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To challenge mayor on schools, Thompson cites Diane Ravitch

Comptroller and mayoral candidate William Thompson Jr. (Via Azi’s Flickr.) Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is also a candidate for mayor, ended his appearance on NY1’s “Road to City Hall” last night with the clearest preview yet of how he will challenge Mayor Bloomberg on the schools front. He will quote Diane Ravitch.

Thompson cited Ravitch, the NYU education historian who has emerged as a prime critic of the mayor’s education efforts, after host Dominic Carter painted a picture of how Bloomberg is likely to portray the comptroller in campaign ads.

Carter imagined ads that would single out the comptroller’s tenure as president of the Board of Education, in a pitch to associate Thompson with the days before mayoral control of the schools, which the mayor has characterized as dismal.

Thompson replied by challenging Bloomberg’s portrait of the city schools’ progress since 2002. He said that the “eminent” Ravitch has shown that test scores went up just as much before Bloomberg took office as they did when Thompson served as Board of Education president. (He served in that role from 1996 to 2001.) A spokesman for Thompson today sent me to this Ravitch quotation as evidence. The key sentence:

The gains under Crew and Levy from 1999-2002 were larger on the state tests in both reading and math than under Klein from 2003-2007.

I reached Ravitch by telephone today. She told me that she was surprised to hear herself cited by Thompson. (Like me, she happened to be watching NY1 at just the right moment last night — though probably unlike me, in her case the timing of “Gossip Girl” had little to do with that.) “I’m not involved in his campaign or anyone else’s campaign,” Ravitch told me. “I don’t do politics. I haven’t been politically active since the Hubert Humphrey campaign in 1968.”

As for Thompson’s charge that test scores went up more before Bloomberg than after: It might actually hold up, sort of. The Bloomberg administration denied the charge earlier this month, responding to a similar analysis by the Brooklyn Assemblyman James Brennan. The gist of the city’s argument is that Brennan (and, presumably, Ravitch) were looking at the wrong numbers. The important trends, they argued, are not raw test scores but comparisons between the city and state scores. Those data shed the last six years in more favorable light.

But the argument appears to be weak against further analysis. The latest dispatch from Aaron Pallas, our resident professor of education, looks at the raw scores city studnets got on state tests — and finds that the city’s argument only holds up if you’re looking at state math scores. If you look at state reading scores or any national test data, Thompson’s argument is correct: There’s no significant difference.

Even as Thompson challenged the progress made in the schools since 2002, the comptroller affirmed his support for the 2002 change that handed power away from the citywide board he once led and to the mayor. He said that as board president he actually laid the groundwork for centralizing power.

Thompson did not shed any light on the specifics of how he’d change mayoral control. I understand he plans to testify again at the Assembly hearing in Brooklyn this Friday, though. So we’ll ask him again!