MEDIA WATCH: How the Wall Street Journal spun its Brizard coverage by leaving out context in an important graph

The April 19, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal reporting the decision by Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to appoint Jean Claude Brizard as Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's public schools includes a graph that purports to show the increasing test scores in Rochester, New York, during the time (2007 - 2010) that Brizard served as superintendent of schools there. But as Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters) and others from New York are pointing out, context is important when these New York scores are reported. [For those who cannot utilize the hotlink above, the URL for Class Size Matters is:]

What happened in New York? The "gains" across the entire state were wiped out a year ago when test score inflation on the New York tests became obvious. As a result, the "gains" claimed by Brizard in Rochester (and his former mentor former New York City school chancellor Joel Klein in New York City) were neutralized. Even New York City's billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had pegged his reelection campaign two years ago on his supposed success in raising test scores and "closing the achievement gap" (under Klein), was unable to spin his way out of the result of what became one of the biggest examples of grade inflation in history.

The scandal involving the inflation of the test score gains in New York State (including New York City) were big news in July 2010. At the time, The New York Times reported as follows in an article headlined "Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests." [The URL for the July 29, 2010 New York Times article is:].

Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests, By JENNIFER MEDINA, Published: July 28, 2010

"Applying new, tougher standards, state education officials said Wednesday that more than half of public school students in New York City failed their English exams this year, and 54 percent of them passed in math.

"The results were in stark contrast to successes that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had heralded in recent years. When he ran for re-election in 2009, he boasted of state test scores that showed two-thirds of city students were passing English and 82 percent were passing math.

"But state education officials said that performance was misleading because those scores were inflated by tests that had become easier to pass. The scores released on Wednesday were the first attempt to establish what the officials considered a more trustworthy measure of students’ abilities."

The chart that accompanied the April 19, 2011 Wall Street Journal article.Readers would have no way of knowing those facts from the way in which the Wall Street Journal offered the chart that accompanied its report on Chicago's Brizard choice in April 2011. The most that might be said from the "data" of Brizard's time in Rochester is that there was little change in most measures of student achievement, a major scandal involving how the dropout rates was being reported after Brizard took over (relevant because this is one of the features of Rahm Emanuel's praise for Brizard), and growing opposition to Brizard's dictatorial approach to leadership from all segments of the community (except business leaders and the mayor who picked Brizard after getting mayoral control in Rochester).

The chart showing the gains in Rochester scores is not the only dubious numerical fact reported in The Wall Street Journal in this article. The Journal's reporters (one of whom reported for years for the Chicago Tribune and knows better) also states that CPS is facing a "deficit" of $750 million. Claims ranging from $720 million to $820 million have been bandied about so far this year proclaiming the latest CPS "deficit," but as the record of the past two decades shows, CPS "deficit" claims are about as honest as Jean Claude Brizard's claims that he began to erase the "achievement gap" during his brief (a little over three years) and controversial (just about every organized group except the city's "business community" wound up opposing him and are now cheering his departure) time as superintendent of Rochester.

After reading the Wall Street Journal article, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters (a New York City advocacy group) e-mailed: "This WSJ piece on Brizard shows a highly deceptive graph of rising test scores in Rochester, w/out any explanation of the test score inflation that occurred over this period, and the state’s consequent reset of the cut scores for proficiency levels. If they had shown the proficiency levels instead, the graph would have shown a vastly different picture."

The one fact that is true in the Wall Street Journal report is that the Brizard appointment represents the first time since mayoral control began in Chicago in 1995 that a person with training and experience in actual urban education has been chosen by a Chicago mayor to serve as the so-called "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools. BELOW IS THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE FROM APRIL 19, 2011


CHICAGO—Incoming Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel named a new schools chief Monday, choosing a leader known for his efforts to close low-performing schools, fire underperforming principals and link teacher pay to student test scores.

Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools in Rochester, N.Y., will succeed Terry Mazany, who has headed the nation's third-largest school district since November 2010. Mr. Emanuel, who is scheduled to take office in May, made the announcement at Kelly High School on Chicago's south side. The appointment must now be approved by the school board.

Mr. Brizard takes over a system that has seen three leaders in as many years. He will face a reported $750 million budget deficit, a looming contract negotiation with the Chicago Teachers' Union, and a district that has lost its mantle as a national leader in education innovation.

Mr Brizard is the first schools chief plucked from outside Chicago since the mayor won the power to make the appointment in 1995. His appointment means the nation's three largest school districts-—New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—each have a new leader.

Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Brizard "is not afraid of tough choices and that is what Chicago students need today."

A reading of the District Report Card(s) for Rochester New York before and during the time that Jean Claude Brizard ran the school system (late 2007 to early 2011) shows that there is little or no basis for claims that Brizard worked miracles in Rochester. In fact, the singular fact about Brizard's time in Rochester is that by early 2011 he had generated opposition from representatives of just about every major group within the system (parents, students and teachers). The only support he had by mid-April 2011 in Rochester were the mayor who had gotten mayoral control and the "business community."In Rochester, Mr. Brizard oversaw 32,000 students and 3,500 teachers. The mainly low-income, minority district struggled with achievement. A recent study by the New York Board of Regents found that only 5% of its graduates are prepared for college based on state test scores, compared to 41% statewide. 


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