Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stern Warning to Emperor Mike

Sol Stern has written a devastating indictment of the fraudulent NY State school testing regime in the City Journal (forthcoming)-and the way in which the Bloomberg/Klein/Weingarten troika have utilized testing fraud to promote their own selfish interests: "As New York State’s executive and legislative branches sank into a swamp of corruption and political paralysis this winter, something brave, honest, and totally unexpected took place in one Albany office. Pounding the table and refusing to accept any more excuses, the new chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, forced the state’s notoriously dysfunctional department of education to submit to an outside audit of the reading and math tests, mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, that it has administered to all students in grades three through eight."

And with the outside audit will come a renewed sense of honesty that has been absent under the tenure of Education Commissioner Richard Mill-puncturing the test balloon that has allowed the Bloombergistas to crow about an educational miracle that, like the Master of the House's instrument of procreation, "ain't much there." As Stern tells it: "A memorandum of understanding between the department and Harvard professor Daniel Koretz—one of the nation’s top testing experts—gives Koretz access to the data that he’ll need to determine whether New York’s test scores have been inflated. And once he does, it’s likely that the state’s claims of spectacular student progress will be revealed as an illusion."

Illusory indeed, and when the reality finally sinks in, the cost benefit analysis of the Bloomberg tenure-billions more expended for flatlining results-will reveal that there hasn't been any educational wizardry, only a fraudulent little man spinning tall tales from behind a curtain of personal wealth. All of this, as Stern points out, comes about because of the NCLB law that predicated federal money on improved test scores-but left the testing to those who stood to benefit from higher results.

Fraud was inevitable as a result: "Unfortunately, when NCLB became law, it left the door wide open to massive test inflation by stipulating that all American students “will be proficient” by the year 2014—and imposing a series of increasingly onerous sanctions on districts and schools not moving toward that goal—yet allowing each state to develop its own tests and set its own standard for “proficiency.” Since men are not angels, it was inevitable that some state education authorities would lower the proficiency bar to make themselves look good to the feds."

But all of this was obvious to folks like Stern, Andy Wolf and the legendary Diane Ravitch as local results contrasted sharply with the national test scores-but not obvious, of course, to those who had a vested interest in perpetuating the fraud. The national tests, unlike the NY State ones, are impervious to gaming: "One reason the federal NAEP tests are the gold standard in student assessment is that they can’t be gamed by teachers or administrators. Every two years, NAEP math and reading tests are given to a statistically valid sample of all fourth- and eighth-grade students in each state; teachers aren't’t able to teach to the test, and school districts can’t offer students practice tests because no one knows ahead of time which students will be tested."

Stern goes on to detail how NYS DOE colluded with this fraudulent lying to the school children and their parents, resisting efforts to insure that the tests had integrity. The result, says Stern is that we were provided with a feel good false positive that camouflaged the grim reality of insufficient progress: "In many districts, the number of students in all grades scoring above the proficiency bar was nearly 100 percent. In City Journal and the New York Daily News, I’ve called results like this the Lake Wobegon Effect, after Garrison Keillor’s tales about a town where “all the children are above average.” More bluntly, the New York Post’s Michael Goodwin called the test results “one of the most destructive frauds in many years.”

As indeed it has been-with Klein and the mayor, joined by the UFT's Weingarten, lying and swearing to the scam. It got so bad that one researcher underscored just how easy it was to become proficient in our Wobegon municipality: "Several researchers analyzed

the 2009 tests and demonstrated that the standards dropped precipitously and arbitrarily. Diana Senechal, a Yale Ph.D. and former New York City teacher, established that in some grades it was possible for a student to attain the “basic” level just by guessing on every multiple-choice question, even while totally disregarding the section of the test that required longer written answers. Senechal’s study is buttressed by the fact that practically no students score below basic any more."

And on the basis of this massive hoodwinking, we got one of the most sophisticated frauds since Enron was perpetrated on an unaware and unschooled public-unaware and unschooled because of the campaign that was instigated by the mayor and his allies-both in the media and outside of it-to permit for the continuation of mayoral control: "For Mayor Bloomberg, test-score inflation has been the gift from Albany that keeps on giving, an elevated platform from which to rejoice over—and take credit for—New York City’s newly successful schools. Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have also found ways to build even higher monuments to their success on top of that platform. Starting in 2005, for instance, the city’s Department of Education (DOE) dissembled to reporters about the magnitude of score increases, appropriating to its column gains that had actually been achieved under the previous education administration."

But perhaps the most egregious nature of this campaign was the role played by the double dippers at the UFT-the one player that could have derailed the mayor's legislative effort. Here's what the union did: "In undermining the integrity of the tests, the Bloomberg administration had many powerful enablers, including the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). At the celebratory press conferences each year, union president Randi Weingarten appeared beside the mayor, nodding in approval as he detailed amazing stories of student improvement. Weingarten told confidants that the test scores were too good to be true. But in public, she maintained the fiction: Didn't the rising scores prove, after all, that teachers had earned their unprecedented raises of 43 percent since Bloomberg took over the schools?"

Never has a finer group of co-conspirators and enablers graced our local political scene-but in the midst of all of this false euphoria, one person stood up for both integrity and the school kids-Merryl Tisch. As Chancellor of the Board of Regents she has been, much like Hans Christian Anderson's incredulous child, someone who believes that when the emperor is naked, he is indeed naked. If there had more just like her over the past few years, we wouldn't have been so badly flim flammed by Kleinberg.

But now comes the deluge-and Tisch, along with new Ed Commissioner Steiner have a golden opportunity to do what's right for all of New York's parents and children; no matter what kind of impact this might have on the prevaricating mayor and chancellor. Stern deserves the last word on this monumental debacle: "But Tisch and Steiner need not wait for the feds to fund better tests. By putting their own house in order, they can make New York a model for the kind of political courage and educational honesty that are desperately needed all over the nation."