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Fernandez: More city grads lacked basic skills under Bloomberg

Graduates of the city’s public high schools are falling so behind in reading and math that a community college remediation program doubled in size between 1998 and 2008, the college’s former president said this week.

Dolores Fernandez, who resigned from Hostos Community College last year is now serving as the Bronx borough president’s appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, made the remarks in an interview on a Bronx television news program, BronxTalk.

“I would have loved for the New York City public schools to put my remediation programs out of business, because that would mean that every kid graduating out of the schools could read, write, and do math,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said that a hiking up of standards at CUNY’s four-year colleges played some part in the growth of Hostos’s remediation program. “But then you still have the regular group of kids who just are coming to us in need of a GED diploma, because they haven’t graduated from the public schools, and when we get them, we’re basically teaching them reading, writing, and math — I mean, basic levels,” she said.

The gloomy picture challenges Bloomberg’s own claims about the public schools, which state figures show now graduate far more students since 2002. But Fernandez said she does not trust these figures as a fair picture of what is really happening, especially for the poor Latino community she served at Hostos Community College.

You can watch the interview in the full two parts below.

UPDATE: Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob points out in the comments section that a growing remediation program does not mean that more city students are struggling. His argument:

the size of the program doesn’t tell you anything about the percentage of graduates who required remediation, because the number of public school graduates enrolling at CUNY community colleges has risen dramatically in recent years–70% between 2002 and 2008. Among Hispanic public school graduates, enrollment doubled over that same time period.

With this many more students enrolling, of course the remediation program would expand, even if the percentage of graduates needing remediation fell. And, in fact, that percentage has fallen across all CUNY community colleges, from 82 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2008. Among all CUNY colleges, the remediation rate for public school graduates has fallen from 58% to 51%.

The criticisms could end up being moot if mayoral control returns, and Fernandez said that she does not expect to serve on the Board of Education for long. Even if the board does last, it’s unclear how much influence Fernandez would have. She is by far its most critical member; others include three deputy mayors and borough appointees who have vowed to support Chancellor Joel Klein.

She also challenged Bloomberg’s depiction of the city’s high school graduation rate, which according to state figures has risen among black and Latino students. Fernandez said of the figures, “Their data is very interesting.” Then she described her own experience working with students:

“I come from a Latino community, and the kids that I serve were low socioeconomic kids — those graduation rates aren’t up,” she said. “Okay, they aren’t up. If anything, they are status quo or they have gone down.”

State figures show that the graduation rate among Latino students rose to 48.7% in 2008, from 37.4% in 2005.

Fernandez also said that Bloomberg has discouraged creative teachers. “I don’t think I could teach today in the New York City public schools. I think I would be stifled because I was very open in my classroom,” she said. “I gave kids a lot of flexibility. It might have looked like kids weren’t learning, but, you know, when the outcomes came on tests, my kids did just as well as the other kids.”

Some other notable points: she argued that the new Board of Education, in its one and only meeting so far, did not follow proper parliamentary procedure; that Klein has communicated no “vision” for the public schools; and gave a fascinating explanation of how she turned around Hostos, making it financially solvent and creating nine Calculus classes, up from zero when she took over.

Here’s part one of the interview:
And part two:

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