Credibility Gap Grows Wider in NYC Schools

Published November 1, 1998

It all began in June 1998, when New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew “found” $63 million in his supposedly cash-strapped budget, allowing him to prevent an expected $1,000 a year cut in teacher salaries.

Without Crew’s cash infusion, the city’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers, would have had to agree to Governor George Pataki’s proposal for charter schools in order to get the $1,000 a year out of state lawmakers. With Crew’s money, the charter school plan was defeated . . . and a credibility gap opened up for the city’s schools. Subsequent events have widened rather than closed that credibility gap.

Fake Diplomas

Later that month, the Board of Education revoked the diplomas of 61 former high school students from the Eastern District Senior Academy in Brooklyn, after Special Commissioner of Investigations Ed Stancik learned the students were given credits for running errands for teachers, answering phones at a travel agency, and taking courses like bicycle repair and Whiffleball theory. Stancik’s report, called “How to Succeed Without Really Trying,” accuses Principal Marcia Brevot of inflating grades, excusing students from exams, and offering credits for easy courses.

Cheating on Tests

Although test scores in the city’s schools improved earlier this year, the New York Post noted in July that there was “reason to believe that the improvement was largely due to pure, old-fashioned cheating.” Reports from schools in The Bronx indicated that students were coached before taking the tests. Those reports came on the heels of an admission by the Board of Education that students who were likely to score poorly were excused form taking the tests.

Phantom Students

“$500 Million in Cooked School Books” was the headline on Bob McManus’s July 13 column in the New York Post, in which he described how enrollment figures for the city’s schools “are wholly unreliable.”

Enrollment figures, which determine how much state aid is sent from Albany and control resource allocation among schools, may be inflated by as much as 5 percent, according to an audit conducted last year. As McManus points out, “that’s the equivalent of $500 million in operating funds–or twice the sum Crew says is needed this year for emergency school repairs alone.”

Inflated Crime Figures

In September, one day after the Board of Education voted to increase the number of police officers in the city’s schools, Crew’s office announced a 15 percent decline in serious criminal offenses in those schools. While New Yorkers were trying to reconcile the two items, it was revealed that many of the 1,966 serious crimes reported by the board may not have been committed in the schools at all.

While Crew has an explanation for the discrepancy, “he’d be more believable,” notes a New York Post editorial, if his office hadn’t been repeatedly caught “torturing the truth” this year.