What began last week as a fight between the teachers union and City Hall spilled out onto the campaign trail this week with a flurry of critical comments from Democratic contenders about test score gains under Bloomberg and his eagerness to tout them as evidence of his administration’s success.
“The days of the mayor dislocating his shoulder patting himself on the back should be over,” Anthony Weiner told reporters this morning at an education event.
Weiner said it wasn’t “entirely fair” to blame Bloomberg for the anticipated drop in scores, which reflect student performance on state tests that were for the first time aligned to more challenging learning standards known as the Common Core. But Weiner later added that the “constant emphasis on testing in schools has created nothing but trouble” and even suggested that Bloomberg helped “fudge” the scores at top-performing schools for political gain.
“There was a spate of press conferences about how amazing schools were doing that were later discredited when those numbers came crashing back to Earth,” Weiner said.
Fellow Democratic candidates John Liu and Bill Thompson echoed that criticism. From 2007 to 2009, the city posted double-digit test-score gains, which were deflated when the state adjusted its grading process in 2010.
“We’ve been told for years that things were getting better, things were improving in the city of New York because our students were learning more,” Thompson said today. “Well, unfortunately, our students haven’t been learning.”
Liu, the city’s comptroller who has often audited the schools system, accused Bloomberg of “cooking the books on student test scores for 12 years.”
“Mayor Bloomberg had 12 years to advance his so-called reforms and pad his educational legacy,” Liu said in a statement. “He failed. He cannot spin these results to mean something they don’t. New York City’s children deserve better.”
Scores are estimated to drop across the state, but Thompson said the city deserved blame for failing to prepare teachers with curriculum or training for the new standards.
“The current administration has forced teachers to implement new standards without giving them the curriculum or the tools they need to do it successfully,” Thompson said.
The Department of Education has aggressively defended its work in helping schools transition to the new standards. This afternoon, the department noted that it has spent $133 million since 2010 and has allocated another $100 million for the 2013-2014 school year.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott is also speaking to reporters again today to discuss the results and will address the candidates’ criticism.
Not all candidates are using the specter of lower scores to attack Bloomberg’s education record.
In a statement released Sunday, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio did not directly criticize the Bloomberg administration. Instead, he said the drop in scores were proof that the city needed to invest in expanding prekindergarten, a central part of his education platform.
Today, a spokeswoman for Republican Joe Lhota said he would not respond to the scores until they are released. And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, at an event she convened to promote her plan to boost literacy in city schools, addressed the lower scores without placing blame or looking backward.
“Obviously when you’re going to raise standards, that’s going to have an effect on test scores,” she said. “What we need to look at within the information we’re going to have is, where did we do well, where didn’t we do well, [and] what can we learn from these test scores to move forward?”