reading between the snipes

Thompson questions integrity of schools' testing procedures

For the second day in a row, the city’s comptroller has released an audit questioning the validity of the city’s education data. And for the second day in a row, political jockeying initially overshadowed the report’s content.

At a press conference this morning, Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is running for mayor, said the audit of testing oversight revealed that the Department of Education had allowed “an environment ripe for cheating.” “We found that the Department of Education has engaged in sloppy and unprofessional practices that encourage cheating and data manipulation,” he said.

But the report did not find new instances of cheating.

The audit focuses on the role played by testing monitors in overseeing the math and English Language Arts, or ELA, tests given to elementary school students in 2008. These monitors, employed by the DOE, make unannounced visits to schools on testing days to ensure that protocols are being followed. Thompson’s audit deems the monitoring system “inadequate.”

The report suggests that the DOE is not thoroughly monitoring its monitors. “DOE does not keep track of the monitors assigned to visit schools and the submission of checklists,” the audit states. It adds that, in many instances, monitors respond to checklist questions that they couldn’t possibly know the answers to — citing a case of a monitor who arrived after the test had begun, but marked “yes” that the tests had been safely stored.

The DOE today shot back, saying that the comptroller’s auditors had not actually witnessed the process they were supposed to be investigating. According to the DOE, of 17 tests the auditors witnessed, none was being monitored.

“They didn’t follow all the procedures because they were not at the schools as monitors; they were there to assist the Comptroller’s auditors,” said spokesman David Cantor in a statement. (Cantor had been ejected from the comptroller’s press conference.) “The Comptroller also recommends several improvements to the monitoring process that the DOE already implemented in time for the 2009 tests, which he could have seen for himself if he hadn’t declined the DOE’s invitations to do so.”

The audit also highlights the fact that the city no longer uses a particular strategy to detect cheating: erasure analysis, which counts the number of times each student erased a wrong answer and bubbled in a correct one. “The old Board of Education abandoned this practice in 2001 because they determined it was a waste of money,” Cantor said.

But Thompson said erasure analysis should be reinstated. The education department said today it would take Thompson’s suggestion “under consideration.” Currently, the DOE only does a complete review of test scores if it receives allegations of improprieties.

In his audit, Thompson’s auditors performed erasure analysis on a sampling of tests, finding two fourth-grade students whose tests had “an excessive pattern of erasures.” The DOE’s statement said that the audit’s concerns over the two tests were “baseless,” and that the two students had accidentally filled in the wrong row of bubbles.

The department found 13 instances of cheating between 2006 and 2008, according to the audit.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”