A Failing Grade for Mr. Liebman

Several articles appeared today about James Liebman's resignation after serving three years as head of the Tweed's Office of Accountability -- finally returning to Columbia University law school full time: Chief Accountability Officer for City Schools Resigns (NY Times); and New accountability chief says he’ll carry on Liebman’s legacy (Gotham Schools).

Let us remember that this man had no qualifications for the job, and proved this repeatedly over the years. In fact the only person who probably knew less about education and how to nurture conditions for learning was the man who hired him: Chancellor Klein. Columbia University finally woke up to the fact that he had been double-dipping: while holding the office of Chief Accountability Officer at Tweed, he was also supposedly on the full-time law faculty for the last year.

The progress reports he designed were widely derided as unreliable and statistically untenable; the quality reviews were an expensive waste of time and paperwork, and ignored when DOE was deciding which schools to close and which schools to commend; the $80 million supercomputer called ARIS was a super-expensive super-mugging by IBM, according to techies who found it laughable how much DOE was taken for a ride.

The surveys were badly designed, and counted for only a small percentage of school grades. Yet because principals were terrified of bad results, parents were pressured into giving favorable reviews for fear their schools would otherwise be punished. And the top priority of parents on these surveys — class size reduction — was ignored; worse, it was repeatedly derided by Liebman et. al. as a goal not worthy to pursue.

Under his leadership or lack thereof, the Accountability office continued to mushroom with more and more high priced educrats, "Knowledge Managers" and the like, few of whom, like him, had any experience or qualifications for the job, no less an understanding of statistics or the limitations of data.

One would think that a man who had focused professionally on the large error rate in capital punishment cases would have a little humility in terms of recognizing the fallibility of human judgment -- but no such luck. When confronted with the question of why schools should be given single grades, rather than a more nuanced system that might recognize their variety of attributes, he opined that a single grade, from A to F was useful "to concentrate the mind."

The ostensible point of the test score data from the periodic assessments and standardized tests, collected and spewed out by ARIS, to be analyzed by each school's "data inquiry teams” and "Senior Achievement Facilitators" was supposedly to encourage “differentiated instruction” to occur , although this goal was severely hampered by the fact that under Klein's leadership or lack thereof, overcrowding and excessive class sizes have continued.

No matter how much data is available — even assuming it is statistically reliable— the best way to allow differentiated instruction to occur is to lower class size.

And let us not forget Liebman’s cowardly run out the back door of City Hall in order to escape parents and hundreds of petitions collected by Time out from Testing — even though City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson had specifically requested that he leave through the front door of the chambers after he testified so that he could receive the petitions with the respect that they deserved. A perfect emblem of his three years at DOE.

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