Friday, July 27

Klein's statistics painting too pretty a picture?

Chancellor Klein's PR staff deserves as much credit for the City's recent statistical gains as the administration's reorganization, according to Sol Stern's recent column in City Journal. Stern is a scholar at the conservative-tending Manhattan Institute. Stern's piece gives yet another look at the history of NYC's education reform, but it goes beyond a simple history to do a bit of investigative journalism, delving into the tactics of Klein's formidable public relations staff. Stern writes:

The most notorious case of Bloomberg’s data manipulation occurred during the 2005 mayoral race. In May of that year, city hall bused education reporters to P.S. 33, a poor, predominantly minority school in the Bronx, where Bloomberg congratulated the children, their teachers, and Principal Elba Lopez on a miracle: 83 percent of the school’s fourth-graders scored at grade level on the 2005 reading test, compared with only 35.8 percent the previous year—an unheard-of one-year gain of close to 50 percentage points. The school’s score was just 4 percentage points below the average for the state’s richest suburban districts. Further, the mayor announced, the percentage of the city’s fourth-graders passing the state’s reading test had risen by a “record-breaking” 10 points in just one year.

If Bloomberg had really introduced accountability into the city’s education system, the implausible P.S. 33 scores would have raised red flags at the education department and perhaps even prompted a fraud referral to the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigations. Instead, the mayor got the political boost that he sought, with front-page headlines hailing the “historic” gains. Almost no commentary pointed out that fourth-grade reading scores rose by almost 10 percentage points in the rest of the state, too, suggesting that the 2005 test might have been easier than the previous year’s.
Though the full article is nearly 4000 words, it's well worth the time. Thanks to NYC Public School Parents for bringing this one to our attention.

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