Hotlanta – Five Things To Keep In Mind About The Atlanta Scandal

Few thoughts on all the indictments out of Atlanta at the end of last week. 

*First, the obligatory, but also important, note that they are just indictments not convictions. That said, other than about the scale, the bond, and so forth I don’t know anyone especially surprised by this sad turn of events.

*On the general issue, if you don’t think public educators can handle real accountability without resorting to cheating (e.g. the constant refrain of “Campbell’s Law) then you have a pretty low opinion of public school educators. In most walks of life there are high-stakes consequences attached to professional and behavioral decisions.  And yet most people are able to play by the rules.

*In the end this may turn out to be an old story about human and professional greed and desire for recognition and accolades more than a unique story about education or education policy. The cheating was largely about district goals and targets and contingent bonuses not broader state and federal school accountability requirements. There is some interrelation, of course, given the thrust of policy today but in the rush to prove one point or another what is alleged to have actually happened in Atlanta is being obscured.  And it’s worth noting it wasn’t happening like this statewide.

*Don’t lose sight of all the educators in Atlanta who didn’t cheat, aren’t accused of doing so, and are getting an undeserved black-eye here. Progress was made on other measures besides the state tests and including NAEP.  It’s akin to baseball’s steroid era.  There are bad apples, sure, but don’t forget everyone who played clean, or in this case taught clean.

*In the rush to score points it’s worth remembering that this is a sad episode and some young people lost something here that they can’t get back – their time. That this turn of events (like others that bolster or discredit reform efforts) is being met in some quarters of our hyper-polarized education debate with glee because it’s a perceived strike against “school reform” is depraved.

11 Responses to “Hotlanta – Five Things To Keep In Mind About The Atlanta Scandal”

  1. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    That this turn of events (like others that bolster or discredit reform efforts) is being met in some quarters of our hyper-polarized education debate with glee because it’s a perceived strike against “school reform” is depraved
    Like accusing teachers and their unions of covering up sex abuse of students.
    Pot meet kettle.

  2. ThoseWhoCantTeach Says:

    *In the end this may turn out to be an old story about human and professional greed and desire for recognition and accolades more than a unique story about education or education policy. The cheating was largely about district goals and targets and contingent bonuses

    And yet the precedent for administrators bullying teachers to accomplish these goals (which may not make any difference in the long haul) is well established nationwide. Read more at Facebook.com/cantteach or follow on twitter @cantteach

  3. S Says:

    “If you don’t think public educators can handle real accountability without resorting to cheating (e.g. the constant refrain of “Campbell’s Law) then you have a pretty low opinion of public school educators. In most walks of life there are high-stakes consequences attached to professional and behavioral decisions. And yet most people are able to play by the rules.”

    This argument has so many things wrong with it.

    1) The straw man. No one thinks all educators will cheat. However, many think that the temptation is there for making it happen. As you say yourself, there were many who did not cheat–but enough did to call the system into question.

    2) The straw man continues. In most other industries, most people are clean. Agreed. And that’s the same in education. It’s only a problem when some educators cheat.

    3) It’s teachers who are speaking out most loudly about this. By your logic, educators must have a low opinion of themselves. I think it’s more likely that they have a more real sense of the temptation and the pressure than you do.

    4) Most other professions are not judged disproportionately by a single assessment on a single week of the year. Show me another profession that faces that pressure, and I’ll show you a profession that has faced issues of corruption as well.

  4. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Yes, school reform is “depraved” and now we know for certain. The current “reform” is just a mad dash for school tax money without actually getting close to a child, except maybe your own. I know of one “reformer” who doesn’t even want to care for her own children as she lives in one city while they live a continent away! So much for children first!

    True reform will respond to the decades of data that we have. There is a mountain of research to prove that a child’s socioeconomic status AFFECTS (not determines) his level of scholastic achievement. Once we apply the knowledge that we have, we’ll begin to see some positive (and legitimate) results.

  5. Karen Falgore Says:

    It’s just sad that we’re trying to get the kids to not cheat but our teachers and district leaders are. It’s like people are just selling their souls these days.

  6. Corey Says:

    You and others are misapplying Campbell’s Law. Campbell’s Law does *not* say everybody will cheat when a measure matters, it says that the more we focus on on one measure the more distorted that measure will become — in part due increasing corruption pressures.

    That most people “play by the rules” in high-stakes situations, while probably correct, is irrelevant in this case. The relevant comparison would *not* be people in high-stakes situations, it would be people in which only one measure matters.

    What Campbell’s Law should tell us about education is not that tests are bad or that people will always cheat on tests, it’s that using *only* testing data (or any other single indicator) to make decisions is a really bad idea.

  7. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Whitney Tilson:
    I’d never heard of Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, but if Ed Trust’s Kati Haycock vouches for her, that’s a pretty strong endorsement. This cheating “scandal” is so typical – sadly, there’s probably quite a bit of this in every major city, but her enemies (and defenders of the status quo), are trying to use it to force her out.
    Teach For America:
    The Atlanta public school system, which serves 51,000 students, has 138 Teach For America participants in 63 schools. Elliott, from Columbus, Ohio, and colleague Freda Henry of Milwaukee both work at South Atlanta High School, on Hutchens Road in southeast Atlanta.

    “We are closing the gap that exists between children growing up in low- income areas and their peers in higher- income areas,” says Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, the only Georgia system participating in Teach For America.

  8. Jim Says:

    To Linda – There is a correlation between low socio-economic level and poor academic performance but the relation between the two is not causal. Rather parents of low socio-economic level have on average lower cognitive levels and their children inherit them.

    There are limits to what formal education can accomplish for individuals of low cognitive level.

  9. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Jim:

    I just reread my post. Of course the relationship between socioeconomic background and achievement is not causal and I did not say it was. I said the socioeconomic background of the child affects his level of achievement (e.g. not having eyeglasses can negatively affect reading; lead in paint could cause cognitive impairment). Yes, there are limits to what formal education can accomplish with individuals of low cognitive abilities but of course that would apply to all socio-economic levels.

  10. Tutoring Service Says:

    I’m often surprised that stories like this don’t come out more often. We know that it is taking place.
    In Canada, some provinces have numbers that are off the charts, while others have more modest numbers & the universities need to take this into consideration when they look at their applicants.

  11. Carrie Ferguson Says:

    It is unfortunate that teachers have felt the need to cheat. If you are a teacher, you live in a world of high stakes tests. That’s life. We should be focused on student learning every day. I think being able to focus on this starts with your administrator. Mine wants us to focus on common formative assessments and look at the data to make correlations between those and high stakes testing. If our students are learning then this should show up on those tests. We have shown modest gains in the last two my years. This is what should be looked for and not huge jumps. It’s a shift in thinking that needs to happen.

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