Accepting Political Heat
New York switched to the Common Core standards last year and that means tests scores for New York City are about to come in well below previous levels. With just a few months left as Mayor, Michael Bloomberg is being criticized on all sides for the low scores:
In New York City, the proportion of students deemed proficient in math and reading could decrease by as many as 30 percentage points, city officials said, threatening to hand Mr. Bloomberg a public relations problem five months before he is set to leave office.
Already, many of Mr. Bloomberg’s rivals — the teachers’ union, parent groups, and several of the Democratic candidates vying to succeed him — have begun to use the prospect of a steep drop in scores to call into question the mayor’s record on education
This just illustrates the trouble with our political system. Adopting the Common Core standards was a big decision for many states and whether you are a fan of them or not, they should not be judged based on previous test scores. That was a different test after all. But that’s how Bloomberg is going to be graded. In his final year in office, he’s going to be responsible for a mega drop in scores. That’s not a good legacy to leave. But Bloomberg accepted this risk when he bought into the new standards. He put himself out there politically to implement what he deemed to be a better test.
Undoubtedly, a tougher test would lead to lower scores – especially initially as students and teachers adapt to it. In the years that come, scores will likely rise a bit – at the very least thanks to increased familiarity with the type of questions on the exam. Whoever becomes the next Mayor can take credit for those score rises, even though they are a natural result of greater experience with the test and nothing to do with specific policies.
This reminded me a bit of Governor Romney’s claims in the campaign last year that Massachusetts was ranked No. 1 in the country in education. Politifact rated this “mostly true,” because it was basically true. But Massachusetts also claimed the nation’s top spot in education before Romney took office. So, did Romney actually lead Massachusetts as the top state in education? Or did he just take credit for previous policies that had already made Massachusetts No. 1? How much credit does Romney deserve? These are very tough questions to answer and I don’t think anyone came up with a good response to them during the campaign.
This shows how difficult evaluating different policies is. Mayor Bloomberg is going to take a lot of heat for the test score drop, even though it’s a result of a new, tougher test, not necessarily less educated or less prepared teachers. Governor Romney earned significant praise for his education record as Governor, even though Massachusetts’s terrific education record preceded his time in office. How much do we blame Mayor Bloomberg and give credit to Governor Romney? That’s a tough question to answer. At the very least, remember to give Bloomberg credit for risking his reputation and legacy. It’s not something that every Mayor is willing to do.