Saturday, November 25, 2006

Statistics Always Lie

November, 2006

Well, recent reports in the NY Post are indicationg that the stats ongrad rates haev been massaged just a bit. After attending a press conference on June 29, 2006, where Joel Klein announced to an astounded press corps that the city had underestimated the graduation rate, I wrote the following article for The Wave.

City Grad Rates Were In Error

When New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced at a press conference on June 29th that the Department of Education had made an error in reporting graduation rates, a betting person would have wagered that a correction in the original DOE estimate of 53% for the class of 2005 would be significantly lower. When reported in February that was a 1% drop from the 2004 graduation class and had resulted in criticism of Klein and Mayor Bloomberg.

In recent weeks, the press has been reporting figures of 39%- 43% from Education Week, the leading national journal of education reporting, the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank often critical of Klein, and the New York State Education Department. During the mayoral campaign last year, Bloomberg’s opponent, Freddie Ferrer, claimed these rates were more in line with reality.

But instead of confirming these dismal figures, Klein reported that the February number had been too low and the actual graduation rate was 58%, the highest in 20 years and a 4% rise from 2004, one of the largest jumps in history. The errors were due programming errors.
As a result the accounting firm of Ernst & Young was retained at a cost of $68,000 to verify the numbers. Klein said the verification practice would continue in future years at roughly the same cost.

Klein also reported good news that the first group of small schools started under his stewardship four years ago had significantly higher graduation rates than large comprehensive high schools, though the numbers were small. When asked whether the high grad numbers n small schools were impacted by the fact that special education students had been excluded from these schools “so they schools could get on their feet,” resulting in the most difficult students being shoehorned into the larger schools, Klein responded that the demographics still showed high numbers of Level 1 and 2 (lowest reading levels) students in the small schools when they opened. He denied these schools engaged in what he termed as “creaming” in an attempt to exclude difficult students.

He glossed over the fact that that not all level 1 and 2 students are special ed, which requries a significantly higher level of support resources, which are often shorthchnaged in the large schools and may to some extent explain the difference in graduation rates.

Responding to reporters at times skeptical questions, Klein admitted that the citywide graduation numbers include high school equivalency (GED) and special education (IEP) diplomas, which he said cannot be considered equal to a traditional diploma. He estimated that excluding GED and IEP diplomas would lower the rate by about 3 percentage points, but pointed out they had always been included in the past, emphasizing he was comparing apples to apples. (Some of our sources who worked at high levels in special ed contend that IEP diplomas have not always been included). City graduation figures also exclude disabled students, which the state includes.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, often a critic of Klein and of press coverage of educational issues, said in an email, “Most of the media took Klein’s claim with a grain of salt, except for the NY Times, which unaccountably swallowed DOE’s claim hook, line and sinker, without mentioning any of the recent and more reputable independent analyses.”
The article in the Times said "…there was no dispute over the overall graduation numbers, which independent monitors of the school system said was consistent with their own analysis of graduation and dropout trends."

Haimson continued, “There is no respected, independent organization or agency that either agrees with NYC’s method of calculating graduation rates – by counting GEDs as regular degrees and excluding special ed kids and thousands of students discharged from the system every year-- or their ridiculously inflated figure of 58%.”

Just the day before the press conference I submitted the following which appeared in the June 30, 2006 edition of The Wave.

Bloomberg used the big rise in 4th grade test scores last year to claim his Children Last – er – I mean First “reforms” were working splendidly. (Hordes of 3rd graders were enrolling in post-doctorate programs.) Education pundits disputed that, claiming that the test was clearly easier as all large urban areas in the state rose, most even higher that those of BloomKleindom, even though these school districts wouldn’t let a workshop model program get within 10 feet of their schools.

When the 5th grade reading scores of those former “successful” 4th graders from last year dropped drastically, no one was really surprised, except the gullible, or worse, the complacent NY Ed Press corps.

Then we find that BloomKlein’s claim of a 53-54% graduation rate [bumped to 57% in the fall of '06] was bogus (say it ain’t so Mikey and Joey). Recent studies have estimated the rate to be under 40%, a number which Freddie Ferrer (remember him) was claiming during the mayoral campaign and was charged with bumming all the BloomKlein cheerleaders out. (Zip, zoom, bow-wow – the only acceptable cheer for Children Last – er – First. Sorry, I keep getting confused.)

And the final straw for a bad few weeks for ol’ BloomKlein was the news that the small schools that had been trumpeted as a clear sign of SUCCESS had the slight advantage of not accepting too many special ed or difficult students, leaving these students to be shunted to the big high schools which were then being closed down because they are not as successful as the small schools. You really can’t make this stuff up. Many of us suspect the same scam is being pulled in some of the heralded charter schools. But that’s a story for another day.

When all is done and told (probably after BloomKlein are gone) the “children last” “reforms” will turn out to be the proverbial rearrangement of deck chairs.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget that ELL students were also excluded from these small schools as well.


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