Fact-checking the mayoral debate
Education came up early and often during Wednesday's afternoon Newseum mayoral debate. In high-stakes political events like this the first casualties often are nuance, context and recent history. Some of the factual claims fell into the "Yes, but" category, where a quick, driveby assertion was true as far as it went, but was also misleading without more explanation. Other claims had no apparent basis in fact:
"Record test score improvement." Fenty touched on this several times. There has been improvement in DC CAS scores, continuing a trend that began under former superintendent Clifford Janey. Secondary schools show an average gain of 14 percentage points in reading proficiency and 17 points in math. But this year elementary scores dipped by about 4.5 points after two years of outsize gains.
Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a federal test, also show growth that spans the tenures of Janey and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. But NAEP is also where Fenty can legitimately point to "record test score improvement." Last year, math and reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in the District grew more than for peers in any other urban district that took the test.
"Graduation rates are up."Fenty is right that high school completion rates do show a rise, but that's from using a questionable methodology that may make them look higher than they are. The District plans to go to a more rigorous method, which is expected to cause the rates to show a dip next year.
Balanced budget In an exchange with D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray about Rhee's basis for laying off more than 200 educators last fall, Fenty stated that the.council received a 2010 budget certified as balanced by Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. In fact, Gandhi asked for the resignation of Noah Wepman, his deputy in charge of DCPS finances in late 2009, after Wepman disclosed the existence of a $13 million gap that helped trigger the layoffs. Wepman acknowledged that he did not inform Gandhi of the problem before Gandhi certified the budget as balanced.
Special education.: Gray trashed Fenty's special education record by focusing on the enormous expense of keeping students in non-public schools because the District can't meet their needs. But even court-appointed monitors in the special education class action suits acknowledge that there has been progress in reducing backlogs for timely due process hearings and decisions. Fenty added to the confusion by citing a statement from Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, that called DCPS' test score gains among the strongest in the nation. It was an accurate paraphrase of Casserly, but one that had nothing to do with special ed.
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