Scandal Du Jour Rocks New York City Schools
Stix, Nicholas, Insight on the News
Another day, another scandal. That's life in the New York City public schools, which are responsible for the education of 1.1 million children. The drama that is playing out in New York is playing out in cities across America. It's all about money, about control, about power.
In early December, as many New Yorkers prepared for the imminent arrival of Santa, they were shocked to find out that many public-school principals and teachers had been naughty indeed. Desperate to raise students' performance on standardized tests, they deliberately led their pupils to cheat on those tests.
The constant cheating just got to be too much for Stacey Moskowitz, a reading teacher at Community Elementary School 90 in the South Bronx. In an op-ed essay in the Dec. 13, 1999, New York Daily News, Moskowitz wrote, "In an atmosphere of intimidation, the principal [Richard Wallin] and other top administrators had demanded that teachers raise scores on standardized tests by giving children the answers."
Bearing "cheat sheets" and other evidence of criminal misconduct, in December 1997 Moskowitz had reported what she knew to New York City Board of Education investigators, who did nothing.
With the help of WCBS-TV reporter Marcia Kramer, Moskowitz eventually got through to special commissioner Edward F. Stancik. The board of education's chief investigator, Stancik is independent of schools Chancellor Rudy Crew. In December 1999, after 17 months of digging, Stancik released his report on cheating, which resulted in the suspension of 52 teachers and administrators at 32 different schools. The report, "Cheating the Children: Educator Misconduct on Standardized Tests," revealed the most far-reaching scandal of its type in New York City history. (Under a 1976 state law, it is a crime for a school employee to help a student cheat.)
Stancik wrote, "Some [test] proctors directed students to use scrap paper and then corrected wrong choices, others gave answers outright -- and even wrote on a child's exam. Still others prompted students to check and change answers. Finally, even before the exam was administered, certain classes were prepared by teachers using actual questions from the test."
But that merely was the scandal du jour. Literally. Only a few days later, Republican Gov. George Pataki's Moreland Commission on New York City Public Schools issued its report charging systemic attendance fraud. Titled "Presumed Present: An Investigation into the Board of Education Attendance and Enrollment Systems," the report showed that thousands of students were being marked present -- and even issued grades -- who were in fact attending private schools, attending other New York City public schools, abroad, in jail or even dead. Since the state funds the public schools based on attendance figures, the attendance fraud bilked taxpayers of as much as $100 million per year. …