Brennan Releases Two Additional Reports Assessing Department of Education Claims

First says Federal and State accountability reforms drove school improvement; Second says comparisons with other big cities in New York are misleading
March 17, 2009
New York State Assemblymember Jim Brennan (D-Brooklyn) has released two separate reports in conjunction with the ongoing New York State Assembly hearings on school governance of the New York City public school system.

The reports show, first, that the Department of Education (DOE) is failing to credit the impact on school improvement of major accountability reforms like the Federal No Child Left Behind Act and corresponding State Reforms. The other report demonstrates that claims made by the DOE that New York City schools are outperforming other big city schools in New York State are inaccurate with respect to Yonkers, and the concentration of poverty in the State’s other big cities render them not comparable with New York City.

Brennan’s report, “Accountability Reforms in New York City Public Schools Before and After Mayoral Control” challenges the assertion made frequently by Mayor Bloomberg that before mayoral control the New York City public school system lacked accountability and stifled student improvement. The No Child Left Behind Act and similar State reforms compelled hundreds of New York City schools into performance-level reviews and sanctions, and drove improvement based on these new Federal and State requirements. By contrast, DOE’s reforms were either administrative, or out of alignment with Federal and State standards and changed from year-to-year, also making them un-measurable.

Brennan’s report, “Student Achievement: New York City and the Big Four” demonstrates that New York City is not comparable to three out of the four largest school districts in New York State. Due to significant differences in key indicators such as poverty rates and economic trends, a comparison that views student achievement in New York City alongside students in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse is flawed. Yonkers, however, is much more similar to New York City with regard to a variety of demographic factors and, as a result, has experienced comparable improvements in test scores and graduation rates.

“Systems that operate within similar contexts are likely to produce similar results,” Brennan noted. This report demonstrates a linkage between economic factors and student achievement, in effect throwing into question the comparison made between New York City and Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse. Such a comparison serves to inflate the performance of New York City schools. When discussed in relation to a comparable system, the progress of New York City schools is still commendable, however not unique to the NYC system.

The full series of reports, including an earlier report on student improvement, can be requested by calling Assemblymember Brennan’s district offices. They will be available at the New York State Assembly Education Committee public hearing on school governance scheduled to take place on Friday, March 20th in Brooklyn at New York City Technical College, 285 Jay Street.