An Honest Broker: Can the Independent Budget Office Resolve the Debate Over Department of Education Data? and, Resolve, “How Am I Doin’?”

 In the year plus preceding the amending and final passage of the Mayoral Control law one of the only issues that was uniformly accepted by all sides was an “outside” organization to review educational data. This blog , independent scholars Sol Stern and Diane Ravitch have been loudly calling for an independent review of Department data for a few years.
 
On June 4th testimony Ronnie Lowenstein, the Director of the Independent Budget Office referred  to the office as an “honest broker,” and looked forward to the passage of the bill and their new role.
 
The law vests specific authority, and an independent funding stream, to the Independent Budget Office (IBO).
 
 
S  2590-U.  NEW  YORK  CITY INDEPENDENT BUDGET OFFICE REPORTS  1.  THE
     INDEPENDENT BUDGET OFFICE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK SHALL BE AUTHORIZED TO
     PROVIDE ANALYSIS AND ISSUE PUBLIC REPORTS REGARDING FINANCIAL AND EDUCA-
     TIONAL MATTERS OF THE CITY DISTRICT,  TO  ENHANCE  OFFICIAL  AND  PUBLIC
     UNDERSTANDING OF SUCH MATTERS INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO:
       (A) STUDENT GRADUATION AND DROPOUT DATA;
       (B) STUDENT ENROLLMENT PROJECTIONS;
       (C) SCHOOL UTILIZATION, CLASS SIZES AND PUPIL-TO-TEACHER RATIOS;
       (D) STUDENT ASSESSMENT DATA;
       (E)  THE  DELIVERY  OF  SERVICES  TO  STUDENTS WHO ARE IN BILINGUAL OR
     ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE PROGRAMS;
       (F) THE  DELIVERY OF SERVICES TO STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES;
       (G) THE UTILIZATION OF FEDERAL FUNDS INCLUDING FUNDS PURSUANT TO TITLE I
      OF THE ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY  EDUCATION  ACT  OF  NINETEEN  HUNDRED
       (H) MATTERS RELATING TO CITY DISTRICT FINANCES.
 
I would urge the IBO to begin a number of audits:
 
* Graduations Rates and Credit Recovery.
  
Neither NYS Education Department (SED) or NYC Department of Education make any reference to credit recovery. The SED regulations are quite specific – one credit for each 54 hours of seat time, a total of 44 credits in specific areas plus five regents examinations. Schools, without the approval or scrutiny of anyone routinely allows students to “make-up” work for failed courses. Anecdotally the work may be a book review, even though the student missed all or most of the classroom sessions. Credit recovery does NOT appear on a student transcript, the school simply reverses the failing grade to a passing grade. However, any grade that is reversed more than a term after the failing grade is credit recovery.
 
* How many students earned credits in this manner?
* Have the students complied with the 54 hour seat time requirement?
* Are the credit recovery “standards-based” and are they an equivalent of classroom work?
* How has credit recovery impacted graduation rates?
 
* ARIS and MAXIMUS.
 
ARIS is the $85 million program to build a data warehouse that will enable teachers and schools to use student data to drive instructional practice. The program is one year old. MAXIMUS is the $58 million program to build a data/information warehouse for children designated as Special Education.
 
* Do these contracts comply with standard City contracting requirements?
* Did the vendors comply with the provisions of the contracts?
* Has ARIS increased the use of data in schools/classrooms (“clicks per school”), and have “high click” schools shown improved student achievement data?
 
* Student Enrollment Projections, Available Classroom Space, Planned Construction and the Charter School Use of Public School Buildings.
 
The Department has seriously miscalculated seats in a number of areas of the city, especially in Manhattan. After scrambling for months, maybe they have found seats and averted “waiting lists” for kindergarten classes.
 
* Does the Department have a systematic and accurate mechanism for predicting the need for new seats?
* Is there space in the pipeline?
* Is there a transparent procedure for considering zoning adjustments/changes?
* How has the placement of charter schools in public schools impacted public school space requirements? Costs to the city? Long term policy?
 
Charter Schools, Special Education and English Language Learners
 
* Have charter schools complied with the law by registering “at least” the same number of Special Education and English Language Learners as are registered in the surrounding district?
* Are Special Education and English Language Learner children receiving mandated services? If not, why not? Is there a compliance mechanism within the Department? Is there an accessible parent complaint mechanism?
 
The scoreboard for mayoral control is the data. Have the policies of this administration, the administration of Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein positively impacted student achievement for all categories of children? The reputation of the Independent Budget Office is unchallenged, they are the “honest broker” we need to provide the public, parents and taxpayers, with transparent data we so desperately need.
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One response to “An Honest Broker: Can the Independent Budget Office Resolve the Debate Over Department of Education Data? and, Resolve, “How Am I Doin’?”

  1. Unfortunately, in our dictatorship, where the Council has been co-opted by a weak and compliant Speaker, and the independent voice of the Public Advocate has its budget cut by 40%, the newspapers are in the tank, and the union has foolishly bought into the mayor’s program, how much truly independent review can we really expect?

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