It's time to fire New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. In eight years as chief executive of the city's school system, he has consistently embraced measures designed more to sell the idea of a system helping our students to attain critical achievement goals than to target those goals directly.
My office has a charter-mandated responsibility to audit allegations of mismanagement that are brought to our attention. In the exercise of that responsibility, we have discovered and reported on a pattern of brazen actions taken by the Department of Education that fly in the face of basic management standards.
We have uncovered repeated instances of awarding no-bid contracts to firms without a proven track record, which in one case led to a disastrous bus routing fiasco. We have reported on gross cost over-runs by outside contractors hired by the Department that have cost New York City taxpayers over $720 million and denied students funds for basic supplies.
In audit reports last week exposing shoddy oversight regarding high school graduation rates and standardized test administration, we found that the DOE has engaged in sloppy and unprofessional practices that encourage data manipulation and cheating.
With respect to graduation data, some ten percent of graduating student transcripts we looked at did not show that the requirements for graduation had been met. With respect to testing, we found that basic measures to ensure that exams are administered fairly and so as to minimize cheating are not being followed or have been eliminated.
Because we found no instances of deliberate cheating, our reports were received with derision by the Department and some of the press. And yet imagine if we had been auditing the management of the New York City Housing Authority and discovered that doors to elevator shafts were routinely left open. If no one had been killed or injured, would the investigation be less worthy, the findings less appalling?
Of course not. The DOE has used every excuse in the book, but there is no excuse when it comes to our children. For too long we have taken the Department's claims at face value. Our audits raised a simple question: what is the value of a New York City diploma? Once and for all, the Department must end the mismanagement, end the secrecy, and end the doubt.
Doubt over student achievement strikes at the heart of the DOE's mission. The Department boasts that rising graduation rates and tests scores prove that the achievement gap is closing in our city's public schools and that New York City's children are better equipped to achieve educational milestones.
But if the Department doesn't have appropriate measures in place to prevent the manipulation of test scores and graduation data, then how do we know that the improvements are grounded in reality? The integrity of the entire process is called into question, especially at a time when school officials feel ever greater pressure to post constant gains for fear that their schools may be closed.
The system is ripe for abuse. Take, for example, the so-called "credit recovery" process, in which students gain credit for a failed course by completing make-up assignments that require minimal work. A year ago The New York Times documented one such example, in which a student at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem was able to pass a senior English class he had previously failed by completing 3 essay assignments that took roughly ten hours.
Our schools chancellor called this practice "a legitimate and important strategy for working with high school students." I call it a complete sham. While the mayor loudly touts his commitment to end social promotion in the lower grades, he silently continues lax promotion policies in the upper grades.
By the same token, if standardized testing is considered the benchmark by which the Department of Education measures student achievement, then we must make every effort to ensure that test scores accurately reflect students' educational progress, especially when other notable tests, such as the national NAEP exams and SAT's, show either no gains or even losses in our City.
Half a century after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck at the fundamental unfairness of the "separate but equal" standard in education, gross disparities remain. Rather than confront those disparities with threats and ginned-up achievement gains, it's time to get back to the basic priorities like curriculum, instruction and learning.
The stakes are too high to fail. If we are to address the education challenges confronting our children, we must have an educator at the helm of our school system again, someone who inspires confidence across the system, from parents to teachers to administrators and, yes, to auditors.
Joel Klein must go.
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