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Howard Wolfson on city test scores: "The numbers don't lie"

Mayor Bloomberg’s chief spokesman for his reelection campaign, Howard Wolfson, brushed aside claims that the city’s test scores and graduation rates are inflated in an appearance on NY1’s “Road to City Hall” last night.

“If we can’t talk about the data, then why are we even having a conversation?” he said.

Wolfson came to talk about the mayor’s new transit initiative, but he ended up spending much of the interview discussing the mayor’s education record, which is shaping up to be a centerpiece of his campaign. Wolfson only become animated when host Dominic Carter noted that some critics believe that the city and state have found ways to artificially inflate the numbers.

“I mean, yes, they can say crime rate really isn’t low, you’re cooking the books. Test scores are not dramatically higher, you’re cooking the books. Yes, you can say that about anything. I can say that about the stratospheric ratings that you enjoy every night, oh, you’re cooking the books. The fact is, the numbers are what they are,” Wolfson said.

Carter prodded Wolfson with an example of numbers that do lie, citing times when medical examiners have been encouraged to withhold death reports until the following year, lowering the city’s murder rate in key election cycles.

“The numbers don’t lie,” Wolfson responded. “If that’s the case that the comptroller wants to make, he may be willing to do that. He certainly is free to do that.”

Wolfson also compared the mayor’s record to that of mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson’s five years as president of the city’s Board of Education, saying that the city’s test scores had shown marked improvement under Bloomberg. Thompson has called the comparison unfair, as he did not have the centralized power that came with mayoral control.

“They’re two different periods of time, but anyone can go and look at the numbers and the numbers are vastly different,” Wolfson said.

“I would put it this way very simply to every voter out there: if you think that the schools were better under Bill Thompson’s leadership at the board of education, you should vote for him. If you think, though, that the schools are better now that Michael Bloomberg has taken over, you should vote for him,” Wolfson said.”

The Thompson and Bloomberg campaigns spent much of last week trading jabs through their spokesmen. The following chart comparing education data during Thompson’s days on the Board of Education to Bloomberg’s time in office, came from the Bloomberg campaign last week. Yesterday, Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett reported that the firm the Department of Education hired to audit their graduation data only validated the department’s numbers and didn’t investigate the information behind the transcripts.

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