From Chris Cerf

Dear Sol:


It seems that when the press needs to find a negative voice about New York City schools, you have become a pundit of choice. Your writings often echo the same themes. I agree that our record of progress is not without setbacks and I’m all for balanced reporting, but your persistently one-sided perspective and refusal to recognize the improved outcomes of students during the past six years is over the top.


Consider what we’ve accomplished in the six years since Mayor Bloomberg won control of the school system:


  • Our students are making substantial, consistent progress in both math and reading. Since the start of the administration, the percentage of students in grades 3-8 meeting or exceeding standards in math has risen 37 percentage points. In reading, we’ve seen an 18.3 point gain. And we have been steadily closing the gap with the rest of the state – an indicator that controls for any fluctuations in the difficulty of the tests from year to year. In 4th grade, the gap separating the City from the rest of the State has narrowed 18 points in math and 8.4 points in reading since 2002. In 8th grade, the gap has narrowed 11.7 points in math and 2.7 points in reading.
  • We are narrowing the racial achievement gap. Since 2002, the gap between African American students and their White peers has narrowed 12.5 percentage points in math and 6.4 percentage points in reading. The gap between Hispanic students and their White peers has narrowed 13.2 points in math and 3.8 points in reading.
  • New York City’s graduation rate has risen 9 percentage points between 2002 and 2006 (the most recent year reported) and 6 percentage points between 2004 and 2006, whether you use the City’s or the State’s method of calculating it. By contrast, the graduation rate rose just one-tenth of one percentage point in the entire decade before 2002.
  • We have created the most sophisticated accountability system in the country. Every school received a letter grade (A-F) this year based heavily on the progress of individual students from year to year. At the same time, we’ve empowered principals with the authority they need to help their students succeed. We’ve also given them the resources they need by redirecting millions of dollars from the bureaucracy to schools and creating a fairer, more transparent method of school funding.
  • We’ve created new educational options for students. By the start of the 2008-09 school year, we will have opened 284 small schools and 78 charter schools during the course of this administration. Those schools are soaring.
  • We’ve raised teacher salaries by 43% since 2002 and created innovative incentive programs to help us attract and retain excellent teachers, including one that will reward teachers whose schools meet student achievement targets. 
  • New York City won the 2007 Broad Prize for Urban Education, the nation’s most prestigious education prize. According to the Broad Foundation, New York City is a “model of successful urban district school reform.”


To be sure, the gradient – while steeply up – experiences an occasional plateau. We are not making progress in 8th grade reading at the same rate as we are for younger students. You point, correctly, to evidence of that on the most recent NAEP. But here’s what you don’t report about the NAEP:


·         The percentage of New York City 4th graders scoring at or above basic has risen 12 percentage points in math since 2003. Our 4th graders are now just 2 percentage points behind the national average in math.

·         Our African American 4th graders have made even more impressive gains: 14 points in math since 2003 and 14 percentage points in reading since 2002. They are achieving at higher levels than their peers in large central cities and the nation as a whole, and they are first in reading and second in math among their peers in large urban districts.

·         Because of a state change in testing requirements, the number of 4th grade ELLs taking the NAEP nearly doubled between test administrations. Normalizing for that change, reading scores increased.

·         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.


You frequently argue that the Mayor and Chancellor should not be given credit for the growth in achievement in their first year. To the contrary, they instituted important changes during that year. Obviously what happened in the past affected the results, just as our work will affect the results of the next chancellor, but that first year was on our watch. Had scores gone down, can there be any doubt that you would have attributed the decline to the Mayor and Chancellor? Moreover, our progress remains striking even if you measure from 2003. Indeed, the Broad Prize was based on our performance between 2003 and 2006, and the pace of our improvement has continued since then.


Finally – and I have to admit, this is my personal favorite – last month the State announced record gains for NYC and very strong gains across the state. By virtually every measure, this was a strong year for New York’s schools. Your response? The results are too good to be believed (a point you will need to take up with Commissioner Mills and the psychometricians who validated the test to confirm its year-to-year reliability).


Our schools today are at an entirely different level than they were in 2002. Achievement is way up, tens of thousands of students are on track to graduate who wouldn’t have been six years ago, and we have put in place a body or reforms that will continue the progress. This is a record that should give any objective education reformer a reason to smile.


Best regards,



Chris Cerf

Deputy Chancellor

27 Replies to “From Chris Cerf”

  1. Cerf, Mr. Truth Squad himself, writes:

    “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.”

    Exactly! That is why they are more reliable. They show no significant improvement for NYC students over the course of this administration in any area except for 4th grade math.

    The NAEPs are recognized by experts as the gold standard and by that standard, almost every urban school district has made more progress for its black and Hispanic students than NYC over the course of the last few years. See the charts for 8th grade reading , for example, here:

    More damning charts showing increasing achievement gaps, are in the original document, prepared by the Annenberg Institute called “Our Children Can’t Wait.”

  2. I’d like to say amen to Leonie’s point, and add another reminder. The stakes that produce test score increases are the stakes placed on adults not students. And those stakes do not produce better behavior by adults. They just make the grown-ups more effective in meeting whatever “bottom line,” regardless of whether children are helped or hurt.

  3. It is not everyday one gets the chance to debate the Minister of Truth himself. Thanks for this forum.

    He says “We are not making progress in 8th grade reading at the same rate as we are for younger students.”

    That’s not true. What NAEP actually says was there was no significant difference between 2007 Math scores and the 2005 and 2003 scores. NAEP says the same for Reading.

    As for the Minister’s “personal favorite”, it is hardly surprising the NYC has higher state test scores. First, the scores are up everywhere in the State. Second, the school day has been reprogrammed to focus on test preparation. My sons will enter 3rd grade next year where thanks to the Bloomberg administration, they will see not only 2 State tests but ten more standardized practice tests at 90 minutes each. As a member of our State Assembly pointed out, the schools have been turned into Stanley Kaplan test prep centers.

    And funny we didn’t hear much here about the cheating scandals increasingly embroiling the schools, including the flagship charter school located in the NYC DOE headquarters itself or the two schools headed by a principal lauded by the administration as a worker of miracles.

    The Mayor wants his test score increases and he will get them. We are not naive. But no matter how much money his friends spend on promotional commercials or how many Cerfs are sent out to spin the results, he should not expect public school parents to believe that these scores represent real improvement in the education system.

  4. Dear Chris:

    Until I saw your piece I didn’t realize that you would be addressing me directly in letter format. My understanding was that we would each write about Mayor Bloomberg’s record on the schools and debate the validity of the alleged test score gains. In my article I didn’t discuss your personal role in the administration’s spin operation and I don’t know why Andrew decided to put the “Dear Chris” salutation on my comments. Never mind. Since you want to make this personal, by all means let’s get personal.

    First, let me note the perfect timing here. Just as you were writing your letter accusing me of going “over the top,” the New York Sun reported that it was you who came up with the brilliant idea of creating a DOE “truth squad” to monitor all the education blogs and the parent generated list serves for error. Talk about going over the top for an educator! I assume the parody was unintended when you told Sun reporter Elizabeth Green that you did it “because we believe in the truth.” Nevertheless, I see that some astute parents now have bestowed on you the honorary title of “Minister of Truth.” Indeed, your letter to me reads like standard state propaganda, but it also usefully provides more evidence of what I said in my original post about the administration’s demonstrably false spin on the test scores.

    You start out by once again shamelessly claiming credit for the outsized 2002-2003 test score gains. Neither you nor anyone else in the administration has offered a single plausible reason why you should get that credit, but you just keep repeating the canard over and over again. Later in your letter you say that the Mayor and Chancellor “instituted important changes during that [first] year,” but you neglect to tell us what those changes were and how they could have affected the tests given in January 2003. I am waiting with baited breath for more details, just as I have been waiting since I first raised this issue two years ago.

    In your letter you also improperly lump together test scores on all six grades (3-8) from 2002 to the present. You know, of course, that the state education department has officially declared that the NCLB mandated tests for grades 3-8, first given in 2006, should not be compared to tests administered prior to that year. (Before 2006 the city gave its own tests in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7.) That you would nonetheless go ahead and compare these two completely different data sets is an even more brazen example of how far the education department is willing to go to make the mayor look good politically. Absent this inappropriate comparison, there is no basis for your claim that there has been a significant narrowing of the gap between the city and the rest of the state. It also nullifies all your statements about closing the black-white and Hispanic-white achievement gaps. Moreover, if you actually followed the state education department’s guidance on this and compared only the scores from 2006 to 2008 in grades 3-8 you would see that three out of four of the state’s other big city school districts made greater test score gains than New York City. Yet none of those districts have adopted the “sophisticated accountability system” that you boast about elsewhere in your letter.

    I didn’t raise the graduation rate issue in my first post, but since you bring it up here, let me say that there is no reason to trust the incoherently presented data in your letter or, indeed, any graduation data officially released by the DOE. So far, no independent scholar or data agency has confirmed the administration’s claims and, given your record of fudging test score data for political gain, there is good reason for extreme suspicion. Even if I believed that thousands more were now graduating, as you assert, there is more reason than ever to question the value of the diploma the graduates are receiving. While the administration has eliminated social promotion in some elementary school grades (a policy I supported) it seems to have instituted a more pernicious form of social promotion in the 12th grade. It does this by giving more and more students an accommodation known as “seat time,” in which they are given credit for courses they flunked just by showing up for a few extra Saturday sessions. Recently, the City University of New York became so concerned with the lack of academic preparation of the city’s graduates who actually have Regents diplomas that it unilaterally raised the passing standard on the Regents tests that are necessary for admission to the four year colleges.

    As I said in my original post, the administration’s constant puffing of “amazing” and “fantastic” gains on the state tests will eventually turn out very badly for current students. One day they will face serious intellectual and academic challenges and suddenly realize they are not as “proficient” as the Bloomberg-controlled school system told them they were.

    But this administration has been even more irresponsible in trying to muddy up the integrity of the NAEP tests – and merely for the short term political gain of the mayor. The fact is that we never heard a peep out of the DOE about NAEP until the 2007 tests confirmed the lack of progress for city students in three out of four benchmark tests over four years. The only thing that got your attention was a front page article in the New York Times describing the flat NAEP scores and raising questions about the reliability of the state tests. This was a threat to the mayor’s political ambitions. Not liking the news brought by the messenger, the administration then launched its multi million dollar PR machine on a search and destroy mission against the only gold standard tests the nation’s schools have. You repeat all that silly stuff here, saying NAEP “is not ‘high stakes,’ not based on state standards, and given to a comparatively small sample.”

    It’s embarrassing that a high education official has to be reminded that if we didn’t have sampling (even “small samples”) there would be no social science research. It is true, as you say, that NAEP isn’t a “high stakes” test, which is all to the good. Unlike the DOE, the NAEP has no “stake,” political or otherwise, in higher scores. And that is why the NCLB legislation said that NAEP should serve as a monitor on state tests that might be (in fact are) dumbed down to avoid the law’s sanctions. It’s also why Senator Ted Kennedy and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings now favor requiring states to publish NAEP results alongside the results of their own tests. By the way, Chris, NAEP’s low stakes and small samples didn’t seem to stop Atlanta, MA and other places from making significant gains.

    Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein proudly count themselves as members of an accountability and market driven education movement. But for its own integrity that movement absolutely requires NAEP to continue performing its role as the “nation’s report card.” What our experience in New York proves is that politically ambitious mayors and school leaders will try to use their power as keepers of the data to advance their personal agendas at the expense of the public’s need to know the truth about student academic performance. Without NAEP as a monitor for every state’s test scores, such political exploitation of achievement data is even more likely to happen. As I said at the end of my original post, Chris, the trend being established in New York and which you have had such a prominent role in, will turn into a disaster for the nation’s education reform movements. If you don’t turn off the spin machine many will even conclude that education reform, like the blob itself, has become just another education industry racket.

    Sol Stern

  5. Finally, some real truth about the power grab balanced on the backs of children in the NYC public education system. Mayoral control over NYC public schools must end NOW! Thank you, Sol Stern, for your insightful and damning argument against the roguery going on with this current administration and it’s pseudo-education policy which seems to exist only to enrich themselves and their cronies at the expense of our children, democracy and the common good.

  6. As a long time teacher in the NYC Public Schools, I have to agree with Mr. Cerf.
    I have seen a bit of an increase in graduation rates.
    Now that students who do not attend class or pass exams are being given the opportunity to write a few sloppy sentences and hand them in for high school credits, more seem to be graduating.
    This is definitely progress from 6 years ago, when children were expected to learn and master subject matter. How silly!
    Onwards and upwards!!!

  7. Another point, which Laurie reminded me of:

    In addition to the new ways in which the administration is artificially raising graduation rates through “credit accumulation” (as described above) or “seat time” (giving credit for attendance, whether or not the student has passed the test or done any homework), they also ignore any cheating scandal that is disclosed by the press or whistleblowers at the schools.

    Their attitude is that its not their responsibility to investigate or discipline those responsible.

    There could be no clearer signal to other similarly tempted that Klein, Cerf and Co. simply do not care why test scores go up as long as they do.

  8. Sol tried to point out specific instances of problems and logically back them up, but Chris is using broad, inconsistent talking points: Chris implied that the A-F letter grades are strong indicators because they are “based heavily on the progress of individual students from year to year.” …and then points out NAEP “successes” in terms of “percentage of New York City 4th graders scoring at or above basic”.

    The truth is that even if schools (in general) are successful, they never seem to understand how to logically communicate that news.

  9. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me why administrators, at the end of the year, send their flunkies (ap’s) to tell teachers not to fail anyone. They all realize that summer school would be flooded and not be the “skate job” they thought it would be. Yes, indeed…teachers are approached and influenced to pass “failng students.” Be my guest…ask them all! It is a socially (promoting) event.

  10. Dear Sol,

    Thanks for your reply. You raised a lot of points above, so let me try to address them one by one.

    Test scores first.

    As I said in my first letter, there is no doubt that what happened in past administrations contributed to our results, just as our work will affect the results of the next chancellor. That doesn’t change the fact that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein ran the school system for the 2002-03 school year and had ultimate responsibility for what happened that year, whether positive or negative. The changes they instituted include creating the Office of School Safety; the appointment of a new senior staff; a pay-for-performance system for all 40 community and high school superintendents; and the appointment of two community superintendents in predominantly African-American communities who generated significantly improved results. And while I’m not sure how to parse the effect on student achievement, the Mayor and Chancellor introduced an idiom of high expectations and accountability to discussions of student learning.

    But this is beside the point. With all due respect, arguing that 2003 should be the baseline for the current administration’s gains is a matter of convenience, not principle. If test scores had fallen between 2002 and 2003, it’s doubtful you’d ascribe the failure to the previous administration rather than the first-year chancellor whose subsequent gains you have questioned at every opportunity. More likely you’d be subtracting those declines from the later gains between 2003 and 2008.

    At any rate, it is curious to see so outspoken a critic of the integrity of New York state test scores wrangling over proprietary claims to one year’s scores. Just three weeks ago you wrote that New York state’s test scores are “not to be believed.”

    Further entanglements arise. You say that “the city’s previous two education administrations actually had higher percentage gains in fourth grade reading and fourth grade math.” Harold Levy came into office in January 2000, weeks before that year’s tests were administered. If an administration gets credit for gains starting the year after a chancellor takes over, he should be credited for the spring semester of 2001 and the school years 2001-02 and 2002-03, the year Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein began running the system. His predecessor Rudy Crew gets 1999-2000, the first year of the state’s testing program, and 2000-01, half of which was overseen by Levy. According to your approach, chancellors do much of their best work after they’re no longer chancellors.

    This is bean-counting at a very silly level, especially over results that are anyway “not to be believed”. But, yes, it does get you to the point of being able to say that if you add the two chancellors together and include a year in which the current mayor and chancellor ran the system, fourth-grade scores in reading and math rose more from the very low baselines of 1999 until 2003 than they have subsequently. So what? What about the fact that, using your accounting, middle school gains have occurred predominantly under the current administration?

    Ceding to you the 2002 scores, for the sake of argument, let’s look at the record of New York City students since 2003. You say that “the city’s test score improvements are no larger than those achieved in school districts around the state that haven’t adopted the Bloomberg reforms.” That’s untrue. Since 2003, NYC students have out gained students in the rest of the state by 11.6 points in 4th grade math, 10 points in 8th grade math, and 2.7 points in 4th grade reading. In 8th grade reading, NYC kids are 1.4 below the rest of the state since 2003; that number doesn’t control for the changes in state testing policy in 2007 that greatly increased the number of English Language Learners test-takers, of which New York City has a much higher percentage than the rest of the state. And again, what’s important about these numbers is that they control for any year-to-year fluctuations in the difficulty of the test.

    As to our using grade 3-8 scores in aggregate to highlight New York City scoring trends from 2002-08, let’s be clear: we use these scores to make comparisons against our past performance. We’re able to do this because CTB/McGraw-Hill performed bookmark standard-setting for city tests–taken by students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7 before 2006–that tied them to state standards and created a scoring scale anchored to the state’s tests. When comparing ourselves to the rest of the state before it started testing all grades 3-8 in 2006, we use 4th and 8th grade scores.

    As to NAEP, it’s possible to believe that it’s a highly valuable measure and still argue that high-stakes state tests provide information it doesn’t. NAEP actually tracks pretty consistently with our state scoring trends: strong in math, particularly 4th grade; needing improvement in reading, particularly 8th grade. I mentioned this in my first letter, but I want to repeat it: what’s disappointing about your reading of NAEP is that, apparently because your focus on debunking our achievement on state tests doesn’t permit positive acknowledgement, you fail to mention that our African-American 4th grade students have made amazing gains in recent years and outperform their peers across the nation in both math and reading. They are first in reading and second in math among their peers in large cities. And the reason our overall reading didn’t go up several points in the 2007 NAEP was, again, because of a large increase in the number of non-English proficient students tested as a result of a change in state law.

    In the end, the meaning of the testing gains of our students won’t be clarified in a debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At every level, whether you set the dial at 2002 or 2003, whether in all grades or just 4th and 8th, our students continue to improve upon past performance. The particular test result in a given year isn’t significant; there’s an irrefutable upward trend across the board. Improvement is the norm in this administration. We’re not nearly where we want to be (in 8th grade reading, for instance), but we’re headed there. These sidebar disagreements about who gets credit for which year and what cohorts can be compared are trivial.

    Speaking of upward trends, let me try to be clearer about graduation rates. Using a methodology in place in 1986, the city’s graduation rate increased by four points between 1986 and 2002, from 46.8 to 50.8. Between 1992 and 2002, the rate rose by one-tenth of a point. Under the Mayor and Chancellor, from 2002 to 2006, the rate went up nine points, from 50.8 to 59.7.

    In 2004, the State began calculating graduation rates. Unlike the city, its rate does not include students who earn GEDs, students who graduate at the end of the summer following their senior years, IEP diplomas, and students with disabilities. In the two years from 2004 to 2006, according to the state’s methodology, the city’s rate went from 43.9 to 49.6. (In the future, the city and state will use the same methodology.) And contrary to your claim that “no independent…data agency has confirmed” the graduation rate, we have our data audited by an independent firm each year before releasing it. I’d be happy to share the most recent audit report with you.

    Finally, a few words about your continual attacks on the DOE’s “spin operation.” Last year, you wrote that our press office is “29-strong, four times as many employees as worked in the press office under the old Board of Ed.” Now you write that we have “15 full time employees, compared to 3 under the previous administration.” Apparently the press office was cut by half since last year, and, while it would seem difficult, the old Board of Education press office shrank from 7 to 3. In fact, the DOE communications office has 13 employees, including two secretaries. Its responsibilities have expanded from BOE days—it now generates large amounts of public material for parents, teachers, and principals, as well as for the DOE web site. Its $1.3 million budget is hardly excessive for a $20 billion organization in the largest media market in the world. I doubt you could find another school-system communications office that spends less as a percentage of its overall budget or per capita. I can’t comment on the size of the previous administration’s communications office, but it sounds like you’re not sure, either.

    You are a passionate observer of public education, Sol, which I appreciate. And there is enough in the New York City school system to criticize; we’ve made great progress yet need to make a lot more. But your criticism is so often less than fair-minded. You say state test scores don’t reflect achievement, except sometimes they do—when New York City performs poorly or when scores can be used to diminish the DOE. City graduation numbers can’t be trusted, but if they were accurate it would be because city diplomas have become worthless.

    And there’s so much you leave out. New York City schoolchildren are achieving at higher levels in reading and math than at any time in memory. More are graduating than at any time in decades. We are closing the achievement gap; our black students in elementary school lead black students nationwide. We are supplementing reading and math gains by adding science and social studies to our core curriculum and have created intensive plans to boost our middle school students. More than three-quarters of students graduate from our new small high schools. Our Multiple Pathways anti-dropout program is considered a national model. We have implemented the most sophisticated accountability system in the country, forcing schools to improve by taking away the option of blaming students. Working with the union we have raised teachers salaries by 43% and created a program that pays more to teachers in needy schools if the schools meet academic targets. We have implemented financial incentives to attract teachers and principals to high-needs schools. We are making tenure meaningful and helping principals with the burdensome process of pushing the worst teachers out of the system. We have created options for families by opening nearly 80 charter schools, usually in the city’s neediest neighborhoods.

    It’s real, Sol, not spin.


    Chris Cerf

  11. Sol,

    You’ve done an admirable job analyzing the data, but things are probably worse than even you realize. Let me tell you some of the stuff that I’ve seen at the two “successful” small schools I’ve taught at.

    -AP’s systematically erasing essay scores on the Regents exams and raising them enough to give the student a passing grade.

    -Fellow teachers telling me that due to their fear of the administration they feel compelled to pass at least 80% of students in Regents courses and virtually 100% in non-Regents courses regardless of the work students do (particularly if these students are seniors). I’ve seen all kinds of ways that principals exert this pressure – too detailed to describe here.

    – A principal who routinely changes grades from failing to passing for seniors in classes they have taken in previous years. This is often done without even pretending to give them a “project”.

    – Students who say “wow, even the kids who didn’t show up for class graduated this year.”

    I several ideas as to how the perpetrators of this type of fraud might be identified through data analysis, but let’s put the ball in Christopher Cerf’s court. I’m sure he will be more than willing to include some version of the following items on next year’s Chancellor’s survey for middle and high school teachers: 1) I feel pressured to give passing grades to students who have not met the criteria for passing my classes (2) Regents exams in my school are graded in strict accordance with state guidelines (for those unfamiliar, the answers range from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”)

    How about it Chris? Is there room for two more questions on the survey? Oh, and by the way, my fourth-grade son went without social studies for two-months while his school prepped for the ELA exam. How can we expect anything else but “improvement” in scores.

  12. Chris,

    One last item for the survey: “My school only gives diplomas to students who deserve them.”


  13. Chris,

    Have you stopped reading the comments to your post? I’m wondering what you think of my suggestions for improving the teacher survey.

  14. Chris,

    At 5:09 pm on Wednesday you posted a detailed set of comments in which you boasted about the graduation rate in the new small schools, asserting that such improvements in the city schools were “real” rather than being the result of “spin”. I responded later that night by suggesting that there is much fraud behind these numbers. I also suggested that such fraud could be exposed simply by asking teachers whether it was going on in their schools and asked whether you agreed that such survey items would be useful.

    It’s Friday and you still haven’t responded to me. I find it unlikely that you haven’t read my comments. You posted your comments Wednesday evening as a part of a conversation between yourself and Sol Stern. It would be odd that you wouldn’t check the following day to see if he or anyone else had responded.

    I know I’m just a teacher – certainly not a job that’s respected in the upper levels of DOE management – and I know you’re an important guy with a busy job. However, I raised some important questions that deserve an answer.

  15. Dear Chris:

    Thanks for your last letter. I didn’t read it till last night because my wife and I have been on vacation in Tybee Island, off the coast of Georgia – and internet connection is sporadic. I intend to give all the points you raised the attention they deserve in a longer response when I get back to the city next Wednesday and have access to all my files.

    I do however want to quickly comment on your first paragraph in which you finally – after two years of exchanges on this issue – provide some explanation of your claim that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein deserve the credit they are taking for the outsized test score gains from 2002-03. You say, “Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein ran the school system for the 2002-03 school year and had ultimate responsibility for what happened that year, whether positive or negative.” That might be true for any tests that were given at the end of the 2002-03 school year, but as you know the reading tests were given in January 2003, just four months after the beginning of the school year, and the math tests were given shortly thereafter. Moreover, as I have pointed out countless times, throughout the entire 2002-03 school year the identical structure from the previous administration was still in place.

    You now inform us that some senior stuff were hired and imply that these appointees had such a magical affect on the fourth graders that their reading scores shot through the roof within four months. I do not know which new administrators you are referring to. The only one I can vividly recall, even down here on Tybee Island without my files, is the great Diana Lam. Before she was booted out in a nepotism scandal, she managed to dismantle a well proven reading program, Success For All, that was raising reading scores in dozens of low performing schools.

    I am also intrigued by your claim that the creation of the Office of School Safety somehow caused the fourth grade reading scores to go up. Marvelous! Perhaps you ought to spread the word about this great new reform to the rest of the country. I would also love to know the names of those two community superintendents who you report got the reading scores of African American students up by early 2003. This is a great achievement and these educators should be honored. As to the pay for performance plan, it is my recollection that this was not even announced until after the 2003 tests were given.

    Finally, I am just dazzled by your assertion that the “Mayor and Chancellor introduced an idiom of high expectations and accountability to discussions of student learning.” Call me cynical, but this is the edubabble uttered by all politicians. Certainly this “idiom” does not account for the 2003 test scores.

    Nice try Chris, but no cigar. We are still back where we started, with no evidence at all that the Bloomberg Klein administration impacted the 2003 test scores.

    But now I want to get to the beach Chris. Let’s pick this up next week.


  16. Sol: We’re looking forward to your next installment.

    Steve: Apologies. Chris has been on vacation and off the grid. I will broach your suggestions to our accountabililty office, which designs the survey, and report back.

    David Cantor
    Press Secretary

  17. David,
    Glad to see you are holding down the fort for Chris. Tell him I hope he is having a nice vacation and I will be in touch on a number of issues when he gets back. Meanwhile, I see you are still stonewalling Eduwonkette on the state scale scores and spreading more bull in the New York Post on the NAEP scores. Please explain to me how requiring more ELL Hispanics to take the test (leave aside the issue of the record number of accomodations NYC received on the 07 test) could affect whether African Americans made any gains from 03-07. Also, as you know, the claim in my reading piece was that there was no gain for the city’s African Americans on the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading from 03-07. So the claim in your letter to the Post that NYC African Americans do better than those in other cities (they always did) is an irrelevancy. The issue I addressed in my City Journal and Post articles was whether the city’s reading program had produced any gains for African American students. It didn’t, and all of the smoke you are blowing here only serves to perpetuate the tragedy for these kids.

  18. Sol:

    We’ve given out the scale scores. If you’d like them, please contact my office.


  19. Dear David: I appreciate your offer to release the scale scores. Here, specifically, is the data I want:

    For reading and math, for each grade level taking the state tests, I am requesting the average scale scores for each of the following groups in New York City for each of the years between 2002-2008: Black, Hispanic, White, Asian

    And for reading and math, for each grade level: I am requesting the standard deviation for each of the following groups in New York City for each of the years between 2002-2008: Black, Hispanic, White, Asian. If group standard deviations are not available, I would like the pooled standard deviations (the standard deviation across all groups).

    Sol Stern

  20. Steve: True confessions. I have just returned from 10 days off the grid on a wildneress river near Hudson’s Bay and am only now reading your postings. Could you give me a call or send me a note at I’d like to get together with you personally to learn more about your concerns. I take them very seriously and am sure I would come away from a meeting far more informed than I would be going in.

    Best regards,


  21. Dear Steve: Good luck on your meeting with Chris. If Tweed really cared about cheating on Regents exams or abuse of “credit recovery” Mayor Bloomberg wouldn’t be able to burnish his legacy by boasting about historic gains in graduation rates. I see that in his latest radio address he is now claiming a 20% jump in graduation rates — and that gets him this year’s Pinocchio award.
    Dear Chris: Welcome back. If you really take Steve’s concerns about cheating seriously maybe you can also give me an update on the department’s investigation of the PS 33 fourth grade reading scores from 2005.

  22. Chris,

    I’m just returning from vacation myself. I’m not sure if anyone is still reading this.

    Thanks for offering to meet with me. I will consider contacting you directly, but I hope you will respond publicly to my proposal for new survey items.

  23. As a long time teacher in the NYC Public Schools, I have to agree with Mr. Cerf.
    I have seen a bit of an increase in graduation rates.
    Now that students who do not attend class or pass exams are being given the opportunity to write a few sloppy sentences and hand them in for high school credits, more seem to be graduating.

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