Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bloomberg Record on Education Attacked by Manhattan Institute Scholar

Last month we highlighted a long article critical of the Bloomberg record on education that ran in the progressive magazine The Nation. This month, City Journal, the journal of the right-leaning Manhattan Institute published an essay by scholar Sol Stern, also highly critical of Michael Bloomberg's record.

What was refreshing in Stern's article was the discussion of "accountability". Public school parents have come to realize that the mayor and chancellor use this word to simply mean more tests for our kids. But what of the accountability of the mayor to answer to the public?

Stirring public unease is the realization that what Bloomberg really meant by accountability was one election, one time. If you didn’t like the way that mayoral control was working under Bloomberg, you could vote for Democrat Freddy Ferrer in the 2005 mayoral election (Bloomberg’s last, because of term limits). But what could you do after that election? Bloomberg’s suggestion: “Boo me at parades.”

The arrogance of that response demonstrates how little Bloomberg really seems to care about accountability. In fact, his Department of Education routinely undermines accountability with a public-relations juggernaut that deflects legitimate criticism of his education policies, dominates the mainstream press, uses the schools as campaign props, and, most ominously, distorts student test-score data. Without transparency, real accountability doesn’t exist.

The article goes on to point out specifically how Chancellor Joel Klein's bloated public relations staff spins test score results. In this passage picking up on arguments made by Diane Ravitch in posts on our blog and the Huffington Post, Stern points out how the Bloomberg administration has deliberately embellished its own record by appropriating test score increases stemming from earlier reforms:

Consider: Bloomberg took office on January 1, 2002, but he didn’t win control of the schools until June 12 of that year. Klein wasn’t appointed until August, and then he spent the rest of the year studying the system and appointing task forces to advise the administration on how to restructure the schools. By the time the chancellor finished studying, students were taking the 2003 fourth-grade reading test. The system was, in effect, operating on autopilot during the year that the students recorded the healthy 5.9 percentage-point improvement.

At the time, Klein knew that he couldn’t convincingly claim credit for the 2003 test scores, and he didn’t even hold a press conference to celebrate them. Four years later, the fourth-grade reading scores have inched up by another 7 percentage points, only half the average yearly increase achieved under the tenures of Chancellors Levy and Rudy Crew. But to avoid that invidious comparison, the mayor and the chancellor simply take the 2003 result and add it to their own column.

While the story may not get covered in the mainstream daily press, this City Journal article, like the earlier one in The Nation, reveal how much of what constitutes news about education in New York City is merely the narrative scripted by the administration's press office. An office that Stern claims has 29 people (DOE says no, only 14). Either way, that's enough people to staff an elementary school, which would certainly be a better use of our tax dollars.

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