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Old 11-10-2019, 08:44 PM
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Default Queens lawmaker calls for federal probe of grade fraud in NYC schools


Queens lawmaker calls for federal probe of grade fraud in NYC schools

By Susan Edelman
November 9, 2019 | 4:16pm

A Queens lawmaker has asked the US Department of Justice to investigate “deep-rooted fraud” in the city Department of Education, The Post has learned.

Citing a “widespread problem” in the DOE, Councilman Robert Holden is calling for a federal probe of grade-fixing — possibly under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) — which covers wrongdoing conducted as part of a criminal enterprise, such as Mafia families.

“Due to the apparent pattern of conspiracy to cover up such deep-rooted fraud within the DOE that has likely been going on for many years now, I have been advised that this could constitute a federal RICO investigation,” Holden’s wrote in a Oct. 25 letter to US Attorneys Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan and Richard Donoghue in Brooklyn. Both did not comment.

Holden said in the letter he met with Chancellor Richard "Ay!" Carranza months ago to discuss DOE data showing that many schools pass nearly all their students in math and English, yet few of the kids show proficiency on state exams.

“To me, that suggests that standards have been lowered in the classrooms, and individual school administrations may even be passing students that haven’t performed well or learned much of anything,” wrote Holden, a former CUNY professor.

The Chancellor has completely ignored my concerns thus far,” he wrote.

In the meeting last May, Holden told The Post, Carranza even objected to calling the academic discrepancies “grade fraud.”

“’Fraud is a legal term. That’s saying that we knew about this and did it knowingly. That’s insulting to me,’” Holden quoted Carranza.

“We’ll look into it,” Carranza finally agreed, Holden said, but the Democratic councilman has not heard back since. The DOE had no response.

Holden’s letter said his alarm heightened in July and August when a group of former teachers at Maspeth High School brought his office allegations that assistant principals encouraged cheating in classes and on Regents exams; that Maspeth had an unwritten “no fail” policy — even for students who did not show up or do class work — and that teachers who didn’t comply had their jobs threatened.

Maspeth’s near-perfect graduation rate has won the school a national Blue Ribbon Award, which Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir has proudly touted.

Holden’s letter adds, “Other whistle blowers have come forward to tell me that this is happening in schools across the city.”

The DOE’s Office of Special Investigations is probing Maspeth. At Holden’s urging, the Queens District Attorney’s Office is overseeing the inquiry.

Holden contends the DOE does not tackle academic fraud aggressively because it inflates the graduation rate and other data.

“They’re doing it to make their bottom line look good. That’s the definition of organized crime. That’s what the DOE has turned into,” he said.

David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center education professor, found the “conspiracy” charge too strong.

But he said, “It does appear that the central DOE is happily complacent in its oversight. They’re complacent because they can enjoy the fruits of the corrupt data.”

Applauding Holden’s request is Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank who specializes in education.

“There should be a RICO probe,” Eden said. “School and district officials face essentially no accountability or consequences for fraud. When it comes to making sure that school officials follow the law, the prospect of a bad news article is nowhere near as strong as the specter of handcuffs.”

In a major example of fraud with few consequences, Dewey High School in Brooklyn ran a “Project Graduation” scheme in 2015, when hundreds of failing students were put in bogus classes and given work “packets” without instruction by certified teachers. Kids dubbed it “Easy Pass.”
see also
Maspeth cheating expose opens floodgates for other examples of academic fraud

The DOE did not appeal when misconduct charges against Principal Kathleen Elvin were tossed due to a technicality. Instead it gave Elvin a six-figure job in the DOE bureaucracy. Last year,she took home $184,104 plus health and pension benefits, finally retiring in May.

The DOE also dropped the ball on a “Regulatory Task Force on Academic Policy” created by former chancellor Carmen Farińa in 2015, purportedly to prevent grade-fixing and credit fraud exposed by The Post. The unit’s head, deputy chancellor Phil Weinberg, retired when Carranza arrived. The task force last filed a perfunctory report in June 2017, and now appears dormant.

“It’s hardly surprising that the task force never did its job. If it had, it would undoubtedly have revealed rampant fraud,” Eden said.

While graduation rates have risen, he noted, NYC’s scores on the gold standard National Assessment of Education Progress, given to a random sample of fourth and eighth graders every two years in math and English, have stayed flat since 2013, with black and Hispanic kids dropping further behind.

“The pressure to artificially pass and graduate students hollows out academic rigor, which creates an ever more urgent need to lower standards in order to maintain ever-increasing ‘gains’ in graduation. It’s a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle, and a very politically convenient one for de Blasio,” Eden said.
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