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Public advocate hopeful takes aim at DOE's spending on testing

A figure from Bill De Blasio's report showing how many teachers' salaries could be supported by each assessment expenditure.
A figure from Bill De Blasio's report showing how many teachers' salaries could be supported by each assessment expenditure.

The Department of Education could foot the salaries of more than a thousand teachers with the money it spends measuring and promoting student performance, according to a report released today by City Council member Bill De Blasio.

By reducing spending on developing, administering, and grading tests, and by cutting the department’s media relations office, the DOE could save more than $57 million a year, De Blasio’s office found. That would be enough to support the salaries of 1,038 teachers who earn an average of $50,000 a year.

At today’s City Council hearing about the DOE’s budget, De Blasio, who is running for public advocate, told Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that he is “perplexed by the notion that assessment is somehow more valuable than front-line” school staff. The department’s preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes potential teacher layoffs, but it does not call for substantial cuts to the DOE’s accountability office.

Klein defended spending on assessment even when budgets are tight, saying that teachers cannot do their jobs without good student performance data. He also noted, as he has before, that President Obama has told states to build systems to manage accountability data. “I expect we will get additional federal dollars to actually enhance those systems,” he said.

But he indicated that he would consider cuts to accountability if absolutely necessary. “Let me be clear: There are no sacred cows,” Klein said in response to prodding from De Blasio.

According to a report released in November by the current public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, the DOE will have spent more than $300 million on accountability by the end of this school year. Gotbaum’s figure did not include the cost of periodic assessments, regular tests that all schools must administer but which are not used to evaluate schools or students.

De Blasio’s report advocates eliminating the periodic assessments. The report also notes that in 2008 the DOE spent an average of $10,000 per school day on couriers to transport the assessments between schools and the department’s central accountability office. In the past, Klein has defended the cost of transporting tests by courier.

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