Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Big Cheat: Why Teachers Are Going to Prison While Charter School Operators Get Accolades | Alternet

The Big Cheat: Why Teachers Are Going to Prison While Charter School Operators Get Accolades | Alternet:

The Big Cheat: Why Teachers Are Going to Prison While Charter School Operators Get Accolades

Atlanta's school teachers aren't alone in their attempts to cheat the system.

 No one likes a cheater.

So you’d think plenty of people would be pleased to hear that educators in Atlanta, on trial for cheating on standardized tests, were found guilty of those charges and sentenced “harshly,” according to the New York Times.
As CNN reports, of the 12 educators who went on trial for “inflating test scores of children from struggling schools,” 11 were convicted of racketeering—a crime normally associated with mob bosses—and other lesser crimes. Of those who have been sentenced so far (one sentencing has been postponed), eight have been given jail or prison time and three will serve at least seven years. Only those who admitted guilt and waived appeals were spared.
But even before the sentencing was finalized, there was widespread condemnation of the idea that prison terms were even in consideration. An "outrage" one commentator called it. "Racist," declared another.
Why the Controversy?
The strongest case for coming down hard on the cheaters came from the presiding judge, who declared the offenses were not “victimless crimes,” because test score altering gave children and parents misleading information about academic achievement. “The sickest thing that’s ever happened in this town,” the judge called the scandal.
But economist Richard Rothstein points out that what happened in Atlanta was, frankly, inevitable. Writing for the Economic Policy Institute blog, he notes,
“Holding educators accountable for student test results makes sense if the tests are reasonable reflections of teacher performance. But if they are not, and if educators are being held accountable for meeting standards that are impossible to achieve, then the only way to meet fanciful goals imposed from above—according to federal law, that all children will make adequate yearly progress towards full proficiency in 2014—is to cheat, using illegal or barely legal devices. It is not surprising that educators do just that.”
The test-enforced "standards" Rothstein refers to are not mere data points. To the judge, and those who support his ruling, they are not only accurate measures of academic progress but also represent a moral imperative whose transgression is evidence of evil intentions, hence the racketeering charge.
So was this a case of greedy educators being all about the money? It's true the educators and their schools possibly could have seen increases in salaries and bonuses as a result of increases in test scores. What's also possible is that these educators were much more motivated to cheat in order to avoid something bad happening to them or their schools. Because performance assessments of schools and individual teachers are now linked to changes in student test scores, schools that do poorly on the state tests are subject to harsh penalties, including outright closure, while teachers can be fired or required to withstand rigorous supervision.
Regardless of the motives of the perpetrators, what the offending educators did, strictly speaking, was falsify data. And if that is so, then shouldn’t any attempts to manipulate testing data be considered an invasion of the vault? That’s a question that should be asked given another big education story that recently made news headlines.
Another Way to Cheat?
In a recent feature in the New York Times, reporter Kate Taylor reveals how educators at the Success Academy charter school chain in New York City produce high scores by practicing what she calls a “polarizing” form of education. Taylor calls the charter school chain a “testing dynamo,” because of the high scores the schools produce, despite serving “primarily poor, mostly black and Hispanic students,” who so often score poorly on typical standardized tests.
Success Academy’s startlingly high test scores have been the rationale for expanding the chain into “the city’s largest network of charter schools,” with 43 schools. “A proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo,” Taylor reports, could bring the number of Success schools to 100 —“more schools than Buffalo, the state’s second-largest district.”
But the “success” enjoyed by Success is due, in part, to the chain’s strict pedagogical approach, which includes stringent student discipline practices and precise behavior control in a bootcamp-like school environment.
“Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker,” Taylor explains. “For those deemed not trying hard enough, there is ‘effort academy,’ which is part detention, part study hall.”
The schools place an enormous amount of emphasis on frequent assessmentsThe Big Cheat: Why Teachers Are Going to Prison While Charter School Operators Get Accolades | Alternet: