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Thompson, Bloomberg campaigns jousting over education

The first big blows of the election season are being traded today over the two leading candidates’ education records.

Much of the action is happening in the comments section of a Huffington Post column posted yesterday by Comptroller William Thompson, who has been gaining on Mayor Bloomberg in polls. In the column, titled “Why Joel Klein Should be Fired,” Thompson described what he called “a pattern of brazen actions taken by the Department of Education that fly in the face of basic management standards.”

Within hours of the column’s publication, DOE press secretary David Cantor had responded. “Virtually all of Mr. Thompson’s claims are incorrect or distortions,” Cantor wrote in his comment, the first attached to Thompson’s column.

Then, the mayor’s campaign manager, Howard Wolfson, jumped into the fray, posting a link to the campaign’s official response today, which indicates that Thompson’s five-year tenure as Board of Education president in the 1990s could be a prime target for the Bloomberg campaign. From the statement:

So, here are the facts: When Mr. Thompson ran the old Board of Education most test scores declined or were flat. Dropout rates went up four points and graduation rates showed little improvement. Pervasive violence in our schools prevented children from learning. Billions in cost overruns were rampant and shoddy accounting even failed to accurately count the number of students in the system.

Despite this poor record, Mr. Thompson insisted on politics as usual, opposing Mayoral Control and failing to end social promotion. In short, Mr. Thompson had ample opportunity to improve and reform a dysfunctional system, and he failed to do so.

But Thompson is looking forward while the Bloomberg campaign is fixated on the past, according to Thompson spokesman Jeffrey Simmons, who also posted a comment. (Simmons got attention last week when he barred DOE employees, including Cantor, from attending two of Thompson’s press conferences.) From his comment:

As Mr. Cantor – and his campaign compatriot – cry foul and discuss the past, Thompson is addressing the future, and a public school system that is held accountable, reigns in out-of-control contract spending (just look at today”s Daily News column exposing another example of over-the-top costs), and strengthens parental involvement in schools.

Here’s the Bloomberg campaign’s official response to Thompson’s ongoing criticism:

BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN RESPONDS TO THOMPSON’S ATTACKS

Bloomberg campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson today issued the following
statement:

“Bill Thompson’s recent attacks on Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s education
accomplishments make an examination of the Comptroller’s own record
that much more important.

“In fact, voters interested in how a Thompson administration would
administer the schools need only look at Mr. Thompson’s record when he
ran the City’s Board of Education for clues.

“So, here are the facts: When Mr. Thompson ran the old Board of
Education most test scores declined or were flat. Dropout rates went
up four points and graduation rates showed little improvement.
Pervasive violence in our schools prevented children from learning.
Billions in cost overruns were rampant and shoddy accounting even
failed to accurately count the number of students in the system.

“Despite this poor record, Mr. Thompson insisted on politics as usual,
opposing Mayoral Control and failing to end social promotion. In
short, Mr. Thompson had ample opportunity to improve and reform a
dysfunctional system, and he failed to do so.

“Now, contrast Mr. Thompson’s record with Mayor Bloomberg’s. Test
scores are at an all time high as New York City students are making
greater gains than students in the rest of the state. Graduation
rates are up fifteen points. The dropout rate is down almost seven
points. Violence is down and schools are safer. And the achievement
gap between white students and African-Americans and Latinos is
narrowing dramatically on test scores and graduation rates.

“The contrast couldn’t be clearer. When Mr. Thompson ran the old
Board of Education our schools were failing. Under Mayor Bloomberg,
schools are turning around and making real progress. And those are
the facts.”

Mr. Thompson served as President of the Board of Education from 1996 to 2001.

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