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Borough lawmakers decry social promotion vote

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Three Queens City Council members Tuesday questioned how and why Mayor Michael Bloomberg forced a vote on a citywide policy to prevent the social promotion of third-graders who fail a standardized test.

Following a contentious vote Monday night by the city panel charged with approving changes to the public education system, Queens delegation members said the mayor used inappropriate tactics and pushed through an incomplete policy in his bid to ensure students pass the third-grade reading and math test before moving on to fourth grade.

“It is not just a question of the issue itself, it is a question of the process and the total end run that was done,” Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) said of the last-minute deal by Bloomberg. “It is already a process so stacked in favor of the mayor’s wishes that to have what happened yesterday happen was a travesty.”

Bloomberg was able to secure a victory in his attempt to end the process of social promotion, which allows students who do not meet certain criteria to move on in their education.

In a move many criticized, the mayor replaced two of his eight appointed panel members who opposed his plan to hold back third graders with those in favor of the measure.

Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) both said the way the mayor presented social promotion — giving people the option to be either against or for the policy — meant a thorough discussion of the issue could not be held.

“I do not know who is for social promotion,” Katz said. She said the mayor helped author a policy that was incomplete.

“I have no idea what it (the appeals process) will be like and how long it could take,” she said. Educators have speculated that as many as 15,000 third-graders could be affected by the policy not to advance students who do not pass the third-grade test.

The 13-member Panel for Education Policy, created in 2001 just after Bloomberg was granted complete control by the state Legislature over city schools, has eight members appointed by the mayor and five others appointed by each borough president. Bloomberg, anticipating an 8-to-5 vote against his bid to end social promotion, axed Ramona Hernandez and Susana Leval.

Staten Island Borough President Jim Molinaro removed his appointee, Joan McKeever-Thomas, and replaced her with Joan Correale.

The final vote was then eight in favor and five against the mayor’s proposal.

“This is what mayoral control is all about,” Bloomberg told reporters after the vote. “In the olden days, we had a board that was answerable to nobody. And the Legislature said it was just not working. And they gave the mayor control.”

Effective immediately, third-grade students will now be required to earn a certain score on a standardized test to advance. Questions remain, however, about the appeals process whereby students who fail to pass the test can ask education officials to move them up on a case-by-case basis, including how long it will take and whether any backlog could be resolved before the next school year.

Addabbo, joining Liu in criticizing the mayor’s tactics in ensuring his victory, said Bloomberg should have had a more open discussion and not tampered with the panel’s composition.

“It was very suspicious the way three people were removed because they were not going to go with the mayor,” Addabbo said. “The way he (Bloomberg) did the vote, as far as removing the three members in order to get his way, is suspect.”

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who heads the panel and facilitated the formal vote, did not comment on the proceedings. The city Department of Education instead issued the following statement.

“We are pleased with the approval of our third-grade retention plan. For too long, the system has promoted children who are unprepared and then let them fall further and further behind until they either drop out or leave school without the skills they need to lead productive adult lives. We are confident that our plan will reverse that shameful trend.”

Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (D-Manhattan), head of the Council’s education committee, at press time was preparing legislation condemning the mayor’s actions. Members of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus issued a statement calling on the mayor not to make the standardized tests binding.

Liu said state legislators will be reviewing Bloomberg’s actions and will take up the matter shortly.

“You will hear a lot more about that in the upcoming weeks,” Liu said of possible state legislation based on the mayor’s actions. “This is out of control.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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