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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

James Liebman on the run

On Monday, at the City Council hearings on the school grades, James Liebman, the chief accountability czar and former law professor, faced fierce criticism from Council Members. No wonder; his testimony was evasive, full of misleading statements and outright errors.

Liebman went on to make many questionable statements, among them, that a school at which "hundreds of children on average lost 10 percent of a proficient level in a year almost certainly has a significant problem."
Instead, experts say that one year's gain or losses in test scores at the school level is 34-80% random, and unrelated to the amount of learning taking place.
Liebman also claimed that factors related to overcrowding and class size were taken into account when devising the grades, when they clearly weren't.
In his testimony and power point, he claimed that he had consulted with many groups and experts, including the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (the Principal's Union), CPAC, Community Education Councils and the NY Performance Standards Consortium in devising these grades.

Ann Cook, the co-chair of the Consortium, later testified to the fact that this was untrue. Her group had asked for and gotten a meeting about the interim assessments, but the topic of the school grades never even came up.

Ernest Logan, President of the CSA also denied that he had ever been consulted, and laughed when Jackson asked him this question. (See this letter from Logan to the Chancellor, about the many flaws in the school grades.) The UFT VP, Aminda Gentile, said they had “conversations” with DOE about the school grades, but there was no consultation.

Betsy Gotbaum, the Public Advocate, also criticized the unreliability of the school grades, and said that the Chancellor's decision to close schools without consulting first with Community Education Councils is against the law. She cited the state law, (2590-h) , which says that the Chancellor has the authority to:

Establish, control and operate new schools or programs…or…discontinue any such schools and programs as he or she may determine; provided however, that the chancellor shall consult with the affected Community District Education Council before substantially expanding or reducing such an existing school or program within a community district. (The law is posted here.)

Yet, she added, this has not happened in this case. "And the truth is, I can't think of an example where it has happened."

When asked by the chair of the Education committee, Robert Jackson, Liebman admitted that CECs had not been consulted before the announcement to close schools. Instead, they had been consulted afterwards, "entirely consistent with the process that has applied for the last several years."

Did he believe that parents should be consulted? Liebman said that the process that was used "was sufficient and adequate and very comprehensive."

Jackson said this response was "totally unacceptable", and if this was the direction the chancellor is going, he is in "big trouble." Liebman also claimed that the method he used was very "transparent" with very "clear rules" and that the results of the Quinnipiac polls showed that parents understood the methods used. (!!)
Liebman kept returning to the results of this poll in his defense, though it turns out that only 143 public school parents were polled.

City Council Member Lou Fidler was concerned that stigmatizing schools with failing grades will likely accelerate the decline of these schools, rather than helping them improve. Melinda Katz said it best: In her 14 years as an elected official, she’s never seen an agency so sure they’re right, when all the parents she has spoken to believe they’re wrong.

John Liu was very effective, asking Liebman repeatedly if the 85% of each school's grade was not just based upon a single measure, the results of a test taken once a year. Liebman kept on evading the issue, saying these grades were not based on one measure but actually "many measures" from a "series of assessments" that take place over a "series of daysm" and that each assessment "cuts across many hundreds of different items, and many skill areas." Liu pointed out the fact that its still only one test!

Finally, Liebman blurted out, "Life is one test" and everyone booed. Liu concluded that not only was Liebman trying to obfuscate, but that that his entire testimony was an obfuscation.

At the end of Liebman's three-hour testimony, the Chair, Robert Jackson, politely requested that he step outside the hearing room to receive petitions from Time Out from Testing and Class Size Matters, signed by nearly 7,000 parents, calling for a halt to the school grades. (Thanks so much to those of you who signed.)

In preparation, we filed out in an orderly fashion, (see above photo from the NY Times) but rather than have to confront us directly, Liebman slipped out a side door, out the back exit of City Hall, and ran away from us like a thief in the night, as we tried to catch up. He then entered the private gates to Tweed, but refused to let us in.

Liebman’s flight from parents was captured on video on many of the nightly news shows. As Lisa Donlan was quoted as saying in the Daily News, all this is symbolic of DOE’s arrogant and dismissive attitude. "He wouldn't even stay to hear our questions ... after we sat for three hours and listened to his testimony."

Here is an excerpt from today’s Times story, “Defending School Report Cards, Over a Chorus of Boos”:

“Mr. Liebman, whose title is chief accountability officer of the Education Department, ducked out a side door, leaving parents to chase him out the back of City Hall to behind the Education Department’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.

There, several education officials ran in circles for several minutes to avoid Jane Hirschmann, the director of Time Out From Testing, an advocacy group, as well as parents and reporters.”

Later in a phone interview, Liebman claimed to Times reporter that “he had not deliberately avoided the parents.” This claim is about as trustworthy as the school grades themselves.

See also article in Daily News, Escape from NY parents, the CBS newsclip here and NY1 here.

The CBS story repeats the erroneous statement that Liebman has met with Time out from Testing “many times”; in fact, according to Jane Hirschmann, head of the group, he has refused to ever meet with them.

I also gave testimony posted here about how unfair, inaccurate and destructive these school grades are, and entered into the record the comments criticizing the school grades from many of you, including parents, teachers, and at least one retired principal, that were posted online at our petition.

Update: Erin Einhorn of the NY Daily News pointed out today in Only in NY schools can get an 'A' & 'F' that of the 26 SURR schools on the state failing list, nine got As or Bs.

"The city can do whatever they want to do, but at the end of the day, I think the public deserves better," said Merryl Tisch, the vice chancellor of the state Board of Regents and a longtime supporter of Mayor Bloomberg.

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