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Cheap Shot Editorial Proclaims Need for "Sound, Basic Education"

New York City editorialists know no shame when they can whine about "Too many children left behind" in their headline--and not mention housing conditions. I wonder how the editorial writer would do interpreting a Roger Ascham essay (you do remember Ascham, who wrote essays on archery several hundred years ago). Basic skills, indeed.

New York joined the movement toward higher standards in education by requiring students to pass an increasing number of Regents tests to earn a high school diploma. The theory was that students, parents and schools would rise to the challenge.

The results in the city have been depressing. Judging by the rate at which city teens get the gold-standard Regents diploma, public high schools are a dead zone. And there's no sign of progress.

The statistics are appalling. Consider the kids who started high school in 1999. Four years later, only 18% did well enough to earn a Regents diploma. Among minorities, the numbers were even worse: 10% each of blacks and Latinos got Regents diplomas.

As for the rest of the class of 2003, almost half dropped out or stayed on in school. The rest got local diplomas, meaning they met a lower level of achievement.

The state has slowly increased standards since 1996. For Regents diplomas, students had to pass eight exams with a 65. For local diplomas, they initially had to pass one exam with a 55. The number of tests rose annually, and the passing grades were to increase as well. But realizing that many students couldn't bridge the gulf between a 55 and a 65, the Regents lowered the standards for local diplomas.

The dumbing down has extended to Regents diplomas, too. By September 2005, all students were supposed to pass eight Regents with a 65, and local diplomas would disappear. The local diplomas will still vanish. But facing the prospect of thousands of kids getting pushed out - with 18% earning Regents diplomas, 80% of students would get nothing - the state cut the number of exams from eight to five.

Ask little of children, the theory goes, and that's what they'll do. Expect great things, and that's what they'll achieve. That's fine as far as it goes, but raising the bar alone is not enough.

The solution is a sound, basic education from kindergarten through eighth grade - which, the state's highest court agreed last year, the city does not have the money to provide. New York spends an average of $2,000 less per student than the rest of the state.

"You can't just say 'work harder,'" said James Kadamus, state deputy education commissioner. "There has to be a change in resources and how they're allocated." The city, he said, must have quality teachers who can bring diverse groups of students up to standards.

The work cannot start in high school. It must begin much earlier. This won't help those currently in high school, but perhaps it will give the next generation the basic tools to succeed.

Too many children left behind
New York Daily News


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