By Jordan Heller
UPPER WEST SIDE — Emotions ran high Monday evening at a meeting with city Education officials, where parents outraged by a drop in test scores were given the opportunity to address Chancellor Joel Klein and other DOE officials directly.
The public forum, held at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School at Lincoln Center, came exactly two weeks after angry parents shut down a Panel for Educational Policy meeting, after Panel Chairman David Chang refused to let parents take part in a discussion about tougher state proficiency standards for reading and math, which lead to the lower test scores.
Chang began by telling parents the panel called the meeting for the sole purpose of listening to the public on the new standards.
But in what seemed to double as an admonition of what happened at the Aug. 16 meeting, Chang warned: "Individuals engaging in disruptive behavior will be removed."
Despite a substantial police presence, it didn't take long for certain members of the audience to test Chang's warning.
Shortly after Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky started a presentation that painted the numbers in a positive light, a group of parents and students engaged in some highly visible but quiet protest.
Protesters blew bubbles into the air and let go of balloons, allowing them to deflate and putter above the audience. The bubbles and balloons were accompanied by signs that read "Education Is More Than Just Bubbles" and "Inflate Those Scores and Watch Them Pop."
Speakers were limited to two minutes apiece to air their grievances to the panel, and a digital clock counted down the seconds until their time was up.
Assemblyman Jim Brennan of Brooklyn criticized officials for spending too much time defending their record and not enough time on "what to do now."
As would be the case throughout the evening, DOE officials sat stone-faced through the barrage of rebukes.
Among the concerns were test-score inflation, the pitfalls of test prep, the racial achievement gap and a lack of accountability by DOE officials.
"The chancellor should be fired!" one speaker angrily screamed into the microphone.
After the public portion of the meeting ended, members of the Panel for Educational Policy were invited to speak.
Finally, Chancellor Joel Klein addressed the audience.
He acknowledged the public school system needed work, but added that "as we have much more work to do, we don't want to ignore the important work that has been done."
Klein reiterated the $700 million in Race to the Top federal funds won by the state, and said gains at city schools were a huge factor in the government's decision to award the cash.
"People are right to press us but for anyone who's studied, participated and worked in the system over the past ten years, the changes have been dramatic," Deputy Chancellor for Performance and Accountability Shael Polakow-Suransky told DNAinfo.
"The fact that the state raised the standard means that now there's a more rigorous bar to meet," he added. "It's hard news for a parent to hear and it's upsetting, but it doesn't change the fact that there's been a lot of progress."
Skeptics said they weren't buying it.
"What has been represented by the mayor and the chancellor as real achievement is actually just test-score inflation," said panel member Patrick Sullivan, who was appointed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "All of these gains that have been trumpeted by the administration may be illusory, and that's what I didn't get an answer to tonight."