Home > Education "reform", Truthiness > Fool me once, shame on me….

Fool me once, shame on me….

In a just world, the career of ousted DC schools boss Michelle Rhee would be in tatters. She got the job running the DC schools based largely on claiming impressive results in her classroom — but it turns out the facts contradict her claims. Now she serves as queen of the education “reform” movement based on test-score gains during her DC tenure — but it turns out those gains may not be real, either.

Tatters? Not exactly. She’s been on the cover of Time, NBC features her, and newly elected right-wing governors seek her out, lapping up her anti-teacher, pro-standardized testing mantra. I guess we’re in Idiot America, where “truthiness” overpowers truth.

Rhee ruled the DC schools with a fist full of incentives, firing or threatening teachers and principals who failed to raise standardized test scores but throwing substantial bonuses and promotions to those who did. However, according to an exhaustive investigation by USA Today (!), more than half of DC schools showed abnormally high numbers of erasures on the annual tests, usually with wrong answers being erased and changed to correct answers.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one … classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

The tendency of incentives to pervert rather than promote desired behaviors is well-known to social science, which calls it Campbell’s Law. When test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways, psychologist Donald Campbell posited.

It’s true, as the testing company and DC schools officials point out, that a high erasure rate doesn’t prove cheating. After all, lowly VCU won five games in a row to get to the Final Four of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. But to match what’s happened in some DC schools, VCU would need to get back to the Final Four again next year…and the year after that and the year after that.

The testing company only calls attention to extreme examples of erasures, when they find a classroom correcting answers so frequently that it could have happened by chance about one in 30,000 times — and some DC classrooms had erasure rates much higher than that. If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it sounds like a duck, shouldn’t someone investigate for the presence of ducks?

Of course, investigations of the improbably frequent erasures were limited; when teachers were interviewed, a school district official was always present. Is anyone surprised the investigation didn’t turn up much, or that the district cleared 7 of 8 schools where erasure rates were high?

Mark Jones, a member of the State Board of Education, says district officials appear not to have dug deeply into why some schools had such high erasure rates, but if they did, they have not shared what they found. He says parents need to know because they make decisions about where to send their children to school based on test scores.

Not surprisingly, Rhee declined to talk to USA Today directly. Not surprisingly, she responded to the story by trying to smear its authors and sources.

“It isn’t surprising,” Rhee said in a statement Monday, “that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved … unless someone cheated.”…USA TODAY’s investigation into test scores “is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels,” Rhee said.

Bill Sez: It’s typical of the education “reform” crowd to defend itself by smearing anyone who questions whether its actual results live up to its claims. That’s the way the Billionaire Boys Club leaders always operated: Microsoft is better known for using its market domination to crush or swallow competitors than for excellent product innovation or customer service. Anyone who read the recent New Yorker profile of Eli Broad recognizes the same bullying pattern in his “stewardship” of an LA art museum.

CEOs don’t brook dissent; Rhee fired at least 600 teachers and hired more than 1,900 new ones in three years, while she appointed 91 new principals, 39 of whom weren’t in those jobs last fall. Some might say the end justifies the means — but when the achieved result appears to be dishonest, the methods can hardly be justified, or tolerated.

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