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Accountability guru Liebman out; former principal will fill spot

James Liebman. (Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Education)
James Liebman. (Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Education)

James Liebman, the law professor mastermind behind the Bloomberg administration’s school accountability system, is resigning, Chancellor Joel Klein just announced.

A former principal, Shael Polakow-Suransky, will replace Liebman on an “interim acting” basis. The swap transitions the Office of Accountability to the hands of a longtime educator from those of a outsider criticized for having no teaching experience.

The accountability system constructed by Liebman, a law professor at Columbia University, changed the tone of many schools in the city, sometimes dramatically. The new focus on improving students’ test scores drew both sharp criticism from some city educators who said it narrowed curriculum and created incentives to cheat — and a carnival of visitors from around the country and abroad hoping to model the system in their schools.

The matrix of tools built by Liebman includes report cards that assign each school a letter grade; quality reviews that evaluate schools’ use of test score data to inform teaching; a data warehouse searchable by teachers and, now, parents; so-called “formative assessments” that help teachers diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses before state test time; and a “data inquiry team” system that encourages teachers to make curriculum decisions by referring to students’ test scores.

Liebman will return to teaching at Columbia full-time, but will continue to work on special projects for the Department of Education, Klein’s press release said. Neither Liebman nor Klein could be reached for an immediate comment.

Updates to come. Here’s the full press release:


Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced the resignation of James Liebman as Chief Accountability Officer and the appointment of Shael Polakow-Suransky as interim-acting Chief Accountability Officer, effective July 20. Mr. Liebman, who is also a professor at Columbia Law School, will resume teaching full time while undertaking special projects for the Department of Education. Mr. Polakow-Suransky currently serves as Deputy Chief Schools Officer and collaborated closely with Mr. Liebman in designing the Department’s accountability tools and achievement resources.

“Jim has led some of the most revolutionary work in public education in recent years, work that has helped accelerate the progress our students and schools are making,” Chancellor Klein said. “People from school districts around the world regularly visit New York City to learn about the accountability tools he has developed. Jim will be greatly missed, but both he and I agree that Shael is the right person to continue this important work.”

Before becoming the Department’s first Chief Accountability Officer in January 2006, Mr. Liebman built a distinguished career as a public interest lawyer and a law professor. A public school parent, he has written and taught extensively in the fields of public education and public institutional reform.

As Chief Accountability Officer, he has led the Department’s efforts to provide parents and educators with information they can use to improve student results and hold schools and educators accountable for helping all students make academic progress. He has built the Division of Accountability and Achievement Resources and overseen the development of the most comprehensive set of school accountability tools and achievement resources in the nation, including:

  • Progress Reports, which grade schools based on the amount of academic progress their students make each year;
  • Quality Reviews, which provide an analysis of how well each school is organized to respond to the learning needs of its students;


  • the annual School Survey—the largest survey in the country other than the U.S. Census—which asks parents, teachers, and students what their schools are doing well and how the schools can improve student learning;

  • a comprehensive and flexible package of no-stakes Periodic Assessments that educators can use to assess students’ strengths and needs, diagnose areas in which instruction is not working for particular students, and tailor lessons to the match the learning needs of each child;
  • the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS), a data system that gives administrators, teachers, and families access to critical information about students’ academic performance as well as to lesson plans and other resources and collaboration tools they can use to improve performance;
  • Inquiry Teams, groups of teachers and administrators in every school that develop strategies to help struggling students;

  • and enhanced data verification, integrity, and governance systems to assure the accuracy and usability of data for educators, families, and the public.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky has compiled a long record of raising student achievement in the New York City public schools during the last 15 years. He is currently the Department’s Deputy Chief Schools Officer, helping to oversee the work of the School Support Organizations and Integrated Service Centers. He began his career as a math and social studies teacher. In 2001, he became the founding principal of Bronx International High School, which has served as a model for the development of many of the City’s new small schools. He has also served as a Leadership Academy facilitator, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer for the Office of New Schools, and the Chief Academic Officer for Empowerment Schools, which he helped build into the Department’s largest School Support Organization.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky holds a bachelor’s degree in education and urban studies from Brown University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the Bank Street College of Education. He recently graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy.


Contact: David Cantor / Andrew Jacob (212) 374-5141

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