"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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bennett: Commissioner of Cheating

"Back in the day" when we talked about cheating it was the students who were cheating...using crib sheets, copying homework, stealing test questions or plagiarizing research papers.

These days, however, cheating comes at all levels of the education world and the fault is the overuse and misuse of tests.

Campbell's law couldn't be more spot on...
The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative 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.
With the increase in high stakes testing starting after A Nation At Risk in 1983, the pressure to improve test scores -- by any means -- has increased. The attempt to increase student achievement has led to widespread cheating by students, of course, but also by teachers, administrators, departments of education, and politicians (of course).

The advice I got from my first principal and colleagues when I was a beginning teacher to...
...just teach the curriculum. The "test" will reflect how much the students know. You shouldn't "teach to the test..."
...is now just a memory of the appropriate use of tests -- although even then, there were significant problems. In today's world of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, teaching to the test is not only encouraged, but required.

So it comes as no surprise that joining the ranks of cheaters and alleged cheaters like Dr. Hall in Atlanta, Michelle Rhee in Washington D.C., and others in cities around the country like New York City, El Paso, Philadelphia, Columbus, Birmingham, Los Angeles, and lest we forget, Houston, the home of the Texas Miracle...is former Superintendent of Public Instruction of Indiana, Tony Bennett, now the Commissioner of Education for the state of Florida.

It seems that one of Bennett's favorites charter school operators -- and Republican campaign donors -- would not likely have been happy with a school grade less than an A in 2012, and with the help of his staff he set to work manipulating the numbers.

The AP reports
Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold "failing" schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett's education team frantically overhauled his signature "A-F" school grading system to improve the school's marks.
In yet another lesson we should all heed about being careful what you put in an email, Bennett and his staff exchanged emails discussing the problem.
...the emails clearly show Bennett's staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders.
Not only was Bennett trying to protect the feelings (and political contributions) of a major Republican donor, but he was also trying to cover up the faults in his poorly researched A-F grading system which he had dumped on the public schools in Indiana. Few understood the system -- apparently including members of Bennett's staff -- and the state is now trying to figure out what to do with Bennett's mess.

In order to fix the problem, Bennett had his staff manipulate the figures giving the wealthy donor/charter school operator an A. Bennett, it must be said, denies that the reason for the change was the poor grade for the charter. He claims that the system was faulty and had to be tweaked. [This of course, gives us the opportunity to reply that if that's the case, "WE TOLD YOU SO!"]

It's my understanding that changing grades for money or personal gain, which is what this seems to be, would be unethical, in most places illegal, and certainly cheating. Would it be cheating for a teacher to change a student's grades if the parents offered him money? Would it be cheating for a principal to insist that a teacher change a student's grades if a parent offered to buy the school a new PA System...or Computer lab...or football stadium?

Cheating is reprehensible. It's tragic that those people entrusted with the education of America's children, who ought to hold themselves to a high ethical standard for the students to emulate, should be the ones to model such inappropriate behavior. Cheating betrays the trust of students, parents, and the community. I understand that people will do things under pressure to protect themselves which they wouldn't do under other circumstances. I understand that people's livelihoods are at stake. I understand what fear of a job loss would feel like to a family with medical bills, mortgage payments and children to feed and clothe. I understand that real life makes self-preservation necessary sometimes...at the expense of one's dignity and honesty. I also understand that I was lucky enough to never have been forced into making those choices.

But it's still wrong.

Is Bennett's alleged cheating any less than Rhee's...or Hall's...or the educators who allegedly cheated to increase their students' scores? Shouldn't he be held to the same standard of accountability that he demands for teachers and schools?

It's time to end this test-and-punish, close-and-privatize nightmare and focus our attention on improving neighborhood public schools.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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