2006-06-23 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

Mayor Mike Bloomberg hates to be contradicted. He abhors it when somebody, particularly a reporter or a city worker points out something that he has said is just not true.

If mayor Mike says that the schools are safer, that violence is way down in city schools, well, that's got to be the truth. At least, he thinks so.

So. when the New York State Department of Education pointed out last week that there were nearly five times as many violent and disruptive incidents in city public schools this year than in the year before (50,554 as against 10,407), right after the Mayor announced that violence is way down, how did Mayor Mike take it?

The state is wrong, the mayor's minions said. The statistics lie, the mayor's minions said. The mayor has it right, the mayor's minions said.

In fact, they argue that the mayor was simply using criminal incidents, while the state was using a number that contains non-criminal acts. In fact, they argue, the rise in incidents is not due to a raise in incidents, but a rise in the reporting of those incidents.

In fact, they argued, violent crime in the schools is down by 12 percent, not up by five hundred percent as the state reported.

And, Mayor Mike is never wrong.

"It's something very different that they are measuring," the mayor himself said. "Our measurement is consistent year to year, and the schools are safer. Violence is down. Crime is down."

What Bloomberg does not want to count, what he calls "non-criminal" events, include intimidation, bullying, menacing, assaults where a weapon was not use, etc. The state, the UFT, the parents and 99 percent of those who send their kids to school think, however, that they should be counted.

Not Mayor Mike.

And, who are we to contradict him.

The United Federation of Teachers, (UFT), the union that represents the teachers, says that incidents are way up, that the schools are actually more dangerous now then they were when the Mayor took control two years ago.

A recent union press statement argued that principals are urged to cover up as many incidents as possible to keep the statistics down. The UFT says that school officials are often reluctant to call in police in even serious events because they will be disciplined by the regional offices for calling 911.

This is not a new phenomena. It started in District 27 when Matthew Bromme was the superintendent.

School principals were told that they called the police or medical services at their own peril, that their job was to keep incidents and suspensions low so that local schools would not "get a bad name as dangerous places to be."

There was an incident at Beach Channel High School around that time where a BCHS female volleyball player received a broken nose in a fight with another school during the game.

When a parent called for an ambulance, the police responded along with the medical personnel. The principal refused them access to the building. She said that nothing was wrong. The police and EMT's soon found out that the principal was not telling the truth and the kid was taken to the hospital and treated.

Just last week, a young boy was beaten badly at Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway. He was reportedly swinging a stickball bat in the gym when it slipped out of his hand and hit the wall nearby two toughs who did not like it very much. The two beat him so badly that his jaw was broken in two places, his father told The Wave. His father wondered why, with three teachers in the gym, not one came to the aid of his son and why it took so long for the school to report the incident and call 911.What happened to that student is a criminal act in more ways than one. In the adult world, what the two student did would rate as at least an assault in the third degree charge. The official school report, however, says the victim "suffered lacerations" to the face - at the most, a misdemeanor.

The report said nothing about injuries, certainly nothing about a broken jaw. It did say that the victim had been swinging a "cane," which slipped from his hands and hit one of the boys.

Blame the victim. That way, it is not a statistic you have to report.

Because the two youths who beat him were 14 and 15 years old, the case went to Family Court.

The UFT and everybody else in the world would call that a criminal act.

The mayor, however, and his DOE bean counters will probably call it a "non-criminal act" and therefore, it will not count in the statistics they collect to feed to the public as their "truth."

By the way, Newsday took the information provided by the regional offices (that are about one-fifth as bad as the actual statistics) and came up with an "incidents per 1000 students" measure.

Guess which district has the highest rate in all of Queens. You're right. It's District 27, our own school district.

District 27 is listed as having 48 schools with a total enrollment of 45,092. There were 2,162 "total offenses" in the district. Remember that these are DOE statistics and therefore only count "criminal" incidents. The assault at MS 53 would not have been included because the DOE would deem a fight where the result was only some lacerations was not a "criminal act."

In any case, District 27 had 48 offenses per 1,000 students. District 29, Laurelton, Rosedale, etc. had 42. All of the other districts in Queens fell below 40. District 26, the toniest district in Queens had 35 offenses per 1,000 students. District 9 in the Bronx reported 71 offenses per 1,000 students. Can you imagine what really goes on there if the DOE reports such a high number and is still only reporting one-fifth of the reality.

One last indicator, not in the discipline area. Mayor Bloomberg has invested lots of political credits on his use of small high schools. He needs them to succeed, to have high graduation rates, high test scores and low suspension rates.

How do you go a fair distance in insuring those things? Keep kids out of the small schools who do not fit the success profile. So, the city has a rule. No special ed kids in small schools for the first three years.

Keep out those special ed kids who have low test scores, who drop out in greater numbers, who cause problems and have higher suspension rates than mainstream kids.

While you're at it, keep out the bilingual programs with their low scores and higher dropout rates.

Keep out the problems. Those are for other schools. The small schools must succeed - at any cost.

Even if it means breaking federal guidelines and cutting at-risk kids off from a program that Bloomberg says he has confidence in.

It gives you a picture of how Bloomberg and the DOE operate.

Test scores are all. Do anything you can to keep scores high.

In any case, the old saw that statistics lie is put to good use by the DOE and Mayor Mike.

Ask any teacher. Ask any supervisor who is willing to tell you the truth.

Then, you will really know what's going on.

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