I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

31 March 2013

What We Should Learn from Atlanta

I meant to read the "CORE" districts' waiver application this week, but I got distracted by the indictments coming out of Atlanta on Friday.  So I read the eight hundred page investigative report instead.

In the press, I am seeing a lot of disappointment in America's educators.  Recounts of Beverly Hall's tenure note the incredible pressures her regime put on schools; they also make sure to describe her work personality as unapproachable, removed, and aggressive - you know, not very womanly.

About sixty pages in, I was surprised to see a paper on Parks Middle School - lauding its remarkable (and false) achievement gains.  I was given this case study in success cheating to read at least twice back before the investigation was released (although not before Parks' results should have been worrying; by the time that fan note was released, the Atlanta Public Schools had already investigated - and found - cheating at Parks (also mistresses, misuse of public funds and public buildings, and sexual harrassment - but I digress).

I think the report should stand as a clear rebuke to education reformers.  Not only do the gains they want not come as easily as they claim, they refuse to take real evidence of cheating seriously.  The report includes two position papers by academics APS asked to take a look at the test results.  The statistician notes that the test scores are about as likely as an oviparous rabbit and that cheating is likely the reason.   This study was suppressed.

Douglas Reeves - noted in APS's internal records as an education reform proponent- spends three days visiting the twelve schools with the most suspicious records.  In his whirlwind tour that allows about half an hour at each school, he notes that all of his favorite reform strategies - high expectations, public knowledge of test scores, test prep, "strong leadership", etc. - are in place.  So he decides that the gains aren't suspicious at all, because obviously if you have high enough expectations and a strong enough leader, proficiency will skyrocket from 0% to 88% in a year.

Moreover, those favored strategies?  Favored some really nasty results.  The principal at Parks was lauded for removing teachers who wouldn't get with the program.  It ends up that these teachers weren't sad, lazy veterans but teachers who reported cheating.  His leadership skills were also honored through cash awards, performance pay, and secret gifts from education reformers when he made noises about leaving.  These cash incentives encouraged more cheating.

And since Georgia's teachers have few job safety measures - their own Professional Standards Commission admits that districts can easily retaliate against whistleblowers - and very limited tenure protections, teachers had the choice to cheat as required or be fired.

So what rank-and-yank, cash incentives, all that leadership, and high expectations got Atlanta public school children was test scores so gamed that the schools lost Title One  program improvement money, and children who needed special education services were disqualified from them because of their remarkable testing prowess.

When education reformers explain what they want, the word "Atlanta" should shut them up.


Lee Barrios said...

Please explain this - it got my attention because of new policies from our TFA State Superintendent that I believe will garner the same result.

So what rank-and-yank, cash incentives, all that leadership, and high expectations got Atlanta public school children was test scores so gamed that the schools lost Title One program improvement money, and children who needed special education services were disqualified from them because of their remarkable testing prowess.


twinkie1cat said...

This is not the first time kids in APS have lost Title 1 money because of test score cheating. The cheating has been going on for at least 20 years, from back when standardized testing was first forced on the schools. It happened around 1990, well before Beverly Hall at a now closed school. Interestingly, one of the indicted teachers was a paraprofessional there at the time. She ran the Writing to Read lab. I know this happened because I edited, actually re-wrote, the Title 1 grant after having been excluded from the committee because they did not want to have to include special ed. in the grant. The grant was written totally WRONG. My para brought it to me and I re-did it. Downtown was pleased and when the test scores went back down after the kids were retested they got the grant.

twinkie1cat said...

Lee, I absolutely agree with what you are saying. In fact a bad principal who last year harrassed teachers and TFAs in an RSD school in Pointe Coupee was reportedly previously an administrator in Atlanta an involved in the scandal. I don't have a name but will try to find out. Although I treasured my years in APS there was a whole lot of cronyism in that system. Whether you got or kept a job or moved up was often dependent on your race, where you went to college, your church, who you were related to and what sorority or fraternity you were in. I am not going to say this was universally the case. We had some really good, professional educators who were outstanding. We also had some incompetent butt kissers including a teacher who had a first cousin in upper administration who was semi-illiterate and openly hated all white people. There was another one who moved up into administration because she looked good to men even though she spoke only Ebonics and had been sent down to regular education because she was not bright enough for special ed according to 2 supervisors.

twinkie1cat said...

Dear Ms. Rat, ADHD can be a good thing with teachers because they can focus on what is important to them and forget about everything else. The mild disabilities are best---MID, LD, and EBD because they have a lot of energy and can keep up with their kids. Plus they understand how their kids feel. I think they would be good for regular education also.

E. Rat said...

Many teachers recounted to investigators that they had students who had been provisionally qualified for IEPs or PECs, but scored so well on the Georgia state tests they were disqualified. Parks Middle lost $750,000 in federal targeted improvement grant cash because the school's test scores were too high to qualify.

More generally, I think that there's ample evidence that rank-and-yank and enormous performance bonuses are a bad combination, particularly when short-term gains are rewarded over long-term stability. Enron is the canonical case.

E. Rat said...

Some of the supporting Atlanta documents suggest some really horrible cronyism; there are a bunch of documents from Parks Middle that discuss problems not related to cheating, including ghost payrolling, sexual harassment, using one's connections to get confidential Social Security information about an employee, etc.

At the same time, there are some educators and schools in the report where educators under extreme and ugly pressure were supported each other and their students.

E. Rat said...

And finally, I think people with attention disorders are over-represented in teaching (or at least Kindergarten teaching). Being quick on one's feet and able to adapt helps a lot, and we tolerate and support the young fidgeters, doodlers, and noisemakers in the class!