Beware The Magicians of Education


Without doubt, the biggest scam artists in American life are the so-called education reformers. The latest in the line of these “miracle workers,” it now turns out, is former Washington, D.C. schools head Michelle Rhee whom pious liberals and “free market” conservatives both have proclaimed a martyr sacrificed to the power of the evil teachers’ union.

Now, not surprisingly, a story in USA Today, reveals that Rhee’s shining achievements were either downright fraudulent or, like the liberal pieties being asserted about the “Arab spring,” wishful thinking:

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district’s elementary schools, Noyes’ proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones…

Several teachers at Noyes also were dubious about the legitimacy of test scores, describing what one called “a disconnect” between the high scores and how their students performed in class.

Ernestine Allen, a former teacher who taught pre-K as well as second- and fourth-grades for five years at Noyes, says it was hard to trust the scores of some students entering her classes. Their scores showed they were doing well when, she says, they were still struggling with reading.

“You wonder, how is it that this student got such a high score?” Allen says. She says teachers talked about the problem among themselves. But, she says, “Who do you tell?”…

I urge you to read the entire report. And be wary of educational magicians regardless of how attractive and well-meaning they appear.

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