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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Juking the Stats: Hallmark of the Bloomberg administration

Two of the most damning legacies of the 12-year Bloomberg imperium will likely be the fallacious, manipulative (over)use of data in the NYPD and the DOE -- what is commonly known in the police world as "juking the stats." For all who watch our children's educations and our city's public schools being systematically ruined by an ill-conceived and obsessive focus on "management by measurables," it is highly instructive to pay attention to the NYPD's parallel world of systemic data manipulation, intentional mis-reporting, and quota-driven law "enforcement" slowly being revealed as equally invalid, and equally damaging to cititzens' rights, self-respect, and even safety.

In Tuesday's NY Times, Michael Powell continued this reporting ("No Room for Dissent in a Police Department Consumed by Numbers ). Just as Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott would sooner be tortured than admit that their data-based management systems are flawed and are harming children's education, (mayoral hopeful?) Raymond Kelly will fall on his sword (actually, make you fall on his sword for questioning) rather than admit that CompStat's data is manufactured to make himself and the Mayor appear the shining victors for peace and justice in a formerly crime-ravaged city. (I won't even get started on stop-and-frisk except to say that if the NYPD implemented this program on the Upper West Side, or in Tribeca, and applied it equally to marijuana-carrying whites, the outrage would stop this program in a New York minute.)

Question Kelly's beloved CompStat and you get the typical, Bloomberg-inspired, falsely dichotomous response (as Powell writes): "Do you want New York City to return to the bad old days?" As if there are only two choices: management by politically-motivated GIGO, or social chaos. Question the Mayor on the same issue, and you get the condescending reply (again, from Powell): "There's always going to be some fudging of the numbers, but it's tiny." Try convincing NYPD whistle-blowers  Adhyl Polanco or Adrian Schoolcraft that it's tiny -- their testimony has already proven that it's neither tiny nor isolated. [Note: Schoolcraft was a whistleblower in the NYPD who was forcibly taken to a mental hospital when he tried to reveal his precinct's systematic manipulation of data, making it look like crime had fallen and arrests had gone up.  An internal, suppressed NYPD report recently validated his allegations when it was leaked to the Village Voice, which broke this story and has covered it extensively over the last few years.]

Former NYPD police captain John Eterno co-authored a study ("The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation") that involves interviews and surveys of over one hundred retired police captains that largely confirms what we all already know about CompStat's phony numbers. (In case you're wondering, he's also the brother of James Eterno, NYC teacher at Jamaica HS, recipient of last year's "Skinny" award as a teacher warrior, and hero to many.)  It even shows how city emergency hospital rooms data reveal a 90 percent increase in emergency room visits for assaults from 1996 to 2006, while CompStat unabashedly declared an almost 50 percent decrease in the same category. The Mayor's response, according to Powell? Their study "was paid for by one of the unions," he sniffed dismissively. Actually, as Powell notes, Molloy College funded it, but what's a fact or two, or a piece of bad data, to his Highness? Ironically, in case you still haven't gotten the parallel, our public school students under Bloomberg/Klein showed similar, extraordinary and much-ballyhooed progress in their infallibly measured standardized test scores while being increasingly in need of remediation for college readiness.

The point here is simple: what's going on with in NYC public school education -- the distorted learning environment, excessive test prep, principals gaming the system, cheating scandals, declines in arts and music education, and institutionalized fear among administrators -- is not merely an isolated case of misguided education policy. Rather, it is a product of a mayoral-dictated mindset in which "only things that can be counted, count." Combine this with a management style that rewards and punishes only by those numbers (I once again invoke Campbell's Law), and the resulting distortion of the entire system (and its underlying data) is predictable and inevitable.

As a close observer of NYC public school education, I have been constantly fascinated by the parallels (and revelations) with NYPD and CompStat. Now, if only we could find the DOE equivalent of Messrs. Polanco, Schoolcraft, Chris Bienz, and others, maybe the public would finally begin to notice that Mayor Bloomberg really has been wearing no clothes for the past half dozen or more years.

--Steve Koss

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It isn'Juking stats' its about inventing alternative realities and selling yourself and everyone else a bill of goods that NYCDOE actually manages anything - attributing to the mayor and his cohorts logic and reasoning is an error - they get away with the worst managed agency in NYC history because people actually think there is real thinking behind the crazy policies that come out of NYCDOE or any sense of the truth - NYCDOE IS lEHMAN BROTHERS BEFORE THE FALL. The only coherent objective is the administration is pathologically anti-union. The problem is fed policy is as lacking in educational objectie as DOE or an American educational. context. We need to reconnect education to the freedom of thought that keeps us somewhat of a democracy not a purely technocratic society run on the basis of 'juked statistics'.