Friday, March 27, 2015

Cuomo's Fallacies and Follies Part One

There is a heck of a lot of hot air coming from the Governor's office lately.  I thought it would be a fun exercise to look at his arguments, repeated over and over in soundbytes nearly word for word, as if he is afraid to depart from the script.  Here are just a few of his claims, refuted by solid evidence.

1.  "New York State schools are failing."  This is an outrageous generalization.There are a number of studies that came out recently that prove this assertion false.  Education Week consistently ranks New York education at the top compared to other states, year after year. Their most recent ranking pegged us at 17th, but after adjustment for regional costs, 4th.  Not too shabby.  The most recent SmartAsset study ranked us 4th.  According to that study, we have the sixth-highest college attendance rate, with 71% of graduates attending college within twelve months of their graduation.  Graduation rates are steadily improving.  NY students excel in prestigious academic competitions like the Siemens and Intel science competitions.  By every measure NY schools are schools of excellence.  Those schools that are struggling, do so because of impoverished communities and a funding inequity that is the fault of the state, not the schools.

2.  "250,000 NY students went through failing schools in the last ten years."  Cuomo's assertion is not in comparison to the number of students who were enrolled in NY schools during that time period, and therefore is a meaningless statistic.  When you add the yearly totals, 26,853,740 students were enrolled in NY schools from 2003-2004 up to and including 2012-2013.  Working from Cuomo's figure of 250,000, that means that .93% - less than one percent - of students went through "failing schools."  And to put the ball back in Cuomo's court, those "failing schools," were underfunded by the state.  According to the Alliance for Quality Education, under Cuomo's leadership funding inequality among schools has risen to historic proportions.  If Cuomo were really concerned about failing schools and the students who attend them, he would work out an aid formula that gives additional funding where it is needed the most. Though several rulings in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit ordered the state to fairly fund the neediest schools, funding cuts have brought the financing back to pre-lawsuit levels. 

3.  "Only 38% of NY students are ready for college or careers."  Cuomo pulled this little factoid from the College Board benchmark, using SAT results.  Only one problem:  The College Board recently responded to enormous criticism that the test was not an accurate indicator of academic performance.  They have announced a change in the test to make it "more representative of high school curricula."  A measure is only as good as the validity of the tool which is used.  Using an SAT benchmark that is based on a faulty test, invalidates all claims based on that benchmark. The SmartAsset statistic that NY has the sixth-highest college attendance rate also refutes the claim.  And on a personal note, standardized tests don't fully show what students are capable of in college.  I did poorly on an ACT myself, yet graduated as valedictorian of my college, and had a 23-year career as a teacher.  Hmm.

4.  "99 percent of teachers were rated effective while only 38% of high school graduates are ready for college or careers.  How can that be?"  First of all, refer to #3 above for information on the "ready for college or careers" statistic.  Secondly, why wouldn't New York have 99 percent of their teachers effective?  We rank 11th in the nation for teachers who have gone through the rigorous national certification process.  NY teachers complete some of the toughest licensing requirements.  To achieve permanent certification, teachers must have a master's degree, pass professional exams, and have a portfolio review.  To get a tenure in a school district, they have to go through three years of probation with frequent observations.  All NY teachers must participate in ongoing professional development. 

Cuomo, your assertions are faulty and illogical, based on poor evidence, generalization, and vague suppositions.  It's almost too easy...given that you have a law degree and all, and I'm just an old retired teacher.

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