Climate of cheating hinders education
The No Child Left Behind Act has inspired school districts throughout the country to find ways to raise their assessment test scores. They cheat.
Ironically, the district that has gained national prominence for cheating is the one George W. Bush used as a model in promoting the No Child Left Behind Act and from which he appointed his first secretary of education, Rod Paige. The Houston, Texas, Independent School District leads the state in cheating incidents with 25 of its campuses under investigation. Throughout Texas, 400 of the state's 7,700 schools are under investigation for systematic cheating.
The matter of cheating surfaced when teachers reported incidents. After a new Houston district testing director took charge, he found instances "of a well organized and regimented cheating environment." A teacher reported, "I was instructed in how to cheat and that the expectation was that I would cheat." In one case, teachers were provided with advanced copies of the test that they assumed to be samples of the previous year's test for use in preparing the students. Teachers throughout the United States have said that administrations have made clear that they expect elevated test scores, no matter what measures are taken to achieve them.
From its inception, teachers were wary about No Child Left Behind because they feared that exactly what happened would happen. A majority supported NCLB because they saw that it had the potential of providing support and resources that could help solve the problems of underachieving students. Assessment testing is important. If done correctly, it provides measures of student strengths, weaknesses and progress that can be used to design programs that meet the real needs of real children.
Instead, assessment testing has become a frantic scramble by school administrations to manipulate numbers so that their districts do not get tabbed as being deficient. Little of the effort generated by NCLB is expended on education. NCLB has become a hindrance to education, not a help.
The public seldom gets genuine news about what is happening in their school districts. As the Columbia Journalism Review reports this month, journalists tend to write what school administrations tell them. Few take the initiative or have the knowledge to see what is actually taking place in the classrooms.
For example, Sharptown High School in Houston reported that it had no dropouts. Assistant Principal Robert Kimball checked out the numbers. For one high school class, 1,000 entered as freshmen, but only 300 remained enrolled by the time the class was in its senior year. State auditors moved in to examine the Houston district and found that 3,000 students had been reported as "moved away" or "transferred." The news media took up the story, tracked down many of the students, and found them in Houston working at fast-food jobs or just hanging out. Rather than actually deal with the growing dropout problem, the district falsified the records about why they left school.
Such cheating has been on the increase from coast to coast. The reason is explained by Rick Casey, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle: "You don't have to be a Solomon to figure out that if you (tell) employees (that) their futures depend on getting children to pencil in the right dots, some of them will do whatever it takes to get their children to pencil in the right dots."
Stories that seldom get reported are instances where education really works. One success was reported at a Chicago school where the teachers determined the curriculum and maintained elaborate narrative report cards that guided their decisions. With a change in administration, they began receiving directives to stop their process of education and concentrate on preparing students to take the standardized tests.
During the past two decades, none of the schemes for improving education have come from the people who do the actual teaching in the classrooms. Instead they come from people who tell the classroom workers what they should be doing, but are not directly engaged in teaching. And so, our kids are taught a curriculum in cheating.
David Newquist, Aberdeen, is an editorial board member for the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, active in the Brown County Democrats, and involved in regional history. His column appears occasionally.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES