Monday, October 05, 2009

Not Ading Up

As we have been saying, the Bloomberg ad blitz on education is in bad need of a fact check-as the NY Daily News reported yesterday, the attacks on Bill Thompson's presidency of the old BOE is grossly misleading: "Thompson was one vote out of seven; you can't say he was in control of the system," said Manhattan Institute scholar Sol Stern. "It was dysfunctional." Thompson was president of the board from 1996 through 2001, mostly under the tenure of popular Chancellor Rudy Crew and formidable Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mayoral control of the schools did not become law until 2002, when Albany passed it during Bloomberg's first term, making comparison tricky. "Even when people had the best interests at heart, nothing went anywhere," said Claire Shulman, Queens borough president from 1986 to 2002, who appointed one of the seven board members and is supporting Mayor Bloomberg."

But this classic case of misdirection avoids the controversy of the benchmarks that the mayor is using to "measure" his own success-and fudges some of the testing numbers that were acheived under the older system as well: "Bloomberg says reading scores went down when Thompson led the board, with no change in the math tests. He also accuses Thompson of doing "nothing to end social promotion." In fact, fourth-grade reading scores went up by 11 percentage points between 1999 and 2001 and went down by two percentage points for eighth-graders, the Department of Education says. During the same period, the DOE says, math scores went up by two percentage points for fourth-graders and stayed flat for eighth-graders. Under Thompson's term, the board ended principal tenure, as well as local school boards' power to hire them. The board also ordered summer school for failing students, who were held back if they didn't comply. It was the city's first attempt to end social promotion."

But the real missing link in this misuse of advertising millions is the failure to talk about educational spending-and the gap between what was spent when Thompson was at the BOE, and what the mayor is laying out today: "The schools operating budget has jumped to $18.4 billion this year from $7.9 billion in 1996. It was $8.9 billion in fiscal year 1998. "The untold story of this administration is success through funding," said Brooklyn College education Prof. David Bloomfield. "The mayor doesn't want to say that because it would make him sound promiscuous in his spending. Thompson doesn't want to say it because it makes Bloomberg look good."

No, professor, it is success that is built on a sand castle foundation; one that needs to be evaluated in a cost/benefit analysis in order to determine whether we are really getting our money's worth. Given what Diane Ravitch has argued about testing, the mayor's fiscal promiscuity might well be seen as educational and fiscal child abuse.

But all of this is, of course, moot because Bloomberg will continue to spend and say whatever he damn well pleases-with press hectoring the equivalent of whizzing in the ocean. This is what the abuse of the campaign finance system amounts to when an open wallet trumps any chance of an open election.