The Atlanta school system has just been caught in one of the biggest education scandals of all time. Apparently they have been pressuring teachers, and outright falsifying test scores, for years, all in a desperate and unethical effort to meet the requirements of the no Child left behind law, which has penalties for schools which do not meet certain academic standards.
This brings up several issues. First of all, the creators of the no Child left behind law should have envisioned that, of course, at least some school districts would blatantly try to game the system. They had every incentive to do so. But, there doesn’t appear to have been an effective mechanism in place to adequately verify that the test scores that schools were handing in were actually real.
In addition, the whole scandal shows how weak and often Potemkin – village like public education has become, especially in the difficult low income schools. These schools in places like Detroit and Atlanta, always have wonderful slogans like “building the achievers of tomorrow” for “committed to academic excellence” or “just getting better and better”. In reality, despite the happy sloganeering and PR job, virtually all of these schools are going absolutely nowhere, and have been going absolutely nowhere for decades. The sad fact is that low income schools do a terrible job of turning problematic kids into good students. And, the situation is no better now than it was decades ago, despite massive amounts of money poured into the system, and never ending new initiatives of this that and the other thing, which always sounds so wonderful and promising in the beginning, and in the end leave the system no off better than before… and sometimes even worse. The reality is, that after decades of desperate trying, by often well-meaning people, no one so far has come up with a way to take very difficult students and turn them into the kinds of people that are well-educated and productive. I remember when the Gates foundation was so excited a few years ago, when they had this great idea that just breaking up big schools into a lot of smaller schools would be the solution. They had all these theories about how small schools would supposedly be so much more personalized and attentive to the students, and presumably there was some research that indicated that this would work. Millions of dollars were spent on the initiative, and after a few years the Gates foundation had to admit that the whole thing had accomplished nothing, and it was abandoned. There have been a zillion such initiatives of all types, and all have failed. I remember how a few years ago, every once in a while, there would be some breathless story about a teacher or principal, who had presumably created miracles with his low income students, turning a class room or school of failed students into top achievers. Here we are years later, and the system is just as bad. Obviously these miracle workers, were either an exaggeration, or they had some special gift, that we have not been able to pass on to the rest of the teachers and principals. I can only assume that their talents were unique to themselves, and that attempts to copy them among other people have failed. If not, all it would have to do is copy the miracle workers, do the same, and we could transform schools and students just like they did. That has not happened. Education, along with foreign aid, and maybe cancer research, is a place where hope springs eternal. After decades of unending failures, we can always count upon someone who breathlessly promises that his new initiative will finally fix the system and the students. But, again and again it never happens.
I have my own ideas about how to reform education, mainly working on discipline, and trying to recognize that we cannot save everyone, so instead let’s try to save the students that have potential, instead of dragging everyone down to the bottom in some ill-conceived goal of equality of poverty. To me most education initiatives are entirely based on idealistic and fuzzy thinking that is totally unrealistic. The fact is that plenty of students are basically unsavable, and if we mix them in with the students who might actually be able to take advantage of their education, we tend to get a classroom which is so unruly and chaotic that it cannot provide an effective learning environment, and no one gets an education — not the good students, nor the bad ones. The reality is that too many students, principally in problematic low income neighborhoods, are simply too damaged (emotionally, behaviorally, intellectually) to be able to ever be good students and productive citizens. The problems are too deep and intractable to be solved. One-on-one therapy would hardly be enough, but how is one teacher in a class of 25 students supposed to save a majority of them, and, by the way, teach them as well? The whole thing is completely unrealistic. I’d rather save half the students, or even a third, than save almost none of them at all. But, we try to save all of them, and end up losing almost all of them.
A final point about the Atlanta school district scandal is a politically incorrect one. In my experience black run institutions, both in Africa and in the United States tend to be extremely poorly managed, and are very often plagued by scandals. Although I don’t want to overly generalize, it appears that the mostly black run Atlanta school district may be a victim of this tendency towards an irresponsible and corrupt management. I don’t want to say that it always happens, but it sure seems to happen a lot. I remember when Washington DC under black leadership, had a scandals every single day, while the white suburbs around it had very few. I believe the same thing can be said about Detroit. I’m not saying that white run institutions are always clean, because clearly I rail against them every day, but it does seem the black institutions tend to be noted for their incompetence, and is simply a question of degree.
So we have in places like Atlanta and Detroit, in which an incompetent corrupt black managed school system, is trying to teach an extremely problematic mostly black student body, all while using impossibly idealistic theories, and not infrequently with limited budgets. It’s basically the incompetence trying to teach the incompetent. School systems in poor neighborhoods which are run by whites are already in mess (principally due to the students), but when they are black run they tend to be an even bigger mess. I have lived in Africa, and have seen first hand the unbelievable incompetence and corruption all around me. Africa is never going to develop as long as they can never get their act together. That is why all the foreign aid has failed, because we can give people all the assistance and the world, but if they are not able to make anything of it, then it will all be for naught. Meanwhile places like Asia have been able to develop massively, mainly without foreign aid, because Asians are smart and hard-working. You can scream racism all you want, but I think deep down we all know it’s true, no matter how unpleasant the truth may be. Ultimately, reality is more important than feeling good about something. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that the truth is not always pleasant, and the truth often hurts. Americans have this odd sentimental idea that, once we discover the truth it will automatically make us feel good all over, and that if we come across something that makes us feel bad, then it must intrinsically be not true. That is assuming that reality was set up for our convenience and pleasure. The reality is that reality is created according to its own rules, and was not set up to make us feel good. We will just have to accept it.
Anyway, read the story below is quite amazing.
ATLANTA (AP) — Teachers spent nights huddled in a back room, erasing wrong answers on students’ test sheets and filling in the correct bubbles. At another school, struggling students were seated next to higher-performing classmates so they could copy answers.
Those and other confessions are contained in a new state report that reveals how far some Atlanta public schools went to raise test scores in the nation’s largest-ever cheating scandal. Investigators concluded that nearly half the city’s schools allowed the cheating to go unchecked for as long as a decade, beginning in 2001.
Administrators — pressured to maintain high scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law — punished or fired those who reported anything amiss and created a culture of “fear, intimidation and retaliation,” according to the report released earlier this month, two years after officials noticed a suspicious spike in some scores.
The report names 178 teachers and principals, and 82 of those confessed. Tens of thousands of children at the 44 schools, most in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, were allowed to advance to higher grades, even though they didn’t know basic concepts.
One teacher told investigators the district was “run like the mob.”
“Everybody was in fear,” another teacher said in the report. “It is not that the teachers are bad people and want to do it. It is that they are scared.”
For teachers and their bosses, the stakes were high: Schools that perform poorly and fail to meet certain benchmarks under the federal law can face sharp sanctions. They may be forced to offer extra tutoring, allow parents to transfer children to better schools, or fire teachers and administrators who don’t pass muster.
Experts say the cheating scandal — which involved more schools and teachers than any other in U.S. history — has led to soul-searching among other urban districts facing cheating investigations and those that have seen a rapid rise in test scores.
In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, they said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.
One principal forced a teacher to crawl under a desk during a faculty meeting because her test scores were low. Another principal told teachers that “Walmart is hiring” and “the door swings both ways,” the report said.
Another principal told a teacher on her first day that the school did whatever was necessary to meet testing benchmarks, even if that meant “breaking the rules.”
Teachers from the investigation contacted by The Associated Press did not return calls or declined to comment.
Educators named in the investigation could face criminal charges ranging from tampering with state documents to lying to investigators. And many could lose their teaching licenses.