"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cheaters Never Win -- Part 8

I still believe that the teachers and administrators who cheated on the tests in Atlanta were wrong. They behaved unethically. On the other hand I can't place all the blame on them. It's clear that the Atlanta Public Schools administration, perhaps like administrations all over the country, put inappropriate pressure on the teachers and administrators. They were basically told if you don't get the scores up, by any means necessary, you'll be fired. They were damned if they did...and damned if they didn't.

Without excusing the unethical behavior, here are three good letters to the editor about the cheating scandal. The last letter has a great ending and is worth repeating,
In any organization in which members are pressed to reach goals that cannot be attained through legitimate means, cheating and other forms of misconduct are likely to occur. That’s the real threat of high-stakes testing.
The goals of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are unattainable.

Letters to the editor about the Atlanta Cheating Scandal.
To the Editor:

Re “Are They Learning?” (editorial, July 17):

Focusing solely on punishing the Atlanta school employees who wrongly changed test answers ignores more fundamental problems.

The Georgia investigators found that a primary cause of cheating was “unreasonable” score targets coupled with “unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals.” They concluded that “meeting ‘targets’ by whatever means necessary became more important than true academic progress.”

Misusing standardized exams as the primary factor to make educational decisions encourages score manipulation. Campbell’s Law predicted this result decades ago. It states, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

That is precisely what happened in Atlanta. The nation’s students, schools and taxpayers deserve assessment systems that promote ethical behavior, better teaching and stronger learning outcomes.

MONTY NEILL
Executive Director, FairTest
Jamaica Plain, Mass., July 18, 2011

To the Editor:

Put people in high-pressured, competitive situations, and hedge-fund managers are going to practice insider trading, athletes are going to use performance-enhancing drugs, and school superintendents, principals and teachers are going to manipulate the test scores of their students. With prestige, income and job retention at stake, who among us would not be tempted to cut corners to succeed?

But one does not have to be a “test hater” to understand that this is exactly the situation in which the No Child Left Behind law, as well as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program, has placed teachers, and why the Atlanta scandal is just the latest example of a series of fraudulent miracle success stories.

Competitive approaches pitting teacher against teacher, schools or systems or states one against another elicit exactly this type of cheating, which is antithetical to authentic educational reform.

There exist models of educational excellence in other nations and in our own based on cooperation and support among educators, where tests and other forms of assessment are used by teachers to develop strategies that enhance children’s learning, not to reward or punish teachers.

Noting the disaster the competitive model has produced, why don’t we substitute a model of education where teachers, principals, colleges and universities work together to provide every child an education that is stimulating and productive, and that leads to a life that seeks out continued learning?

ARTHUR SALZ
Chautauqua, N.Y., July 17, 2011

The writer is professor emeritus of education at Queens College.

To the Editor:

Your response to the Atlanta school-cheating scandal — “It’s the cheats who need to go, not the tests” — reflects a fundamental misreading of what happened.

Rather than focusing on the people who violated professional standards, we should recognize this as an example of organizational misconduct.

In any organization in which members are pressed to reach goals that cannot be attained through legitimate means, cheating and other forms of misconduct are likely to occur. That’s the real threat of high-stakes testing.

AARON M. PALLAS
New York, July 17, 2011

The writer is a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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