Wow. Maybe there will actually be a mayoral race after all. After months of relative silence on the part of Democratic candidate Bill Thompson Jr., the underdog has finally shown both his bark and his bite.
Thompson, the city comptroller, has accused Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education of inflating graduation rates by letting students graduate without earning all of the mandated credits or passing all of the examinations required to graduate. The mayor's main campaign attack dog responded with an assault on Thompson and his tenure on the notorious Board of Eduction.
In a scorching new audit, launched in July 2008 amid concerns about the accuracy of graduation-rate tracking, Thompson's office found that graduated students often got credit for passing the same course twice or more, a tenth of them didn't meet the requirements to graduate and more students may drop out than the DOE reports.
“At a time when Mayor Bloomberg and the Schools Chancellor boast about graduation rates, this audit serves as a reality check: The Department of Education cannot demonstrate that all graduates earned their diplomas,” Thompson said.
The charge threatens to burst the bubble of Bloomberg, who has recently released a torrent of new campaign ads touting his achievements in the educational arena as the Senate debates whether to reauthorize mayoral control over city schools.
In the ads, Bloomberg says math and reading scores and high-school graduation rates have improved under his watch – a claim his Democratic opponent says his bogus, considering many of those who got their diplomas may not have deserved them.
Thompson's audit found that nearly a fifth of graduated students got credit for passing the same course twice or more, and that some students were allowed to do this in lieu of repeating a course they had previously failed. The comptroller's office also found grades got changed awfully close to graduation dates without going through the requisite approval process.
“When coupled with a managerial style that measures student achievement solely by easily-manipulated statistics, the mayor has created an incentive for schools to graduate students whether or not they have met the necessary requirements,” Thompson said. “This should raise a number of questions about whether the Department’s touted graduation rates reflect an accurate number of appropriately graduated students, or if many were able to grab their diplomas without having earned them.”
Bloomberg claims the city's graduation rate has risen 9.9 points since 2005. That's when the state began calculating rates using its current methodology. The campaign also sought to discredit Thompson's record of education, firing back that graduation rates only went up 2.7 percentage points while the comptroller was on the old Board of Education in the late 1990s. Furthermore, dropout rates went up 4 percentage points under Thompson and down nearly 7 points under Bloomberg's administration, the mayor's campaign charges.
Explain that, Thompson, says Bloomberg spokesman Howard Wolfson.
“The facts are clear: When Bill Thompson ran the old dysfunctional Board of Education graduation rates were flat and dropout rates increased," Wolfson said. "Under Mike Bloomberg's leadership, graduation rates have skyrocketed and dropout rates have fallen. Bill Thompson had a chance to help oversee our schools and he failed. Why would we ever want to go back again?”
New York City's four-year high school graduation rate was 56.4 percent in 2008, according to the Associated Press. In the statement Bloomberg issued today, however, the campaign claims four-year graduation rates were 66 percent in 2008, citing the DOE. To further obfuscate matters, another release on the city's DOE Web site issued last month says the graduation rate was 60.7 percent that year.
Clearly, someone's got to check their math.