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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Federal Government Says That States Are Lowering Their Academic Proficiency Standards

October 30, 2009
Federal Researchers Find Lower Standards in Schools

A new federal study shows that nearly a third of the states lowered their academic proficiency standards in recent years, a step that helps schools stay ahead of sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law. But lowering standards also confuses parents about how children’s achievement compares with those in other states and countries.

The study, released Thursday, was the first by the federal Department of Education’s research arm to use a statistical comparison between federal and state tests to analyze whether states had changed their testing standards.

It found that 15 states lowered their proficiency standards in fourth- or eighth-grade reading or math from 2005 to 2007. Three states, Maine, Oklahoma and Wyoming, lowered standards in both subjects at both grade levels, the study said.

Eight states increased the rigor of their standards in one or both subjects and grades. Some states raised standards in one subject but lowered them in another, including New York, which raised the rigor of its fourth-grade-math standard but lowered the standard in eighth-grade reading, the study said.

“Over all, standards were more likely to be lower than higher,” in 2007, compared with the earlier year, said Peggy G. Carr, an associate commissioner at the department.

Under the No Child law, signed in 2002, all schools must bring 100 percent of students to the proficient level on states’ reading and math tests by 2014, and schools that fall short of rising annual targets face sanctions. In California, for instance, elementary schools must raise the percentage of students scoring above the proficient level by 11 percentage points every year from now through 2014.

Facing this challenge, the study found that some states had been redefining proficiency down, allowing a lower score on a state test to qualify as proficient.

“At a time when we should be raising standards to compete in the global economy, more states are lowering the bar than raising it,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “We’re lying to our children.”

The 15 states that lowered one or more standards were Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Eight that raised one or more standards were Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Louis Fabrizio, a director at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said that under the No Child law, states face a dilemma. “When you set standards, do you want to show success under N.C.L.B. by having higher percentages of students at proficiency, in which case you’ll set lower standards?” Mr. Fabrizio asked. “Or do you want to do the right thing for kids, by setting them higher so they’re comparable with our global competitors?”

In the study, researchers compared the results of state tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2005 and 2007, identifying a score on the national assessment that was equivalent to each state’s definition of proficiency.

The study found wide variation among states, with standards highest in Massachusetts and South Carolina. Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee had standards that were among the lowest.

Forty-eight states are working cooperatively to create common academic standards. Authorities in Texas and Alaska declined to join the effort.

Russ Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it was unlikely that the effort would soon produce a nationwide system that would allow parents and employers to easily compare test results from state to state, partly, he said, because “states would still have to agree on a common test.”

“And that’s heavy lifting,” Mr. Whitehurst said.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mike Bloomberg's House of Cards

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and His House of Cards

New York City is overcome by corruption. Bloomberg LP is sued by women who have become pregnant while working there and who have been insulted and harassed because of their pregnancies. Then, this lawsuit disappears from PACER, the Federal Court online information resource. At least, I cant find it. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg gets away with not being scarred by the Deutsche Bank fire, the falling cranes, African-American men shot by NYC police for no apparent probable cause, etc. And the press covers all of this up.

I think if your add up all the events of the past eight years in order to assess the job that Mayor Bloomberg has done in New York City, one thing you cannot fail to notice: in the press, Mike Bloomberg is a man of great leadership who has brought New York through bad times better than everyone who has preceded him and anyone who may become Mayor after him.

I just dont think so.

Betsy Combier

The Mayor's Press Pass
The unexamined world of Mike Bloomberg

By Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, October 27th 2009 at 1:51pm

One reason for the remarkably charmed life of Mike Bloomberg's administration as he sails toward re-election has been the waning of the city's news business. This is an odd blessing for a man who made his fortune as a media mogul. But just ask Rudy Giuliani, or David Dinkins, or Ed Koch, and they'll painfully explain.

When this city enjoyed four fat daily newspapers, editors clamored for strong, tough copy to fill them. Whenever scandal hit—make that even a mini-scandal—each one scrambled after the story. Local TV news, which gets its morning bearings from the dailies, gleefully joined the hunt as well. This happy combination produced many full-strength media pile-ons and visible shivers in City Hall.

There was a keen reminder of this changed world when a man named Raymond Harding put himself back in the news this month by pleading guilty to fraud at the state's pension fund. Back in 1997, Harding, the boss of something called the Liberal Party, was the city's top lobbyist, his law firm raking in millions from clients seeking favors from Giuliani's City Hall. These were easy for Harding to arrange since he had personally invented Giuliani as a political player.

It took a while for the dailies to catch on to this scheme, but when they did, the effect was viral: They became a four-man tag team, taking turns serving up tales of greed and insider trading. Giuliani was then at the top of his game and delighted in telling off reporters. But he knew disaster when he saw it. Claiming ignorance that his mentor was making a fortune off his administration, he publicly chided his aides and ordered his pal to lay low.

These days, the papers are onion-skin thin, and exposés are catch as catch can. Newsday, which once gave rival editors panic attacks every morning, doesn't even have a city edition anymore. When Dinkins was in office, the Long Island tabloid investigated even the type of fertilizer he used on the Gracie Mansion lawn. Nowadays, to fill their meager space, editors prefer colorful yarns to investigations. Until this month, one newspaper carried an entire column about empty rooms. We have the Web, with all of its many hardworking blogs, but most of these spend their energies keeping political scorecards with all the obsession of fantasy baseball addicts: Who's on first, and what coaches are in the dugout? The business of government and its many failings goes largely unexamined.

Poor Ed Koch: He was trashed as a miserable miser in multiple front-page stories because he had some 2,000 homeless families sleeping in shelters. Mike Bloomberg has five times as many, and no one even knows about it.

It's not that there's no investigative spadework being done. What's missing is critical mass. Last week, the Daily News's Juan González delivered some excellent fodder for a full-scale media assault in City Hall's Blue Room. He reported that the mayor's billion-dollar plan to relocate the city's emergency 911 call system has become a fiasco. Not only has Bloomberg's team blown its budget and deadlines, but it has also ignored the findings of its own consultant, which found the project was mired in mismanagement. Rather than dump its lead contractor, as the consultant recommended, Bloomberg's top aides insisted that the plan go ahead as is—defects be damned.

This type of project is supposed to be smack in the mayor's sweet spot since it involves computers and communications, the business that made him the city's richest man. It should also be one of those instances where he runs rings around old-school politicians because of his keen business acumen. Instead, here he is, tripped up by the same cost overruns and bureaucrats that plague ordinary humans. Another mayor in another time might have suffered many tough questions the day after such information surfaced. Instead, only the News chased its own story.

The same thing happened this summer, when the Voice reported a scandal at the city's NYC-TV operation, where the top executive was fired and his deputy arrested ("Inside the Mayor's Studio: NYC-TV's Secrets of New York," August 4). Unlike the perennially tainted buildings department that has plagued every mayor, the problems at NYC-TV came from Bloomberg's own supporters. He had repeatedly hailed the station as an example of his innovative approach to government. But instead of minding the store, his aides had traipsed around the world, making their own private movie. This tale also failed to trip the press alarm that scrambles the media into action.

The big story late last week was the stunning court ruling on the illegal Stuyvesant Town rent hikes. But you'd never know from the coverage that Bloomberg had praised the original deal cut by landlord Tishman-Speyer (headed by one of his strongest allies). Or that his top aides had scotched a plan to keep Stuy Town affordable. Or that a hefty chunk of the financing for the deal came from Merrill Lynch, the late investment firm that was a top Bloomberg LP client and which the mayor was barred from dealing with under a Conflicts of Interest Board ruling. That story—told here in detail by Wayne Barrett just last month—also died an orphan.

Bloomberg's biggest claim to mayoral fame as he grabs for the third term that he used to insist he would never seek is his success at the business of education. This is a debate worth having. But Bloomberg consistently wins by default because the other side never fully shows up. As the legislature was considering the renewal of Bloomberg's mayoral control law this year, Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan issued six lengthy reports on the law's impact on the schools. They were detailed and thoughtful critiques on student achievement, school organization, and contracting. Asked recently how much press he received about them, Brennan paused. "I'm not sure there was any," he said.

There have been scattered stories about instances of grade inflation and test-score manipulations (again, with the News in the lead). The startlingly poor results of national student tests this month prompted even the Post, whose news pages have steadily cheered Bloomberg's education policies, to suggest that fraud was afoot somewhere. But the big picture still escapes us, along with whatever role was played by the education bureaucrats at the Tweed Courthouse.

At the mayor's annual Gracie Mansion Christmas party for the press last year, those in attendance report that Bloomberg took the stage to offer his idea of a joke. "I see that my three best friends in the media—Mort, Rupert, and Arthur—aren't here," he quipped. Then he walked out, right past the grunts who cover him all year.

Actually, the joke's on us. Even as newspaper fortunes sank in recent years, Bloomberg diligently courted media barons like Zuckerman, Murdoch, and Sulzberger, who he understood could make his life difficult if they so chose. Minus their support, as Joyce Purnick's new Bloomberg biography proves, he would have never risked his end run around term limits. But he knew he had little to fear. As Purnick's book also tells us, even his weekend disappearing act to go to his mansion in Bermuda has gone unchallenged.

"He does his radio show Friday morning," a former aide told her. "At 11:05, the latest, he's in his car. At 11:30 he is at the airport. His plane is in the air at 11:40, he's in Bermuda at 2:10. He's on the golf course by 2:30. . . . Almost every weekend, spring and fall."

There's a photo op that's been even more closely guarded than military caskets arriving at Dover Air Force Base: Mayor Mike, golf bags over his shoulder, striding across the tarmac toward Air Bloomberg.

NYC's mismanaged plan to upgrade emergency system 2 years late, $700M over budget
Juan Gonzalez, NY Daily News, October 21st 2009, 8:38 AM

EMS operators, who were to move into 11 MetroTech in March, have not done so because of bugs in Verizon's phone system, Skyler said.

Is it worth $2 billion if it saves lives in the future?
Yes, no cost can be put and no deadline set to to this project right.
No, the system is an out-of-control cash cow that will not help down the road.
Cost isn't an issue. What's taking so long?

Mayor Bloomberg's $1.3 billion plan to modernize the city's 911 system is two years late, plagued by poor management and bad equipment, and has ballooned in cost to more than $2 billion, the Daily News has learned.

Launched in the summer of 2005, the Emergency Communications Transformation Project was supposed to centralize call-and-dispatch operations for police, fire and emergency medical services into a single state-of-the-art computerized system.

Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, who oversees the project, has called it one of the Bloomberg administration's top initiatives.

"We are taking the city's archaic 911 system into the 21st century," Skyler said.

But a host of problems dogged the project from the start - none of which s have been publicly acknowledged. Among them:

# Renovation of a single floor at 11 MetroTech in downtown Brooklyn, primary location of the new 911 operation, skyrocketed from $80 million to $166 million.

# Construction and outfitting of a second 911 center in the Bronx doubled to $1 billion. The site, to be done by 2013, will be the city's backup emergency communications center in case the Brooklyn site is destroyed. City Hall kept the price down by scrapping floors earmarked for a second emergency center.

# NYPD operators, who were to move into the Brooklyn 911 center March 1, 2008, will not relocate there until next March, Skyler said. That's because subcontractor Motorola failed to give the NYPD an adequate computer software dispatch system. The city recouped $32 million from that and got another vendor.

# EMS operators, who were to move into 11 MetroTech in March, have not done so because of bugs in Verizon's phone system, Skyler said.

Only fire dispatchers from Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan have relocated into the new 911 center.

"Each of the agencies - fire, police and EMS - keeps resisting the merger and making new demands," said a city official who has been on the project for years.

Because of historic conflicts between the three departments, City Hall gave the projects to the techies at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

DoITT's commissioner at the time, Gino Menchini, gave Hewlett-Packard a $380 million contract to oversee a consortium of vendors that would design and erect the new system. Those vendors included Northrop Grumman, Verizon and Motorola.

Within months, virtually every aspect of the project was experiencing delays. Costs started to mushroom, with scores of computer consultants coming on board, many at annual salaries of $300,000 to $500,000.

Things fell so far behind schedule the city asked its quality control consultant, Gartner Group, to find out what was happening.

Gartner's report, issued to top officials in March 2007, said the city was "losing $2 million a month," from mismanagement.

It called the ballooning costs of a new "logging and recording system" for the NYPD "ludicrous."

A few weeks later, DoITT Commissioner Paul Cosgrave urged Skyler in a secret memo to dump Hewlett-Packard.

"DoITT has recommended and our partners at NYPD and FDNY have concurred that we should put the ECTP contract up for rebid," Cosgrave wrote.

In an April 13, 2007, memo, Skyler overruled Cosgrave and ordered that all major components of the project be completed or underway "by the end of 2009," which happened to be the end of Bloomberg's second term in office. That was before the mayor decided to overturn term limits and run again.

"Achieving these goals will make it very difficult for a future administration to cancel this project and, conversely, not achieving them will put this vital public-safety initiative at risk," Skyler wrote.

"NYPD will move into the new [Public Safety Answering Center] 1 by March 1, 2008," Skyler wrote. "FDNY and EMS will move in by March 1, 2009," and he ordered groundbreaking on the Bronx site by July 1, 2009.

Of all deadlines, only the Fire Department has even come close.

"There have been challenges that we've overcome," Skyler said. "It's an ambitious project. We are trying to bring together the different demands or requirements from agencies that never worked together in this area.

"Would we like it to be faster and less expensive? Yes, but we are making progress."

PR- 200-09
May 6, 2009



Streamlined Call-taking Process Will Reduce the Time to Dispatch Emergency Units

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced that the first phase of integrated call taking operations between the Police and Fire Departments have been successfully implemented in the City’s 911 centers. Unified Call Taking streamlines the call taking process to reduce call handling time for fire calls and allow first responders to reach New Yorkers in an emergency more quickly. This change will affect over 180,000 911 calls per year. Unified Call Taking is the most significant accomplishment to-date of the City’s Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP), which is designed to centralize and integrate the call taking and dispatch operations among the NYPD, FDNY, and FDNY EMS.

“Now when you call 911 to report a fire, you will speak to only to one call taker, and give the address and nature of your emergency only one time,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “By cutting out the middle-man in the process, we will shorten the time it takes for the Fire Department to begin its response to emergencies, which could save lives. I want to thank the inter-agency team whose hard work and cooperation made these improvements possible.”

“Police Communications Technicians– already trained to field different types of police emergencies – are now equipped to begin the dispatch process for emergency situations that require FDNY response,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. “Last year they handled 11.3 million 911 calls, so eliminating mere seconds means more New Yorkers can get help sooner, and ultimately translates into lives saved.”

“Seconds count in an emergency, and this new procedure will save seconds, and ultimately save lives,” said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. “By streamlining the call-taking process, we can dispatch our first responders more quickly and improve the vital life-saving service they provide to New Yorkers.”

“The true promise of technology is realized when it is used to improve lives for the better, and Unified Call Taking is among the City’s most transformative IT projects in this regard,” said Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Paul Cosgrave. “This initiative is a critical step in putting world-class emergency call taking and dispatch tools in the hands of our first responders as they serve and protect New Yorkers.”

Under the old system, when an emergency caller phoned 911, the call was answered by an NYPD call taker who collected caller and incident information. If the caller was reporting a fire, the police call taker would initiate a conference call with an FDNY call taker and repeat the process. The FDNY Call Taker would collect similar FDNY-related information from the caller and forward that information to a third person, an FDNY Dispatcher, to trigger the appropriate response.

Under Unified Call Taking, improved technology and training allow the police call taker to collect both NYPD and FDNY incident information and then electronically share and coordinate the appropriate emergency response with dispatchers from either agency, which allows the caller to give the information one time to one call taker, rather than multiple times to multiple call takers. This elimination of a redundant step for FDNY calls saves time in processing the caller’s critical information and will reduce the overall response to the call.

The implementation of Unified Call Taking is the first major milestone of the Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP) , a multi-year initiative to enhance call taking and dispatch operations for NYPD, FDNY and FDNY EMS. Under the program, each agency will benefit from upgraded computer dispatch systems, improved integration and data sharing between agencies, new 911 telephony networks and software, and other significant improvements.

“This project is an innovative collaboration between the NYPD and FDNY and is a testament to the vision, professionalism and effective cooperation of our public safety agencies in supporting the needs of New Yorkers,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler. “Unified Call Taking is a major step forward in our Emergency Communications Transformation Program, and it is a tremendous accomplishment.”

In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg asked Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler to chair an Emergency Communications Transformation Project working group to set goals, speed-up decision-making, and monitor the progress of this important public safety initiative. The working group is staffed by the Police, Fire, Citywide Administrative Services, Information Technology & Telecommunications, and Design and Construction departments as well as the Offices of Management and Budget and Labor Relations. The working group deals with all aspects of the project, from site and technology acquisition, interagency protocols and facility management.

After Unified Call Taking, the next major milestone in the Emergency Communications Transformation Program is the creation of the first Public Safety Answering Center (PSAC 1) in Brooklyn. That facility, which combines the call-taking and dispatching operations of the Police and Fire Departments, will be fully staffed by the fall.

A second, backup, Public Safety Answering Center (PSAC 2) will be built in the Bronx. Each PSAC facility will have the capacity to support the entirety of the City’s 911 operations in the event of an emergency. Construction on the Bronx site is expected to begin later this year.


Stu Loeser/Jason Post (212) 788-2958

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mike Bloomberg's Plans For New York City Dont Always Work Out

Developers knocked down a shopping mall to make way for the grand City Point development: new apartments, a retail boulevard, a tower of commercial space. It has yet to materialize.

October 29, 2009
Engine of Bloomberg’s Plan Stalled

Over the past seven years, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has presided over a historic re-envisioning of New York City, one that loosened the reins on development across the boroughs and pushed more than 100 rezoning measures through a City Council that stamped them all into law.

His administration poured $16 billion into financing to foster commercial development and affordable housing and created quasi-local organizations to promote its initiatives and blunt neighborhood opposition.

And when the economy was burning white hot, as it did for several years, the mayor’s plan appeared to be bold and forward-looking, a prescient decision to remake portions of the city in order to lure companies, create jobs and increase economic vitality.

But that vitality is missing in some sections of New York today, where developments spurred in part by easy credit and in part by city initiatives are now stalled or in danger of collapse.

No question, the upheaval in the real estate world was primarily caused by a recession that Mr. Bloomberg had no role in starting and no power to stop. But Mr. Bloomberg has campaigned as a business visionary, better suited than most to lead in tough times, and any review of his term needs to confront his embrace of development as a stimulus tool.

Administration officials say their development initiatives created jobs and housing and revitalized moribund areas, like downtown Jamaica, Queens. Across the city, residential construction doubled under Mr. Bloomberg, to more than 30,000 units a year from 2004 through 2008, before slowing this year.

Construction spending has also doubled since he took office, reaching a high of $32 billion in 2008, according to the New York City Building Congress. The organization projects a 20 percent drop this year.

And if the skyline seems little changed despite the rezoning of some 8,400 blocks, the impact can be seen in old, outlying factory neighborhoods where new housing has risen, or in places like Flushing, Queens, and the Bronx, where signature new baseball stadiums were built.

But things have not gone according to plan in neighborhoods like Downtown Brooklyn, which was rezoned to foster development of new office towers to compete with New Jersey. None have gone up, and other projects, like City Point, a commercial, retail and apartment complex on Fulton Street, have stalled.

Daniel L. Doctoroff, who served as Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for economic development, said it was naïve to view the initiatives in the short term.

“It’s always tempting to sit there and say, ‘Here we are, we’re at the depth of a recession, and therefore, look at all this stuff, it didn’t make sense,’ ” he said. “That is the kind of thinking that has proven time and time again to be completely fallacious when you look at New York City history.”

Ron Shiffman, a former city planning commissioner, said a flaw in the mayor’s approach was its failure to do enough to reap public benefits from a real estate industry he had so readily fostered.

“He didn’t steer the boom,” Mr. Shiffman said. “He did not direct it in such a way that it benefited a more diverse set of populations in the city of New York, and more diverse income groups. It was basically developer-driven.”

Remapping the Future

The administration’s economic development policies started with a simple concept: New York must grow to compete with other cities.

Development became the means toward that end. Create new opportunities for developers, the wisdom held, and good things will happen for New York as a whole. Companies will rush to glorious new towers in reinvented neighborhoods, diversifying the city’s economy in the process.

Many mayors have favored the real estate industry, whose campaign contributions are often generous. Mr. Bloomberg lobbied forcefully for developers even though he did not need their money.

“I think a mistake that mayors have made,” said Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, “is that they’ve really only been willing to push projects where they would be around to cut the ribbon to open the project, and what this mayor has done is to take the long-term view.”

The first obstacle to remaking the city was the lack of available parcels for large-scale development. Rezoning became the solution, Mr. Doctoroff said. He had headed the committee that sought to bring the Olympics to the city and had become familiar with largely undeveloped tracts outside the Manhattan core, like sites along the Brooklyn waterfront.

“That sort of became the genesis for the effort,” he said in a 2007 interview.

The effort became the most extensive rezoning in modern city history. Sections in all the boroughs were rezoned to boost their development potential. Fallow factory sites were recast as places for housing or office towers as the city confronted the idea that it was no longer a manufacturing center. At the same time, the city reduced allowable densities in many neighborhoods that were troubled by illegal or unpopular development.

The City Council adopted every rezoning without major revision. So far, one-fifth of the city has been rezoned.

The development zeal was driven by a projection that the city’s population would grow by one million by 2030.

The city hired two consulting firms at a cost of more than $1.5 million to explore how the extra people could be accommodated. Drawing from that work, the administration created its vision for the future, known as PlaNYC, which was released by the mayor on Earth Day 2007 and included a host of environmental initiatives, like planting a million trees.

“Let’s face up to the fact that our population growth is putting our city on a collision course with the environment, which itself is growing more unstable and uncertain,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. “To accommodate nearly a million more New Yorkers, we are going to have to create hundreds of thousands of new homes.”

Seeding Progress

New York City has frequently used money to spur development. Under Mr. Bloomberg, the city drastically increased the low-cost financing it made available to developers, in part because Mr. Doctoroff, a former investment banker, recognized the unrealized potential in some of the city’s balance sheets.

Most of the infusion cost little or nothing to taxpayers. It came in the form of low-interest loans to developers, with money raised by issuing bonds.

The Housing Development Corporation, for example, a public benefit corporation intended to foster affordable-housing construction, has issued $8.1 billion in bonds to support development under Mr. Bloomberg, more than triple the total issued during the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Another quasi-public agency, the Industrial Development Agency, has authorized more than $6.1 billion in new debt since Mr. Bloomberg took office — about 50 percent more than during Mr. Giuliani’s tenure. The largest pieces of that package helped finance new baseball stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets.

The figures for both agencies do not include Liberty Bonds, which were part of the 9/11 federal aid package.

Legally, the city is not responsible for debt incurred by its public benefit corporations, even in the unlikely event that the underlying projects and other financial institutions involved in the bond transactions collapsed. But officials said the city could feel compelled to help bondholders so as to protect the ratings on its other bonds.

“For all practical purposes, if H.D.C. went belly-up, there would be some expectation of the city making good on it,” said Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for the city’s nonpartisan Independent Budget Office.

At times, urban planners have questioned whether the Bloomberg administration has gone overboard in offering incentives to developers. The Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan have been looked at successively as a potential Olympic venue, a football stadium and now an urban village. And the city, through a specially created authority, has issued $2.1 billion in debt to pay for the extension of the No. 7 subway line to the area.

The debt is supposed to be paid from taxes generated by the new development, but if no development occurs, the city could be on the hook for $100 million a year in payments.

A 2007 report by the New York City Bar Association said the Hudson Yards financing scheme “bears an eerie resemblance to the development of Battery Park City,” which nearly defaulted and helped plunge the city into a fiscal crisis in the 1970s. And, it asked, if development of the West Side is inevitable, “why should costly artificial economic incentives be offered to encourage that development?”

Mr. Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger in next Tuesday’s election, Comptroller William C. Thompson, has said the mayor focuses too much on large developments that go to favored builders who receive wasteful subsidies.

When the new Yankee Stadium came up in Tuesday night’s debate, he said: “This is just another example of a giveaway, of the mayor’s giveaway to another one of his developer friends in the city,”

Bloomberg officials say that much of their lending was done to build or preserve 165,000 units of what the administration considers to be affordable housing, an ambitious plan for which the mayor has received many accolades. They point to vastly reinvented areas outside Manhattan’s wealthy core, like the Melrose section of the Bronx, where city financing underwrote new housing developments.

But some of the housing has been for families earning more than $100,000 a year, and some of the income limits expire after 15 years. The Housing Development Corporation has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financing that, in the view of advocates for moderately priced housing, subsidized market-rate apartments because the developers enjoyed outsize savings in exchange for a small number of lower-income units.

Marc Jahr, president of the corporation, said that nearly half of the 43,000 apartments it has financed through the mayor’s affordable housing program had been for people who earned 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, or about $46,000 a year for a family of four.

“We think that’s a good, balanced housing plan,” he said, “and one that’s important to the neighborhoods and important to the city to sustain over time.”

Some housing advocates say the gain in moderately priced housing units has been offset by the loss of 200,000 apartments that switched back to market rates under state rent-regulation laws that they say Mr. Bloomberg did not push Albany to change.

“Everyone will admit that New York City can’t build its way out of its affordable housing crisis,” said Mario Mazzoni, lead organizer at the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenants’ rights organization. “If you are talking about building affordable housing, the way they conceive of it is as a massive subsidy to developers.”

Grass Roots

Redevelopment can look easy on paper, but there are always neighborhood concerns, even in a place like Willets Point, a 62-acre industrial shanty town of body shops and scrap yards near the Mets’ stadium in Queens. The administration viewed it as an area ripe for economic development if the 225 existing businesses could be cleared.

But such ambitions had flummoxed city planners for decades. No less a builder than Robert Moses had been unable to make room in the area for the 1964 World’s Fair.

Mr. Doctoroff was determined to do better, through a local business group, the Flushing-Willets Point Local Development Corporation, which received half its money from the city. But about half the group’s money was spent doing something not allowed under state law: lobbying city officials. The group’s lobbying, has led to an investigation by the attorney general’s office.

That investigation has expanded into the activities of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which the city helped create in 2006 to help push through development plans following a broad rezoning of the area.

The city awarded the group a $6 million three-year no-bid contract. The group raised another $1.1 million in private donations, tax records show. And Mr. Doctoroff installed a top aide, Joe Chan, to run it. The partnership has become a key voice for the development of Downtown Brooklyn, inserting itself, critics say, into the debate over a plan to build a Nets area and high-rises at the Atlantic Yards. It has spent some $200,000 on lobbying expenses. Councilman Lewis A. Fidler complained last year that the partnership was using public funds to promote Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan.

Citing the investigation, city officials declined to discuss the Brooklyn group’s lobbying, as did Mr. Chan.

A Dream Falls Short

For years, Downtown Brooklyn resembled the textbook definition of back-office space. Class B. Schleppy. No buzz.

Even after the MetroTech development began to emerge in the 1980s, and with it came major corporations like Chase and KeySpan, the core commercial district excited few people.

In 2004, sparked by a push from local business leaders, the city rezoned 22 blocks. The new zoning anticipated 4.5 million square feet of office and commercial space that might keep businesses from moving to New Jersey, as well as 1,000 new apartments. There were hopes for 18,500 new office jobs and 8,000 construction jobs.

Today, much of this future remains unrealized. There are no new office towers. Luxury apartment buildings went up, but many units remain unsold and retail space is unrented, victims of the downturn and a construction glut.

“It seems like in a lot of places, the attitude has been like a field of dreams: If you zone it, they will come,” said Robert Perris, district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 2, which includes the downtown area. “It’s been kind of a mixed bag here.”

Indeed, companies like Bear Stearns have disappeared. Others, like JPMorgan Chase & Company, have downsized their Brooklyn operations. New condo buildings are cutting prices. Several planned projects are stalled as empty lots. Across the city, officials say, the recession has contributed to the stopping of work at about 450 projects.

James Whelan, the former head of the Downtown Brooklyn Council, which created the rezoning plan, sees the new residential development, especially along Flatbush Avenue, which developers once ignored, as an early sign of success. “Is there a commercial office tower built as part of the Downtown Brooklyn plan as we sit here today?” Mr. Whelan said. “No. When is it going to be built? It’s not clear. But as history shows, development is a long-term issue in New York City.”

A similar predicament is evident in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, two old, industrial waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A 2005 rezoning set off speculation that sent land prices rising to Manhattan levels. Gleaming glass-and-steel structures went up. Now many of them are nearly empty. Other projects foundered on shaky financing.

Now the administration is working to rescue struggling projects. The long-stalled City Point development is to get $20 million in recovery bonds.

In July, when scores of other new condominiums were not selling, and developers risked default, Mr. Bloomberg and the Council stepped in to announce a $20 million pilot program to buy the empty units and use them as affordable housing.

“Private developments that sit vacant or unfinished could have a destabilizing effect on our neighborhoods, but we’re not about to let that happen,” said Mr. Bloomberg.

Actually, Mr. Bloomberg most likely fostered some of the real estate speculation with policies that invited development. But even those who say the mayor’s development record is mixed credit him for taking a long view.

“For good or bad, the rezonings will probably be his most significant development legacy,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, an independent research group. “They’ve never got as much attention as the large-scale development projects he was pushing, like the Olympic stadium, but the rezonings are what will ultimately transform a large chunk of the city. Developers will be rebuilding on these for years to come.”

Charles V. Bagli and Jo Craven McGinty contributed reporting.

March 26, 2008
Ex-Official Cleared to Continue Work on Big City Projects

The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board cleared the way Tuesday for Daniel L. Doctoroff, who left City Hall for a private position two months ago, to remain involved in a range of city projects that were begun while he was deputy mayor for economic development.

In response to a request from the Bloomberg administration, the board gave its approval for Mr. Doctoroff to remain on the boards of the Hudson River Park Trust and the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, and to serve as an unpaid adviser on the proposed Moynihan Station and Queens West projects.

The board, whose five members are mayoral appointees, also approved Mr. Doctoroff’s participation in the mayor’s sweeping environmental initiatives collectively known as PlaNYC, which includes his congestion pricing plan.

The board’s decision underscores a reality that has often been noted in the city’s development community: Mr. Doctoroff may have left City Hall, but he remains a participant in — and has a big influence over — what is going to be built.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made it clear that he would continue to rely on Mr. Doctoroff’s expertise on development issues when he announced in December that Mr. Doctoroff was stepping down from his city position to take over as president of Bloomberg L.P., the financial and media giant the mayor founded. Mr. Doctoroff’s last day in office was Jan. 11.

It is not unprecedented for former city officials to be involved with public projects, but in the case of Mr. Doctoroff, the city’s longest-serving deputy mayor for economic development, the list is so long and varied that city officials and even some who serve on boards with him have expressed confusion about his roles. In response, City Hall circulated a memo in January advising city employees how to interact with him.

For a year after leaving public service, former officials are strictly prohibited from appearing before any city agency within the branch of government where they served; the ban is even longer if the subject is one in which the official was directly involved. The prohibitions do not apply, however, if the official is appearing on behalf of the mayor or another government agency.

Some questions about Mr. Doctoroff’s future role remain unanswered.

The board’s 10-page opinion did not address his participation in development decisions about the West Side railyards, known as Hudson Yards, although the city had asked for a ruling on the matter.

John Gallagher, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the board did not address that issue after Mr. Doctoroff decided against seeking to remain chairman of the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, the public benefit corporation working on the project with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Rather than retain the mayorally appointed position, he decided to seek to stay on as an adviser. The development corporation has asked the conflicts board for a ruling on that as well, a decision that is pending, Mr. Gallagher said.

Mr. Doctoroff has been a key negotiator in the selection of a developer on the Hudson Yards project. Mr. Gallagher said that because Mr. Doctoroff served on the transportation authority’s selection panel as a private citizen, he did not need a waiver from the conflicts board. But he was appointed to that panel by the Hudson Yards Development Corporation when he was its chairman, and he held the chairmanship through his office as deputy mayor.

On Wednesday, the transportation authority is expected to grant development rights over the railyards, a 26-acre slice of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River, to Tishman Speyer, one of Manhattan’s largest real estate operators.

Mr. Doctoroff met during the week of March 10 with the teams of developers competing for the billion-dollar project, according to members of the teams, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to offend Mr. Doctoroff.

Even after he left later on a business trip to Asia, Mr. Doctoroff remained in constant contact with the selection committee throughout the deliberations.

A spokeswoman for Bloomberg L.P. said Mr. Doctoroff was still in Asia on Tuesday and declined to make him available for comment. In an interview last month, however, Mr. Doctoroff dismissed the notion that there might be a conflict of interest between his continuing work for the city and his new role at Bloomberg.

“Certainly, if I felt it was going to create conflict that I thought was going to be harmful to the company, I wouldn’t do it, and I’d be the same way with the city,” he said. “If there was a conflict, I just wouldn’t do it.”

At the time of that Feb. 22 interview, Mr. Doctoroff also insisted that his involvement with the city had been limited since leaving office. He said he had spent just eight hours in meetings about city matters, including congestion pricing and Moynihan Station. That did not include the recent railyard negotiations.

“I care deeply about these projects, I care deeply about the city, despite the fact I don’t work there anymore,” Mr. Doctoroff said in the interview. “I have, in some cases, spent six years on some of these things, and so you know if I’m needed, I’m going to help.”

The opinion issued on Tuesday limits the role he can play in matters involving Vornado Realty, which owns the building housing the Bloomberg L.P. headquarters. The company is negotiating with Vornado for additional space.

The board said that given Mr. Doctoroff’s knowledge, it was best for the city for Mr. Doctoroff to continue his involvement with the Moynihan Station plans. Vornado is a developer of the station project and was one of the companies vying to develop the railyards with whom Mr. Doctoroff met earlier this month. On March 12, Mr. Doctoroff met with the Vornado chairman, Steven Roth, and the M.T.A. selection panel, and last Friday with David Greenbaum, a top Vornado executive.

The opinion advises Mr. Doctoroff to recuse himself from any discussions between Bloomberg L.P. and Vornado for one year from the date of the conclusion of the Moynihan Station negotiations, and from all dealings involving Vornado or Bloomberg L.P. in any of the other projects addressed in the ruling.

Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said he agreed with much of the ruling but was troubled by the absence of the railyards and the station exception.

“I can see recusing himself from landlord-tenant matters with Vornado, but is Vornado going to say, ‘O.K., we’re going to jack up the rent when we’re trying to make some kind of deal over Moynihan,’ ” Mr. Russianoff said.

Charles V. Bagli contributed reporting.

Holding Mayor Bloomberg Accountable by Brian D'Agostino, PH.D

Brian D'Agostino is a social scientist, author, and educator. He was a New York City public school teacher for eleven years and served as a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader. Brian is currently an independent statistical and policy analyst; visit him at Brian D'Agostino, PH.D

Michael Bloomberg claims to have revolutionized and brought accountability to a vast, dysfunctional public school system. The Obama administration believes him, and promotes his education reforms as a model for the country. But the billionaire mayor’s Democratic challenger Bill Thompson and other critics with insider knowledge are contesting these claims. Thompson was president of the city’s Board of Education the six years before Bloomberg was first elected in 2001, and served as city Comptroller for the last eight.

Bloomberg’s campaign has produced three glossy mailings that favorably compare his eight years of school reform with Thompson’s record as Board president. The mayor claims that he “eliminated wasteful bureaucracy that was doing nothing to educate our kids” and attacks Thompson for supporting “a plan to create more bureaucracy in the schools,” citing several New York Times articles from December 1996. But the plan described in these articles simply gave the chancellor some hiring and firing authority over 32 district superintendents, who had previously reported solely to their local school boards. Bloomberg knows very well this was a necessary corrective for local corruption and patronage politics. Referring to the plan, the Times’ editors wrote: “For the first time in years, New York City can have real hope about its public school system.”

While Thompson helped lay this foundation for further improvement, what Bloomberg added to it was, well, bureaucracy. The 2002 legislation establishing mayoral control had retained the local school districts and simply gave the mayor authority to hire the chancellor and a majority of the Board of Education. Not content to share power with local communities, as required under the legislation, Bloomberg and his chancellor Joel Klein dismantled the 32 district offices and created a centralized bureaucracy with ten regional superintendents, about a hundred “local instructional supervisors” under them, and an army of math and literacy “coaches” to enforce the new top-down instructional mandates in all the schools.

The “wasteful bureaucracy” that Bloomberg claimed to have eliminated was in the 32 district offices, which had provided administrative services to schools and gave parents and local communities access to power when problems could not be solved at the school level. The services for the most part were not provided by the new bureaucracy, and were either added to the workload of school staff or contracted out to private vendors paid out of school budgets. Meanwhile, the new “parent coordinator” in each school was no substitute for being able to voice concerns to a local school superintendent having authority over principals and curriculum.

And what happened to the $100 million saved from dismantling the “bureaucracy” in the districts? According to The New York Times (5/9/03), it was used to pay for a new bureaucracy, including the coaches and parent coordinators who reported up the chain of command to City Hall. Klein and Bloomberg say the money was “put into the classroom,” but it was not used to reduce class sizes or purchase needed materials; the role of the coaches and parent coordinators was to extend mayoral power into the schools.

Measuring School Performance

Bloomberg, of course, presents all of this as a bold and needed makeover of a system that was failing to deliver quality instruction. His ads claim that he holds students, teachers and principals accountable for progress, while Bill Thompson was, according to the New York Observer, “asleep on the job” as president of the Board of Ed. But the Observer comment referred to a lapse by Thompson in monitoring the school construction budget. That failure, and Bloomberg’s separate allegation that his rival “wasted over $4 billion in taxpayer money,” were almost certainly exceeded by the mayor’s billions of dollars in misallocated school funds and no-bid contracts.

As for elementary and middle school performance, Bloomberg claims that math and reading scores went up on his watch (the latter by 27.5 percentage points) while Thompson allegedly saw a 2.2 point drop in reading scores, and no improvement in math. These figures were cherry picked for purposes of the Bloomberg campaign, taken out of context, and calculated using misleading or incorrect assumptions.

By contrast, James F. Brennan, senior member of the New York State Assembly Education Committee, made an impartial and comprehensive comparison of school performance before and after the mayor’s reforms (in NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein, 2009). Brennan examined New York City math and reading scores, both fourth and eighth grade, from 1998 (the first year New York State collected the data) through 2008. He found that New York City fourth graders showed more improvement on these state tests during the period under Thompson, while the city’s eighth graders showed more improvement under Bloomberg. But that is not the whole story.

It is well known that the state tests have been subject to grade inflation. A much more reliable measure, according to experts, is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Brennan notes that the NAEP results confirm the gains that occurred under Thompson, but not those under Bloomberg. In fact, out of ten urban districts, New York’s eighth graders dropped from second place to sixth on the NAEP reading tests during the first four years of Bloomberg’s reforms.

According to education expert Diane Ravitch, Klein should have concluded from the NAEP results that the curriculum he imposed on the entire city wasn’t working and that he needed to reduce class sizes. But Klein’s response was to disregard the data, and instead make the discredited state tests the centerpiece of his new accountability system for students, teachers, and schools. When scores on these tests spiked in 2009, Klein awarded “A” and “B” grades to 97% of the city’s elementary and middle schools. As in the past, the state’s NAEP scores released less than six weeks later shattered these illusions.

And what about the high schools? In July 2009, a Comptroller Office’s report called into question the improved graduation rate cited by Bloomberg. For 10% of student records audited, schools failed to properly document completion of all graduation requirements. In addition, schools routinely awarded students redundant credits for passing the same course more than once and were often lax in their procedures for reversing failing course grades. In comments on these findings, Comptroller Thompson said, “The mayor’s managerial style has created an incentive for schools to graduate students whether or not they have met the necessary requirements,” and he called Bloomberg’s Education Department “the Enron of American Education.”

Thompson’s report may have caused the Bloomberg campaign to omit the city’s graduation rate and instead to provide in their mailings only the dropout rate, which they claim declined by 6.5 percentage points between the classes of 2006 and 2007, while increasing 4 points under Thompson. But the Comptroller’s audit also calls into question Bloomberg’s official dropout rate; at least 6% of students sampled should have been counted as dropouts in the class of 2007 and were not.

Nor is it clear what the increased dropout rate under Thompson really means. The Daily News (9/19/09) said it reflected the introduction of more rigorous graduation policies during the same time period. This is ironic in light of the mayor’s claim that Thompson “did nothing to end social promotion.”

Finally, the mayor’s mailings say school crime went down 44% under his watch while “School Violence Soared” under Thompson. But neither of the sources cited—the New York Post (6/19/09) on Bloomberg’s record and the Daily News (9/18/95) on Thompson’s—support these claims. I searched the entire Post issue and could not find a single reference to school crime. And the News editorial on school violence appeared ten months before Thompson became president of the Board of Education. It is interesting that both these bloopers pertain to the Bloomberg campaign’s most emotionally charged school issue: public safety. More on that later.

School Reform: Image and Reality

The unsubstantiated, misleading, or false claims in these mailings are part of a larger pattern. The mayor and his chancellor preside over a formidable propaganda machine. Since taking office, Joel Klein has at least quadrupled his public relations staff, which has access to the DOE’s vast information resources. He also chairs the Fund for Public Schools, a non-profit group that has spent millions on subway, bus, radio, and TV ads promoting his record. Supportive media elites include Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman—a vice chair of the Fund—and New York Post publisher Rupert Murdoch, whose wife Wendi serves on its board. Klein’s Tweed Courthouse headquarters produces a continuous flow of supposedly objective information that dominates mainstream media and opinion, from the streets of New York to White House policymakers.

Tweed Courthouse

But a growing body of literature challenges the Bloomberg/Klein brand and its image of New York City as the world’s epicenter of successful school reform. One book of eye-opening articles is NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers, and Policymakers Need to Know (2009), available as a free download from Lulu Press. The racial achievement gap, policing of the schools, class size, and Bloomberg’s initiatives regarding small schools and accountability are just few of the chapters.

In July 2008, addressing the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, Bloomberg and Klein reported dramatic progress in closing the racial achievement gap. The Jennings and Pallas article in NYC Schools shows that these claims, based on proficiency data, are misleading. A proficiency rate only measures the percentage of students who meet an arbitrary “cut score.” This percentage is unaffected by the performance of students who already exceed the score or fail to meet it. Using proficiency rates to measure performance gives teachers an incentive to work with students just below the cut score at the expense of the majority. Proficiency rates will then improve, even if overall school performance deteriorates.

Based on proficiency rates, Bloomberg and Klein made the misleading claim that they decreased the racial achievement gap in math and reading scores for 4th and 8th graders, including a 50% gap reduction in 8th grade reading scores. But average scale scores, which measure the performance of all students, show that the gap actually widened (by as much as 22%) in all categories except 8th grade reading. There the gap reduction was 6%, not 50% as advertised. And that was little cause for celebration, since the city’s 8th graders as a whole lost ground on the more rigorous NAEP reading test. Black and Hispanic students simply lost less ground than their white and Asian classmates.

The same administration that produced these outcomes put policies into place that continue to adversely affect minority students. Civil rights activist and NAACP official Hazel Dukes has an article in NYC Schools that addresses some of these policies. One of them involved admissions criteria for gifted and talented programs. Research has shown that multiple criteria provide a better guide to future student performance than test scores alone. Disregarding this research, the chancellor required local school districts to discontinue multiple criteria, beginning in October 2007, and to exclusively use high stakes tests with uniform cut scores. Experts had warned Klein to no avail that this policy would particularly hurt minority applicants.

As predicted, in Fall 2008, there was a sharp decline in black and Hispanic admissions—with the percentage of black students admitted to gifted and talented programs falling from 31% to 13%. Five predominantly minority school districts lost their programs altogether. Klein pursued similar policies with similar results at the high school level, requiring Staten Island Technical High School and smaller, newer magnet schools to adopt high stakes testing as their sole admissions criterion. He also presided over a 26% decrease in enrollment between 2006 and 2008 in after school and Saturday programs to help high-needs students wanting to apply to magnet schools.

With Black and Hispanic students losing academic ground, conditions in predominantly minority schools are deteriorating. Failing to proactively address the needs of students, the administration relies instead on a heavy police presence to maintain public safety. Although student enrollment has declined under Bloomberg, the number of security officers—employees of the NYPD—increased to 5,200, giving the school system the nation’s 5th largest police force. More police are deployed for New York City’s one million students than for the entire 2.2 million population of Houston.

An article by civil liberties advocate Udi Offer describes the result: the criminalizing of children, especially minorities and those with special needs. In separate incidents in 2007, two students were arrested and handcuffed, one of them a 13 year old for writing on a desk. The next year, a five year old was handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric ward for throwing a tantrum. Police frequently undermine principals in matters of discipline, in one case even arresting a principal who tried to prevent one of his students from being hauled off in handcuffs. Students, parents, and community leaders have repeatedly approached the administration with alternative approaches to school safety, but the mayor, according to Offer, refuses to participate in a dialogue.

Finally, while committed to policies that have failed low income and minority communities, Bloomberg and Klein neglected one of the most effective policies known to improve academic performance—reducing class size. In 1999, the city began to receive $90 million per year from New York State, and another $90 million in federal funds to reduce class sizes. As Leonie Haimson noted in NYC Schools, this produced significant improvement as long as the funds were actually used to reduce class size. In 2006, however, the city decreased its own funding for smaller class sizes, canceling the effects of these state and federal funds. The next year, New York received an additional $400 million from the state to reduce class size. The city did not allocate the money for that purpose, however, and in September 2008 class sizes actually increased.

Admitting Failure

Although unreported in the mainstream media, the mayor and chancellor have in effect admitted the failure of their education policies. Their current long term strategy is to abandon the public school system they are supposed to be managing in favor of a network of privatized charter schools. Not coincidentally, most of these new schools are not unionized.

The chancellor is reallocating scarce resources and classroom space in support of this new policy, often creating bitter conflicts between public and charter schools housed in the same building. The city’s 78 charter schools enroll a smaller proportion of English language learners and special needs students than their public counterparts, and are permitted in practice to expel low achieving students. All these hard-to-teach students are then dumped into the public schools, which, unlike the charters, have larger class sizes and are not permitted to cap their enrollments. The administration then compares the public schools unfavorably to the charters, even though research shows mixed results—notwithstanding all the advantages conferred on the charters. Klein envisions these publicly funded yet privately managed entities as the future of “public” education. See Grassroots Education Movement and Sarah Knopp.

The purported advantages of charters—human scale, better instruction, autonomous governance—had already existed in some public schools since the 1970s, a little known fact discussed in the article by educator Deborah Meier. Compared to today’s charters, however, these experiments had a more public and democratic nature. They were governed by the faculty, with the support of principals and input from parents and students. Operating under the same resource constraints and union as other public schools, and drawing from the same student population, they tailored instruction to the learning needs of students, not the requirements of standardized tests.

At first, Klein tried to replicate this success. While lauding small school innovation, however, he undermined it by assessing performance in conventional ways. Nor could quality, autonomous schools be mass produced from his Tweed headquarters. Notwithstanding $100 million in supplemental funding from Bill Gates, the administration’s program foundered, and Gates stopped supporting it in 2008. By then, charter schools had emerged as Bloomberg’s and Klein’s new paradigm.

Along with this move to privatization, the administration’s admission of failure was its quiet demolition in 2006 of the very bureaucracy it had created with so much fanfare only three years earlier. The only thing more remarkable than this reversal was its failure to elicit critical commentary and analysis in the mainstream media; Bloomberg and Klein were permitted to declare victory and move on. Having brought “accountability” to the system, they said, the “reforms” were now entering a new phase.

Instead of being told what and how to teach through a bureaucratic chain of command, teachers are now subjected to management-by-numbers. Their performance is measured using “value added assessment,” where student scores on standardized tests at the end of the school year are compared with their scores at the beginning—the difference being attributable to the teacher. With merit pay or job loss at stake, teachers and principals now have test preparation as their primary task. That is driving authentic educators to look elsewhere for work.

Needless to say, this is no way to get kids excited about school, especially those who are disadvantaged and already alienated from mainstream institutions. In fact, it eradicates the love of learning that many students bring to the table. Test preparation cannot cultivate the critical thinking skills and independent judgment needed to be a responsible citizen, an intelligent user of the internet, or even a savvy consumer. Nor can it cultivate the creativity and capacity for innovation that the best 21st century jobs require.

This is the kind of school system that corporate elites, politicians, and lawyers create when they don’t care to collaborate with educators and want an easily quantified and user friendly tool for controlling them. It is a system for creating a large supply of minimally-skilled, diligent and disciplined service workers who will follow instructions without asking questions. And it trains the populace in mindless conformity, making the entire country susceptible to authoritarian rule.

Joyce Purnick’s biography of Michael Bloomberg came out this year. She wrote about a man intoxicated with power—more than most leaders—and who still can’t get enough. To be sure, he also cares about the city’s people, and wants to serve them well. But he imagines he is vastly smarter and more competent than all the city’s teachers, principals, and other public servants, and can forge a better government by concentrating power in City Hall. He has convinced millions, both inside and outside the city, that this is so. But Bloomberg’s record running the New York City public school system shatters this illusion. Isn’t it time for this mayor—whose mantra is accountability—to be finally held accountable for his own performance?

Brian D'Agostino
New York, NY
October 22, 2009

link to Brian's website

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Steve Koss from China With Thoughts on Nicholas Kristof's article on Education in NYC

Saturday, October 17, 2009
Nick Kristof Strikes Again, and Gets It Wrong Again
NYC Public School Parents


I can think of few journalistic practices more damaging and wrongheaded than the reporter who helicopters into a complex problem for a few days, sniffs around a bit without really understanding the context in which he or she is observing, and then drops an "expert opinion" editorial on the matter. No one in my recent memory appears more prone to this, and more badly misled, than the NY Times's periodic editorial contributor, Nick Kristof, particularly with regard to education.

Back in 2002, Mr. Kristof dropped himself in on some schools in Shanghai and then wrote a ridiculous column on China's "super kids" whose schooling and intelligence were apparently going to bury the U.S. competitively in the future. He could not have gotten the Chinese education system more wrong in 750 words than he did at that time; reading his 2002 column today is still an embarrassment for anyone who really understands what's going on in the Chinese education system.

Now, Mr. Kristof has inserted himself into education once again, and just as foolishly, with his latest contribution to the NY Times. In an October 15th piece oddly entitled "Democrats and Schools", Mr. Kristof elects to beat on that favorite old dead horse of education critics, that the problem with US education is bad teachers and their unions who simply won't let schools get rid of them.

In his article, he talks about NYC's system where "failed teachers" are sent at full pay to "rubber rooms," clearly not understanding that the purpose of such centers is to hold teachers against whom potentially serious allegations of misconduct (such as, for example, sexual misconduct or verbal or physical abuse of students) have been made while their cases are being investigated. Whatever one may think of rubber rooms, they are not holding pens for teachers who have merely been judged incompetent.

Of course, Mr. Kristof trots out a couple horror stories about bad teachers to "prove" his point, and there's certainly no argument here that abusive teachers who degrade their students or show up drunk do not belong in classrooms. As his column progresses, he slyly manages to conflate the clearly unacceptable behavior of his "horror stories" with the term "ineffective teachers," as though the U.S. education system is suffering from an epidemic of school-based child abuse. Ineffective and drunk (or telling a failed suicide that next time the student should cut his wrists more deeply) are not equal.

Anyway, these horror stories are old news, and Mr. Kristof writes as though he just discovered this issue. Beyond making it easier to remove such "ineffective" teachers, what are his solutions? Two of them are more charter schools and "objective measurement to see who is effective." Of course, while calling for better teachers with better compensation, he conveniently ignores the fact that under NCLB, teachers of all stripes and levels of ability are being hamstrung by precisely those types of measurement systems, all of which begin with state-defined standardized exams which place enormous pressure on school administrators and teachers to show ever-improving results.

The damage these exams are doing to real education is incalculable, since they distort both teaching and curricula by narrowing content, detracting from coverage of other subject areas, and focusing on test-taking rather than education as an exploration and learning experience.

In his closing, Mr. Kristof writes, "I’m hoping the unions will come round and cooperate with evidence-based reforms, using their political clout to push to raise teachers’ salaries rather than to protect ineffective teachers," as if this is the essential either/or choice. It's merely another false dichotomy -- the two items have nothing to do with one another.

More charter schools, more "objective" measurement of teachers' value added based on standardized exams, less intrusion from the teachers' unions -- this is what Mr. Kristof wants the Democrats to be doing. Sadly, President Obama (through his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan) appears to be working from Mr. Kristof's playbook, acting more like a conservative Republican than the Democratic reformer for whom we thought we had voted. --Steve Koss

Nicholas Kristof Wins The 2009 Bad Journalism Award

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Andrew Wolf makes an excellent point in his article "Flat Earth Society" below:

"If the children of New York State, and those here in the city, are to get the education they deserve — and NAEP tells us they are not getting it — we need real reform, not smoke and mirrors. For if the earth is as flat as the Daily News says, we are currently sailing for the edge."

It is time to add up the facts:

(1) Joel Klein has no contract, in violation of Education Law 2590-h:

"* § 2590-h. Powers and duties of chancellor. The office of chancellor of the city district is hereby continued. Such chancellor shall serve at the pleasure of and be employed by the mayor of the city of New York by contract. The length of such contract shall not exceed by more than two years the term of office of the mayor authorizing such contract. The chancellor shall receive a salary to be fixed by the mayor within the budgetary allocation therefor. He or she shall exercise all his or her powers and duties in a manner not inconsistent with the city-wide educational policies of the city board..."

Additionally, the Panel For Educational Policy is not a legal entity, has no administrative or executive function, and it's members are merely actors in the citywide denial of public access to information and/or the refusal to honor procedural due process for children, parents, and employees of the New York City Board of Education.

(2) Joel Klein's people terrorize anyone who validly makes a claim against him or against the organization he manages, the New York City Board of Education, Inc.; anyone who asks questions that are not constitutionally damaging to Mr. Klein and/or the Organization are simply pushed aside, ignored, or made fun of, and all others with claims against the regime are bought off or given favors that cannot be refused;

(3) in order to satisfy the mandate to show improved scores in every classroom, Principals change grades constantly, or alter tests, and order their staff to do the same, leaving the children in their schools far behind...Social promotion still exists, only now it is micro-managed;

(4) Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg designed a process of taking revenge on troublemakers whereby anyone - staff, teacher, custodian, outside consultant, parent, child - can be made guilty of a crime and arrested without a crime taking place, and there is nothing that the victim can do to prevent this from happening;

(5) the victims of the false claims can only clear their names if they have the money and can spend the time to rally people and resources sufficient to make a strong defense against the lies about them that the Organization made up;

(6) the NYC major media (NY Daily News, NY POST, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC TV, NBC, CBS, NY1, to name a few) has been "convinced" that to write anything but praise for the excellent job the Klein/Bloomberg administration has done and will continue to do is financial suicide.

I could go on and on, but what we New Yorkers must do is say NO to this scullduggery and vote William Thompson in as Mayor of the City of New York on November 3, 2009.

I know the earth is round.

Betsy Combier

Flat Earth Society
By ANDREW WOLF, NY SUN, October 24, 2009

No sooner did the Daily News lambast critics of Mayor Bloomberg’s educational program as “flat earth” adherents than the federal NAEP math test released its results, which undermine the mayor’s claims for academic improvements on his watch.

It seems that New York’s NAEP scores have been stagnating, despite the fact that scores on the state tests, on which the mayor bases his claims, have been soaring. It’s surprising to see the editors of the New York’s Picture Newspaper miss this frame of reference, as they did, in an editorial on Sunday October 18.

They opine that the NAEP results are for the state, not the city. Aside from the fact that the city makes up a big part of the state, they miss one critical point. The disparity between the state test results and NAEP is so wide as to cast doubt on the state testing program in every corner of the Empire State from Buffalo to Montauk as well as in our five boroughs.

To base any evaluation of our schools on bogus testing — and even pay bonuses (with your tax dollars) on the basis of the state scores — is nonsensical. The education expert Diane Ravitch (pictured at right) suggests that the new leadership at the State Education Department fire those responsible. I would urge a full investigation of who knew what and when about the creation and management of the state testing program, which has millions of young victims.

The NAEP results are certainly bad news for the Bloomberg campaign. If the state scores are bogus, now increasingly accepted as fact, then the Bloomberg education legend is exposed as mythology.

Christopher Cerf, the former deputy chancellor at the Department of Education, was furiously spinning this disastrous news in his new temporary post working in the Bloomberg reelection effort. Mr. Cerf, according to the New York Times, “said that when the New York City numbers become public, they could show that city students outperformed their peers in the rest of the state.” The Gray Lady quoted him as saying: “It would be impossible to draw any conclusions about New York City’s progress at this point.”

Mr. Cerf has a history in spinning NAEP results, which have never been particularly kind to Tweed. Last year, replying to Sol Stern in an online debate published on the blog Eduwonk, Mr. Cerf proclaimed, “While the NAEP is important evidence of progress, it is not ‘high stakes,’ not based on state standards, and given to a comparatively small sample. At minimum, the significance of the NAEP needs to be considered in the larger context of state tests, which are high-stakes and are taken by all.”

Parent activist Leonie Haimson pointed out in a comment on Mr. Cerf’s posting at the time that the fact that the NAEP is not “high stakes” makes the results all the more reliable.

Mr. Cerf was merely reprising the comments of the former state education commissioner, Richard Mills, which I reported in the New York Sun nearly two years ago on December, 21, 2007. “Given that NAEP and state tests, as well as the related standards, are prepared separately, it's inevitable that national and state results will be different. In some states the difference is large, while it's small in others. This presents an obvious question for the public and policy makers: which results are correct?"

I went on to state that “Mr. Mills believes that the lower standards exhibited by the New York state/NAEP gap, among the widest gaps in the nation, are more accurate and goes on to give a list of reasons. These include the remarkable claim that ‘teachers and students perceive that stakes are high for performance on the New York tests and students are encouraged to do their best. There are no consequences to a school or a student from NAEP.’”

Given the similarity in the points of view of Messrs. Mills and Cerf, it might well be appropriate to thank those Regents who rebuffed the effort to make Mr. Cerf state education commissioner. Surely the pupils in the state are better off with Commissioner David Steiner’s commitment to high standards and real reform.

If the children of New York State, and those here in the city, are to get the education they deserve — and NAEP tells us they are not getting it — we need real reform, not smoke and mirrors. For if the earth is as flat as the Daily News says, we are currently sailing for the edge.

City kids are upward bound: New data document major education gains in five boroughs
Editorials, NY Daily News, October 14th 2009, 4:00 AM

You would be better off arguing that the world is flat, or that the sun revolves around the Earth, than to dispute that New York City kids are performing better and better in school.

There are those who have refused to believe this fact. They have persistently challenged reading and math tests as meaningless or as dumbed down or as soul-deadening hokum. And they charge that rising high school graduation rates are suspect.

Well, now there is fresh and incontrovertible data that match how well the city's kids are performing with how well their peers from around the state are performing. The comparison is so simple, it's a wonder no one has done it before:

Take the hard standardized tests scores of every schoolkid in New York, average the scores by county and district and rank them by county and district. Then track what happens to the rankings over a period of years.

Back in 2002, the five boroughs were clustered at the very bottom among the state's 62 counties. In fact, the city occupied five of the last six spots. But starting in 2005, after several years of inching upward, city kids started climbing the ranks.

This year, Queens is No. 15 out of 62 - within 11 points of counties with wealthy districts, like Nassau (No. 1), Westchester (No. 4) and Rockland (No. 6).

Staten Island ranks 24th. Manhattan, which was No. 59 last year, is now 50th. Brooklyn rose from 61st last year to No. 56.

Only the Bronx, the state's most disadvantaged county, has remained stable, at the bottom of the list. But even there, scores have risen steadily.

In fact, the only counties in all of New York where test scores have increased from 2002 to 2009 are the five boroughs. Everywhere else, scores have declined.

The quality of schooling is a preeminently fit subject for debate in this mayoral election year. It is time for Mayor Bloomberg to answer to the voters on whether he has fulfilled his promise to be the city's "education mayor."

These numbers offer indisputable evidence that he and Chancellor Joel Klein have worked a sea change in the nation's largest school system. While there is still a long way to go - and while standards must be further toughened - the city's kids are making bigger strides than children anywhere else in New York State. Wow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nicholas Kristof Wins The 2009 Bad Journalism Award

Nicholas D. Kristof

Nicholas D. Kristof is a well-known columnist for the New York Times. He has won several awards for his writing.

Thus, there is no excuse for the misleading article that he wrote and that was published in the New York Times on October 15, 2009 called "Democrats and Schools". In his honor I have thought up a new award, The Bad Journalism Award which is, without ceremony, hereby awarded to Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist at the New York Times, for writing an article about a subject he knows nothing about: "the rubberization in NYC of "incompetent" teachers.

When I read the article below written by Mr. Kristof, I thought of alot of "maybe"s:

(1) maybe Mr. Kristof didn't actually write the article but was so busy on doing other things that he simply cut and pasted it off of Steve Brill's published piece, email or pdf;

(2) maybe Mr. Kristof did not want to write the article as he doesn't know anything about the Bloomberg/Klein teacher rubberization process and didn't have any desire to find out what the NYC Rubber Rooms were really about, but he was told he had to write the article;

(3) maybe Mr. Kristof was told, "take Steve Brill's article and add to it, do not research the validity of what he is saying";

(4) maybe Mr. Kristof was told not to read any comments or articles by anyone on the false information written by Mr. Brill in his article on NYC's worst teachers;

(5) maybe Mr. Kristof does not like research, and simply re-prints someone else's article if the author is "politically correct";

(6) maybe Mr. Kristof is tired of writing and wants to retire.

In sum, I really don't know why Mr. Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times wrote such a piece as the one below, "Democrats and Schools" which is filled with misleading as well as absolutely wrong - if not defamatory - information. Nonetheless, I give him the 2009 Bad Journalism Award.

As I wrote in a previous post, I know all the teachers who were mentioned in Mr. Brill's article. Not a single one is incompetent. Exactly the opposite is true. All are examples of the Bloomberg/Klein administration's policy of allowing Principals to "cleanse" their schools of people they don't like, or who may speak out and reveal crimes being committed in the school by the administration.

However, Mr. Kristof's worst error is his defamatory statement about "the fifth-grade teacher" as follows:
"A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards..."

Mr. Kristof, you repeat the same lies that Mr. Brill published without knowing whether or not this teacher was "guilty" of anything other than grieving the racial/religious discrimination against her by the Principal! Shame on you.

And then you attribute to the arbitrator (Mr. Jay Siegel) a conclusion that has not been reached, due to the fact that there has not yet been closing arguments in this case. Your comment:

"...but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system’s lawyer put it best: 'These children were abused in stealth'.” Shame, shame, shame on you, Mr. Kristof.

On October 27, 2009 Mr. Siegel will hear closing arguments in this case, and there will be sparks flying if indeed he now declares this teacher guilty of incompetence, and told you or Steve Brill this before he heard the summation and looked at the evidence. This will have serious consequences if what you wrote, Mr. Kristof is correct. Please keep all of your records on who gave you the arbitrator's 'decision' before the closing arguments were heard. I for one want to have this information.

Oh, Mr. Brill - you have won the 2009 Yellow Journalism Award. Congratulations.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

October 15, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Democrats and Schools

The Democratic Party has battled for universal health care this year, and over the decades it has admirably led the fight against poverty — except in the one way that would have the greatest impact.

Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that —and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.

It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence — so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called “rubber rooms.”

A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill (pictured at right) examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards. The teacher claimed that she was being punished for union activity, but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system’s lawyer put it best: “These children were abused in stealth.”

The effort to remove the teacher is expected to cost about $400,000, and the outcome is uncertain. In New York City, with its 80,000 teachers, arbiters have removed only two for incompetence alone in the last couple of years. We tolerate failed teachers —and failed arbiters — as long as it’s not our own kids who suffer.

In another case cited by Mr. Brill, the union hailed its defense of a high-school teacher — who had passed out in front of her class, allegedly smelling of alcohol, with even the principal unable to rouse her. The union fought to secure her return to teaching, Mr. Brill wrote, until she passed out again, and her “water bottle” turned out to contain alcohol.

In California, we see the same pathology — as long as the students in question are impoverished and marginalized, with uncomplaining parents, they are allowed to endure the kind of teachers and schools that we would never tolerate for our own kids.

A Los Angeles Times article this year recounted how a teacher rebuked an eighth grader who had been hospitalized for slashing his wrists in a suicide attempt. “Carve deeper next time,” the teacher allegedly advised. He was even said to have added: “You can’t even kill yourself.” A review board blocked the termination of that teacher.

The Los Angeles Times investigation found that it is so expensive to remove teachers that the authorities typically try to do so only in cases of extreme misconduct — not for something as “minor” as incompetence.

Of course, there are many other obstacles to learning: lack of safety, alcohol and narcotics and troubled homes and uninterested parents. But there’s mounting evidence that even in such failing schools, the individual teacher makes a vast difference.

Research has underscored that what matters most in education — more than class size or spending or anything — is access to good teachers. A study found that if black students had four straight years of teachers from the top 25 percent of most effective teachers, the black-white testing gap would vanish in four years.

There are no silver bullets, but researchers are gaining a better sense of what works in education for disadvantaged children: intensive preschool, charter schools with long hours, fewer certification requirements that limit entry to the teaching profession, higher compensation to attract and retain good teachers, objective measurement to see who is effective, more flexibility in removing those who are ineffective.

Unions are wary in part because school administrators can be arbitrary and unfair. Yet there are some signs that the unions are rethinking their positions in very welcome ways. The National Education Association has announced an initiative to improve teaching in high-poverty high schools, and the American Federation of Teachers is experimenting with teacher evaluation that includes student performance data.

Neither initiative reflects sufficient urgency. But let’s hope this is a new beginning. I’m hoping the unions will come round and cooperate with evidence-based reforms, using their political clout to push to raise teachers’ salaries rather than to protect ineffective teachers.

This is the central front in the war on poverty, the civil rights issue of our time. Half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, isn’t it time to end our “separate but equal” school systems?

Norm Scott weighs in on Kristof's lack of journalistic integrity.

See also:
The Baltimore Sun Falls Victim To The Brill/Klein Propaganda