as Exceeds Expectations,Meets Expectations, and Developing. The score reports will present the percentage of local students in each of these categories, without scale scores, percentile ranks, or stanines.” (more…)

18th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 18, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

The war in Iraq, specifically the crisis in a city such as Basra, reminds us of the most important reason any community lives or dies — the supply of safe water. The importance of water was a fact of life for New Yorkers of an earlier era, but it has been forgotten by today’s generation of Not-In-My-Back-Yard politicos, who have hamstrung the construction of a federally mandated filtration plant for more than a decade.
The saga of New York’s water problems was brilliantly chronicled by Gerard Koeppel, in his book, “Water for Gotham: A History.”The Perrier of New York’s early days was the Tea Water Pump, located under what is today
the Brooklyn Bridge. Rich New Yorkers could buy clean water pumped from an underwater spring located there. But that did little to insure the health and safety of the average Gotham resident.

4th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 4, 2003
By Andrew Wolf

When Joel Klein became New York City’s schools chancellor last summer, one of the first things he did was take a field trip to San Diego, Calif. He made this odyssey to see what another former federal prosecutor, Alan Bersin, had accomplished with that city’s school system, which is about one-eighth the size of New York’s.

San Diego is the city where the former New York City chancellor and superintendent, Anthony Alvarado, was tapped to run the instructional program to complement the skills of Mr. Bersin, who, like Mr. Klein, has no background in education. By all accounts, Mr. Klein was quite impressed. Despite academic results in San Diego that are less than inspiring, Mr. Klein seems to be modeling many of his reforms in New York on what he learned out West. (more…)