A Huge Non-Surprise Out of Atlanta

Thirty-five ‘educators’ in Atlanta have been indicted for conspiring to cheat on standardized tests to receive bonuses they have not earned. As anyone with a basic knowledge of human behavior could have told you, you get what you pay for. If you pay people to teach, they’ll probably teach. If you’re paying someone a $78,000 bonus to make sure the right bubbles get filled in thousands of sheets of paper, as the Atlanta school district did with their now-indicted superintendent, it’s only a matter of time until someone tries to find an easier way to get those bubbles filled in. One more reason we need a better way of evaluating schools.

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The Polish Wolf


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  • Human nature, not testing, is the problem. Down in the Bible Belt, and possibly elsewhere, educators with lowdown morals are yielding to temptation.

    I view this as a security issue. And I think the obvious solution is using proctors that are independent of the school district to administer the exams and secure the answer sheets. Once the testing begins, the school district’s involvement should end.

  • Our method for evaluating schools needs to reflect human nature. Cheating is far from the biggest problem. Judging schools from test scores requires a certain trust that schools will continue to teach essentially the same way, just better. When you put tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, you have administrators and teachers who will do anything to get that money. That may include cheating, but the much bigger problem is more subtle. Tests are only part of the mission of any school district, but imagine as superintendent you have $78,000 riding on those tests, and on a daily basis you’re being asked to set priorities for your time and the districts money. How on earth are you supposed to set healthy priorities for your district when only three subjects, and only parts of those subjects (and not parts that are particularly applicable to careers), are being tested? It’s an enormous incentive to cut music, arts, history, literature, upper level math, etc., to focus limited resources on those few areas that will be assessed.

  • I find it hard to imagine that you think, perhaps not you PW, that everything that is learned is first taught.

    • The subtle lessons in the testing regime are quite unhelpful, as I’ve discussed before. I don’t think, as some do, that the intent of testing is to install in kids an authoritarian mindset, but that is a consequence of all high stakes testing – stunting the growth of creativity and replacing it with a yearning for the one answer that is ‘correct’ (correct here being validated by an authority figure). And I’m not saying this as a hippie who wants to see kids march to the beat of their own drummer, but as someone concerned that kids are not learning the skills needed to be part of the first world economy.

      • I can’t imagine that testing what has been learned (and soon to be forgotten) instead of learning ability is of much use, first world economy or not. (Where’s Swede when you need him! We’re talking about teaching a man to fish!) We cannot possibly design a test that measures a person’s adaptability, creativity and resourcefulness. Those are things allow a person to survive in any economy.

        I have no problem with testing, of course. The feedback is important and it helps to know whether a kid has gotten a grasp of materials under examination. But the idea of tests designed by authority centers and used as a basis for payment of teachers and finding of schools is my sticking point. I cannot possibly produce anything but automatons.

        Anyway, I did my time in prison, reciting dreary literature, memorizing useless facts, answering bells, learning very little of use – school was torture. That probably explains my attitude. I have a hard time believing that sitting in a classroom for hours on end equates with learning.

        • I agree with you on the testing, and lot else, as well. I disagree that hours in the classroom cannot equate to learning – I learned an immense amount in high school that I remember to this day. I spent more hours in Don’s classroom than I was scheduled, because of the learning that happened there. But I agree with you in essence: the classroom is an environment that works only for some students, perhaps only a minority. High stakes testing exacerbates the problem by removing what flexibility schools have to reach kids.

  • Better way of evaluating schools?

    How ’bout giving parents vouchers so they can personally choose?

    • I’m actually not 100% opposed, Ingy, on one condition: all schools accepting vouchers must meet the same regulations, standards, and procedures as public schools.

      I could found a school, Wolf’s School of Profitability, and with a few simple rules achieve huge cost savings and higher test scores. Kick out or keep out kids who are pregnant, have learning disabilities, or who have ever been arrested. Institute disciplinary and academic probation and expulsion: three rule infractions or three failed classes, you’re out. Run the school with a board of directors, make hiring and firing decisions confidentially, and accept client comment only by email. These few policies would slash school costs enormously and drive up test scores. And if my school didn’t institute those rules, the laws of capitalism demand that someone else would!

      The problem is, in so doing I would also leave huge swaths of the community uneducated, and take the easiest to manage students out of public schools. Someone would still have to educate them, since we as a society have decided education is a universal right. But that education would fall on a smaller and smaller public school system struggling to help a more and more difficult group of students.

      On the other hand, if a private school can give students the same level of education while abiding by the same rules of a public school – particularly the equal right of every student to receive an education, not matter how difficult it is for the district to meet their needs – then I’d like to see it, because that would indicate genuine innovation.

      • Amen, PW. Amen. Just one thing to add – vouchers and charter schools, if heavily regulated, can serve a purpose, as you say, but the huge amount of public revenue that goes into schools attracts rent seekers. That is the prime driver behind those movements.

        • Indeed – we’ve already seen a microcosm of the problem, in fact, with the money spent by the military on for profit higher education. No doubt some of those veterans got a good education, but a lot of others got swindled, and they didn’t do their due diligence because it wasn’t their money they were spending, anyway. A private sector saw free money for providing a poorly regulated service and some unscrupulous ones jumped in – we can expect the same with vouchers if they are not very well regulated.

      • The one thing charter schools will never ever agree to is an inability to cherry-pick their students for guaranteed success. If they couldn’t do so, with public funding, they’d be no more successful than public schools.

        • That seems likely – there may be genuinely innovative charter schools that are perform extraordinarily. But they are certainly a minority. And what few people will admit is that a huge part of the allure of private schools is getting ones kids away from the ‘riff-raff’, that is to say other (generally poorer) people’s kids.

          • Under most circumstances, I would agree with you, PW, but for the last decade or so, there has been a huge rise in private religious schools. Many parents want their children enrolled in them to “protect” them from things like evolution, genetics, sex education, history or facts in general. This is my major bitch about private school vouchers. The idea of mandatory childhood education was to ensure that American Children are prepared for the life as an adult – with the proper knowledge to survive in today’s world. The only way I would ever consider voting for a voucher system is if those private schools had to adhere to a set of standards that prevented them from teaching religion in place of science.

  • I’ll be the one to ‘bell’ the cat – this article is about greedy, conniving teachers, and nothing else.

    • Technically the greediest, conniviest one was the superintendent. But it doesn’t do any good to just say ‘THOSE people were greedy. That’s the whole story.’ There are greedy people everywhere, and so at some point you have to set up a system that can deal with that reality. When this happens, you do not have such a system.

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