Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How To Improve Test Scores in our Public Schools ... Just Cheat!

First, the good .... There's been some hopeful news recently about Atlanta's public schools. See A New Leader Helps Heal Atlanta Schools, Scarred by Scandal.

The hope is that the retired chancellor of the University System of Georgia and newly appointed superintendent of Atlanta's public schools will bring much needed change to Atlanta.

While it's an uphill battle, strong or weak leadership often makes the difference between success and failure In that regard, Mr. Davis seems like a leader who's in it for the right reasons. That is, he'll be trying to make lemonade out of lemons in Atlanta. And that's at least worth the effort.

Now for the bad .... More Georgia Schools Accused of Cheating describes widespread cheating on public school test scores in a south Georgia county.

Earlier the same issue was discovered in Atlanta. Of course, widespread cheating by school administrators has been reported in many other major cities throughout the U.S. as well.

We'll quote from the "cheating" article at some length:

"Investigators who this year found rampant cheating among Atlanta public school teachers and principals released another report on Tuesday detailing widespread wrongdoing in another Georgia county.

Cheating by officials on 2009 state standardized tests was found in each of 11 schools investigated in Dougherty County, which includes the city of Albany about 200 miles south of Atlanta. The report described dozens of cases of adults giving students answers during tests or correcting their mistakes afterward. One fifth-grade teacher passed students who could not read, the report said, resulting in their not receiving extra help.

The details of the report echoed results of similar investigations this year in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, underscoring a widespread debate about the reliance on high-stakes test results, which are used to evaluate students and teachers and to measure improvements required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The findings “paint a tragic picture of children passed through with no real or fair assessment of their abilities,” Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia said in a statement. “To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state.”. . .

Eighteen educators admitted to cheating in Dougherty County, the report said, adding that at least 31 others were involved. At one Albany elementary school, the principal instructed a teacher to correct students’ wrong answers, the report said; another teacher “gave students the answers and reviewed sections of the test before it was administered.”. . .

“I’m so angry I don’t know what to do today,” Michael J. Bowers, the lead investigator in both the Dougherty County and Atlanta inquiries, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t care what your politics are, your station in life, the color of skin. This is an American tragedy.”"

Discussion and Summing Up

Although much of our public education today is an American tragedy, who can claim surprise?

Top down national programs such as No Child Left Behind don't work. And  Race To The Top won't work either.

Local control and incentives are the only answer.Tying parents, school administrators, teachers and students together, at least figuratively, is a must if we are to break up the current non-accountable, excuse ridden, sorry state of affairs so prevalent in much of public education today.

Of course, the self appointed 'expert' educators will tell us to sit down, shut up and leave the problem for them to solve. My questions are simple: Who exactly are these experts, and why should we trust them? Haven't they had enough time to make a difference? The teachers unions and school administrators have been in control for much too long. Although they've had more than enough DECADES to produce success, the results are clear. We've failed these kids.

Our American public school system hasn't produced satisfactory results for DECADES. Meanwhile, nice sounding new slogans and ineffective programs are introduced, and the taxpayers keep paying for results we're not getting.

And to make a bad situation worse, almost everybody involved with public education has at the ready excuses for this sorry performance. In fact, far too many teachers and school administrators insist in their best learned helplessness manner that it's an insoluble problem due to poverty, student indifference and the lack of parental involvement. They say it's not their problem while they take all the taxpayer money they can get.

Here's what I say about what they say. To begin, administrators and teachers unions must no longer be allowed to avoid responsibility for the current system's failings. As a nation, we have worldwide competition. We need educated and informed citizens to compete with all comers.

Now let's examine one short sentence in the above referenced article---"One fifth-grade teacher passed students who could not read, the report said, resulting in their not receiving extra help."

Not being able to read upon completion of the fifth grade is bad enough, but here's my question. How did those failing fifth-grade students get passed from the fourth, third, second and first grades?

In other words, where were the teachers, administrators, parents or guardians, and even the students, each and every day for those several years? Didn't anybody notice what wasn't happening? And if they did, didn't they care enough to scream?

And if they don't care, why should the taxpayers care?  In other words, why should taxpayers have to spend money on public "education" if we are not getting our money's worth? Expensive babysitting isn't what we need.

Here's one perhaps radical idea.

If parents or guardians expect to continue to receive other non-education related financial aid from the nation, state or community, as is frequently the case, we should tie a portion of that parental aid to improved student performance.

If teachers pass students who can't read, we need to fire those teachers. And the school administrators, too.

One basic truth is that incentives matter. So do disincentives. Properly incentivizing parents, students and schools would work if tried. So would penalties.

And to fund the incentives, I would take 100% of the "new" money out of current expenditures by government on behalf of those families, school districts, schools and students.

Thus, the added cost to the taxpayer for the achievement incentives would be zero. On the other hand, the additional benefits to students, taxpayers and society as a whole would be tremendous. Zero added costs combined with huge benefits make for a winning combination.  Besides, what's to lose?

Only three things are needed for superior academic performance: (1) good and motivated teachers working alongside (2) supportive and motivated parents and (3) self-motivated students.

But before we can arrive at that happy state of affairs, we have to stop accepting excuses, non-involvement and non-performance.

If people can do little or nothing and receive the same benefits or rewards that others work hard to get, that's what many will do.

In such a dumbed down environment, students, local communities and our broader society all suffer.

And for the money spent, We the People don't get a globally competitive work force.

A knowledgeable, educated and informed future American citizenry isn't optional.

To the contrary, it's absolutely essential.

Thanks. Bob.