going gaga

City scrambles to recalibrate its message to adjusted scores

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, defends the city's test scores at Tweed Courthouse this afternoon.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, defended the city's test scores at Tweed Courthouse yesterday.

Talking about the definition of academic proficiency yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg struck a relativist note.

“Everybody can have their definition of what it means,” he said. Later, he added: “The last time I checked, Lady Gaga is doing fine with just a year of college.”

He even asked reporters not to refer to students who score above a Level 3 out of 4 as “proficient.”

The request follows new revelations that the bar for “proficiency” on state tests seems to have dropped over time, so that even though more students statewide were meeting it each year, they were not actually learning more. In response, the state this year took steps to tug standards higher.

Yet even as he called the definition of “proficient” into question, Bloomberg vigorously defended the administration’s tough accountability system, which uses the Level 1 to 4 system to determine which students move on to the next grade and as one piece of schools’ report card grades.

Bloomberg has also used rising numbers of students scoring at Level 3 as a referendum on his education policies, arguing over and over again that because the rates are going up, the policies must work. Just last year, announcing that more students were “meeting or exceeding grade-level math standards,” a reference to more students scoring Level 3 or higher, Bloomberg called the results “proof” of New York City schools’ excellence.

“Our schools have made a remarkable turnaround since 2002,” he said in a press release. “New York City is now proof that you shouldn’t have to choose between living in a big city and sending your children to excellent public schools.”

For years, city officials also rebuffed critics who suggested that rapid gains might not represent increases in student learning. “I’m sort of speechless,” Bloomberg said in 2008, after GothamSchools editor Elizabeth Green (then a reporter at the New York Sun) asked whether rising graduation rates might reflect inflation. “Is there anything good enough to just write the story?”

Now that state officials have acknowledged that test scores have inflated — and they’ve adjusted them accordingly — the city is scrambling to adjust its message.

In one step, they are referring to the statewide re-calibration, which aims to offset years of apparently dropping standards, as a hiking of the bar.

“Whether the new expectations will instigate all of us to try harder, one can only hope,” Bloomberg said.

City officials are also defending their accountability measures — like the grades given to schools, based strongly on test results — by arguing that the measures don’t look at proficiency rates but rather progress from year to year. Indeed, the report card formula weights progress more heavily than how many students score at a level 3, the state’s minimum bar for proficiency.

“The virtue of our accountability system is that it’s not tied to a line in the sand,” Klein said yesterday. “Level 3 is simply a single line,” Klein said. “We will look at what we’ve always looked at — not at how many are level 3, but at how much progress they have made.”

Even that may prove problematic this year, since city schools’ raw scores on the tests flattened out this year as well. Anticipating the changes, city officials announced earlier this year that schools will be graded on a curve for next year’s progress reports.

Still, critics of the city’s accountability system, like teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew, said yesterday’s scores call into question not just the mayor’s record but also the wisdom of using test scores as a measure of school improvement.

“In light of the state’s more rigorous standards, the DOE’s success in raising pupil proficiency has turned out to be illusory,” Mulgrew said.

State officials defended the city against charges that the gains it has boasted are imaginary. In an interview this week, State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that the city’s efforts under Bloomberg and Klein prevented the shock of the score re-setting from being even more severe.

“If you haven’t noticed that the city school system is improving, then you’re walking around with blinders,” Tisch said.

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.”