Over the past decade of mayor control in New York City, the newly established Department of Education has had a free hand to do whatever it wanted with the city’s 1.1 million students, free of any concern about the reaction of parents, teachers, principals, or the public.

One reform after another has rolled out of City Hall, after Mayor Bloomberg or Chancellor Klein or someone else got a new idea or had a conversation at a dinner party. Sometimes these ideas are announced with great fanfare, and almost always they are announced as the solution to some problem, trumpets blaring, success preceding implementation.

The state scores went up and up, evidence of the New York City “miracle,” until 2010, when the New York State Education Department acknowledged that the state scores were a hoax. Someone at the SED had decided to help raise test scores by lowering the passing mark, and had done the same year after year, creating the illusion of progress. This was enough to enable New York to win Race to the Top funding, enough to help Mayor Bloomberg win a third term in 2009, and enough to get mayoral control extended in 2009 by the Legislature for another six years , all because of those amazing but phony test scores.

When the test score mirage dissolved, we learned that graduation rates had gone up into the low 60%, but there were no press conferences to talk about the persistently high remediation rates for entering college students, nor about their low persistence or graduation rates in postsecondary education.

A new blog by Peter Goodman, a veteran observer of the New York education scene, reveals a new round of thick-headed decisions:

City and state policymakers are now applying what they think is a sure cure for low academic performance: They will raise the bar, make the courses harder, more demanding. High schools will be incentivized to offer more college-level courses to students who are three or four grade levels behind in reading and/or math. This is supposed to incentivize students who can’t read or do math to take advanced placement courses, to work harder and to get higher test scores.

Here is the theory: If you raise standards, students will get higher scores.

What exactly is the logic here? If a student can’t jump over a four-foot bar, how exactly does it help if you raise the bar to six feet?

Goodman sensibly asks: What is the evidence that taking a “college level” course for which a student is not prepared will increase college readiness?

Other changes now about to be imposed involved the placement of special education students, not decided on a case-by-case basis by experienced professionals, but by fiat.

And Goodman sensibly suggests: Policy should be based on peer-reviewed research and years of experience in teaching and leadership positions within an urban school system.

But that is no longer the way things work these days.

Diane