Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal
Here's Michael Winerip (who else?) on the supposed DC testing scandal that Michelle Rhee is supposedly trying to cover up.
And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.
At the end of March, three of the paper's reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor.
In reality, the situation is far more complex than Winerip lets on. It's an extremely important issue, worthy of real thought and discussion. First, it's blindingly obvious that if one introduces rewards for good performance and penalties (including loss of job) for poor performance, and the way performance is evaluated is, in part, via tests, then there is strong incentive to cheat on these tests and, given the opportunity, many people will do so. (Do you think the College Board understands this when administering SATs, achievement tests, AP exams, etc.???) Therefore, we reformers, as we introduce accountability systems into school systems that previously had none (shocking, isn't it?), need to be VERY conscious of this issue and take strong steps to deter cheating, ideally before it happens (by having rigorous monitoring) and also afterward, by examining erasures, statistical anomalies, etc., thoroughly investigating suspicious activity, and really punishing those who cheat. Otherwise, we'll get more Atlantas and that would be a DISASTER for reform efforts. Despite the fact that union members engaged in the bad behavior and nobody thinks Beverly Hall was a real reformer, deniers like Ravitch are ironically using the Atlanta scandal as a weapon against reform: "You see, this is what happens when you introduce accountability, in part by using tests. The poor teachers, under so much pressure, have no choice but to cheat." Could you imagine anyone saying, "We're not going to publish money managers' performance figures because if we did so, they'd have incentive to engage in insider trading."??? No, instead, the SEC carefully monitors insider trading, investigates suspicious activity (including wiretaps, subpoenas, etc.), and puts bad people in jail. That's what needs to happen in our school systems as well…