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This Just In: Bonus Money for High Test Scores Leads to Cheating

March 31, 2013

The story about Governor Sonny Perdue’s relentless pursuit of the truth about school performance in yesterday’s NYTimes should turn the stomach of Arne Duncan, every member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and every educator who stood on the sidelines while this happened. I hope that those who formerly praised Dr. Hall’s “success” would speak out against the cheating that occurred, hail the work done by the investigative team assembled by Sonny Perdue, praise those who cooperated with the investigators, and MAYBE question the wisdom of linking test scores to compensation. … especially given the conclusions drawn by the Times reporters:

It is not just an Atlanta problem. Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals and schools. In El Paso, a superintendent went to prison recently after removing low-performing children from classes to improve the district’s test scores. In Ohio, state officials are investigating whether several urban districts intentionally listed low-performing students as having withdrawn even though they were still in school.

What I found particularly appalling was the pushback Governor Perdue encountered:

What made Dr. Hall just about untouchable was her strong ties to local business leaders. Atlanta prides itself in being a progressive Southern city when it comes to education, entrepreneurship and race — and Dr. Hall’s rising test scores were good news on all those fronts. She is an African-American woman who had turned around a mainly poor African-American school district, which would make Atlanta an even more desirable destination for businesses.

And so when Mr. Perdue challenged the test results that underpinned everything — even though he was a conservative Republican businessman — he met strong resistance from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

“There was extensive subtle pressure,” Mr. Perdue said. “They’d say, ‘Do you really think there is anything there? We have to make sure we don’t hurt the city.’ Good friends broke with me over this.”

“I was dumbfounded that the business community would not want the truth,” he said. “These would be the next generation of employees, and companies would be looking at them and wondering why they had graduated and could not do simple skills. Business was insisting on accountability, but they didn’t want real accountability.”

They didn’t want “real accountability” because. like taxpayers and politicians, the Chamber of Commerce wanted to believe that low cost “miracles” could “turn around” schools. The losers in all of this are the students whose test scores were changed and who were led to believe they were successful.

Now… we’ve learned the names of the Principals who cheated and the teachers who were complicit in the cheating… let’s learn the names of the Principals who DIDN’T cheat their students… and the teachers who REFUSED to play along… and let’s make sure THEY are rewarded for their honesty and integrity. Arne Duncan: here’s a chance to make a statement on the importance of playing by the rules.

Channeling Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s DAy Off I say: “Duncan?…. Duncan?…. Duncan?…”

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