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Schools Cheating On Tests

I am Hal’s total lack of surprise:

Widespread cheating on 2009 standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools — despite “significant and clear” warnings — harmed thousands of students and resulted primarily from “pressure to meet targets” in a data-driven school system, according to results of an investigation released Tuesday.

Of the 56 schools that were examined, cheating was discovered in 44 of them — that’s more than 78 percent — and 178 teachers and principals were found to have cheated on standardized tests, according to a statement released by Gov. Nathan Deal and first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Eighty-two confessed, while half a dozen others pled the Fifth Amendment, which is an implied admission of wrongdoing under civil law.

And cheating was found years earlier than the 2009 administration of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT, according to the statement (which you can read in full below.)

The cheating has devastating consequences. Because the scores were inflated, tutoring was denied for many children that desperately needed it. And Atlanta is not alone. The DC public schools were caught in a big scandal last week.

This is completely expected. As documented in James Bovard’s The Bush Betrayal, Bush and his Secretary of Education Roderick Page had the same thing happen in Texas. The schools falsified dropout rates and test scores to meet various criteria for continued funding. NLCB, built on the Texas reforms, was put in place with almost no safeguards against cheating and sometimes allowed the states to define “success” for themselves. And to he astonishment of everyone, the policies that produced cheating in Texas have now produced cheating on a national level.

I was once a big proponent of testing but my support has waned as my support for school choice has waxed. There are simply not enough people to watch the schools and the incentives for cheating are simply too great. In this case, we had an organized systematic cheating effort and the only reason it is unique is because we have yet to hear about others.

You can’t fix the public schools without removing the word “public” from them. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars finding that out. Do we really need to keep going down that road hoping that someday, one day, we’ll find the secret sauce to make the system work?

Update: More from Freakonomics. Most schools destroy the tests after scanning them, which prevents erasure analysis.

5 comments

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  1. Seattle Outcast says:

    Oddly enough, the scores have dropped as the unions have become more powerful…..

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  2. Rann says:

    I was thinking just earlier today about one of the moments that defined my opinion of teachers. It’s one of many, but it’s one of the biggest ones.

    The memory was sparked off by the recent Anthony trial verdict. It was the final day of the OJ Simpson trial, and I was in junior high school. The folding walls between classrooms had been opened and we were all listening to the radio of the trial. And then the words “Not guilty” were said, and most of the students started cheering. This female teacher started shouting at everyone “Shut up! Shut up! They’ll appeal it! They’ll get him on appeal!

    Children laughed at her. I was too busy staring to laugh. It was one of those revelations, those first big confirmations of the things I’d only really picked up on a subconscious level. The lack of control, the lack of knowledge about the basic workings of a major part of our society… it was then I began to truly understand one of those little things about the world:

    The vast majority of teachers are complete and total idiots.

    Oh, sure, most of us can probably remember some honest, dedicated teacher who really made them admire the profession. But think about that… how many do you really remember like that? Or is it just that one or several stand-outs? I found that the teachers who were knowledgeable, serious about teaching, actually cared about the subject and the students, were those who had previously come from a career related to the one they taught, or were even still involved in that career to some extent. The career teachers? Ignorant, antagonistic power-trippers who got both their answers and their opinions out of a book, almost to a one.

    Frankly, I think one of the major problems with our schools… and there are many… is how often it proves true the adage “Those that can’t do, teach.” We should require teachers to actually work in some field related to the subject they intend to teach for at least a few years. Frankly I’m not sure how that would work for some subjects, but bottom line is that we can talk about refining the system all we want, but in the end the actual education kids get from the schools is not going to improve until we set some more stringent requirements for what a teacher actually is, above being able to read the answer key in the back of their teacher’s edition textbook.

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  3. Hal_10000 says:

    I don’t think most teachers are idiots; I think the system does nothing to flush the idiots out. Worse, it encourages good teachers to leave. I remember a recent study that showed that private school teachers are actually paid less then public school teachers but are happier in their jobs because they have more freedom, more accountability (and, usually, more motivated students and parents).

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  4. hist_ed says:

    Yeah, I would say that teachers are about average in intelligence. Maybe compared to others with degrees or graduate degrees they might be a notch or two below average. And yes there are some idiots (though from my limited experience I would say the IQ level of administrators is a bit lower than that of teachers-there are some real idiots in the principal’s office).

    About the cheating-it’s basic economics. If you set up incentives, people will respond to them. Given the opportunity and a chance at a reward, people will cheat. We have set up a system of incentives for teachers that make passing their students at the damn test to be very important. The incentives are there to cheat so some of them will cheat.

    The real idiocy is the assumption that each successive annual class of students is as capable as the last. I can tell you after spending untold hours over the last 6 years reviewing learning goals in my school that this is not the case. Every year in my department we set our goals a couple of percent higher than the previous year. Every year I say “You know these are different kids, right?” We all agree with the absurdity of the exercise, but we spend dozens of hours a year working through all the shit to create our department goals and then reporting on why we made it and/or why we didn’t (I have never been the presenter-I would just say “This year the kids sure were dumb” or some such).

    Every kid has to take the tests. If, by luck of the draw we get twin special ed kids, there are two failures on the test. Add in the usual bell curve of abilities and presto we failed to make our annual goal.

    There are differences in teaching and teaching well can make a difference, but we try to teach our best every year-when that clunker of a class comes through with lower reading scores than previous years we know we are going to fail our goal for that year (it isn’t necessarily brains, a few smart kids with behavior problems can have a big impact on the class, too).

    Oh and as a PS: forget about having teachers have experience in their subject (literature, history, art?). I think requiring them to have any job outside of education before teaching would be a good idea (really outside of government would be best). I started teaching in my late 30s. There is just something different in attitude and flexibility between teachers like me and those that started teaching right out of college. Many of them are fine teachers, but . . .
    To start with you would get a lot less knee jerk support for any and all union actions. Lifers have a greater sense of entitlement. Having gone through two layoffs, I am happy to have a job.

    PPS I STILL DON’T HAVE A FUCKING PRINTER!!! WE ARE GETTING A BRAND NEW BUILDING THAT HAS COST TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS-IN WHICH WE WILL GET ALL NEW $7000 PRESENTATION SYSTEMS, $4000 SOUND SYSTEMS, $2500 REMOTE WIRELESS VOTING MACHINES (no they are not moving the 3 year old equipment from our old building) AND WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE BUT I STILL WILL NOT HAVE A FUCKING $300 PRINTER IN MY CLASSROOM. GODDAMMIT IN TWO YEARS WE ARE GOING TO GIVE EVERY KID FROM 6TH GRADE UP THEIR OWN LAPTOP BUT I WILL STILL HAVE TO LEAVE A CLASS OF 30 HORMON ADDLED ADOLESCENTS ALONE TO GO TO THE PRINTER EVERY TIME I PRINT THEIR PROGRESS REPORTS. AAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!

    (I feel better now)

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  5. Seattle Outcast says:

    Oh, sure, most of us can probably remember some honest, dedicated teacher who really made them admire the profession. But think about that… how many do you really remember like that?

    A handful at most.

    I was in junior high when I realized that I knew more about most of my subjects than the instructors. Exceptions were generally math classes, and one of them just handed me a book two grades ahead of the rest of the class and told me to go study by myself in the library for the rest of the year.

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