Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How test cheating is a damning indicator of the problems with the prevailing approach to school "reform"

The prevailing narrative on school reform is so flawed (flawed = the other f word), although there is some truth to some of the tenets, which goes somewhat like this:

1.  All children can learn -- yes of course they can
2.  But some children start out seriously behind because of poverty and limited familial opportunities
3.  Too often, these gaps aren't addressed in a systematic way
4.  But screw being concerned about dealing with the impact of poverty because all children can learn
5.  The real problem is that many teachers suck
6.  And the damn teachers unions protect the sucky teachers.
7.  Test, test , test the kids.
8.  And use the test results (which are not designed for this purpose) to evaluate and rate teachers.

The so-called reformers claim that people who raise the issue of diminished circumstances on the part of a goodly number of the lower performing children believe that the students can never achieve, that they are resigned to permanent failure, nothing can be done, "woe is me," etc.

This is bullshit.  It's a lie.  It's mendacious.  It's manipulative.

People who raise the issue of poverty merely argue that it needs to be addressed, that it shouldn't be ignored.  And that if the gap in achievement that results isn't addressed, that it's likely that significant improvements in educational outcomes won't occur.

The point of this entry isn't to discuss Montgomery County Maryland's award-winning programs for dealing with achievement gaps which was discussed in this past blog entry, "Missing the most fundamental point about urban educational reform," which mentions this article, When ‘Unequal’ Is Fair Treatment" from Education Week, about their award-winning program focused on reducing and eliminating performance gaps between high income and low income children, or other programs and leaders, such as now retired area superintendent Kathleen Cashin of New York City.

Cashin was militantly ignored by Mayor Bloomberg's reform effort, yet the schools in her domain had better results than most of the schools across the city, even though they served predominately low-income students. See the blog entries, "Positive deviance in New York City schools goes unrecognized" and "Positive Deviance and the DC Public Schools."

Instead it is to comment on how the educational reform approach and narrative sets the stage for serious cheating on the part of teachers and principals who are evaluated almost solely through test results.  Sadly, seemingly excellent results often end up being artificially produced through cheating.

This happened in Maryland, at  ("Widespread cheating found at city elementary" and "Cheating, tampering found in city schools: Officials to announce extensive violations Thursday" from the Baltimore Sun), and it happened throughout DCPS.

And it's not a new phenomenon.  The "Texas Miracle" in Houston which boosted Superintendent Rod Paige to the position of the US Secretary of Education was found to be based on fraudulent boosting of test scores as well.

Because the Washington Post is committed to the school reform narrative as expressed by Michelle Rhee et al, it didn't do much in the way of serious coverage and investigation, unlike how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did an award winning investigation of the Atlanta Public Schools.

Sadly (an indicator of the decline of the Washington Post as a force in local journalism) it was USA Today, not the Washington Post, which did investigate the test score results in DC, and found rampant cheating, "When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?"

Why this hasn't had much impact on the constantly upward career trajectory of Michelle Rhee is unfathomable.  I mean, shouldn't the author of the hagiography on Michelle Rhee at least include a chapter on the lies?  (Also see "Steve Brill's blinkered look at education" by Felix Salmon of Reuters.)

The recent "investigation" in DC on school test cheating was so pathetically circumscribed--looking at one school, and claiming that this was enough to change the environment--that we can all see that "the fix was in."  See "DC investigates just one school in test-cheating scandal" from USA Today versus  "Inspector General clears D.C. schools of widespread cheating" from the Washington Post.

As Shelagh Bocum wrote on the Concerned4dcps e-list:

It really is amazing that the OIG determined that investigating Noyes was sufficient. It admits that it chose Noyes based on media reports as well as the huge bonuses that the principal and staff had received two years in a row. Many other schools had lots of classrooms that were flagged for unusually high wrong-to-right erasures as well. EVERY school with "unusually high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures" should have been investigated and the kids themselves interviewed.

The only teacher who admitted wrongdoing (the other 15 interviewed denied everything) explained how s/he had helped students sitting in the back of the room by silently pointing at students' incorrect answers, and was "terminated from DCPS for this conduct." This teacher described cheating as part of the culture at Noyes, saying that "it 'seemed' that it was 'understood' that this was how you tested students at Noyes." The OIG/DCPS apparently believed the admission of guilt of this one teacher, but not his or her allegations of a widespread culture of cheating at the school.

Those students who were assigned to sit in the back of the room and had wrong answers pointed out to them (according to the one teacher who admitted wrongdoing) were not the lowest performers. They were the mid-level performers, those for whom a few additional correct answers would mean the difference between "basic" and "proficient." The actual lowest performers were assigned to sit in the middle of the class, and did not receive the same "personalized assistance" according to Teacher 1.

I guess school "reform" is like sausage making. You don't really want to know what goes into the process, but it tastes good when it's done.  At least

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