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Atlanta Cheating Conspiracy

12 Oct

The newest national scandal to hit the education scene is the discovery that primary students in the Atlanta public schools system changed their answers from incorrect choices to correct ones in excess of 250,000 times on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test. The CRCT is a standardized test administered to gauge compliance with federal No Child Left Behind requirements. The exam erasures represent a rate of answer changes well in excess of the norm for this test.  A single fourth grade class managed to change its answer choice to the correct one an average of 27 times.

Fifty-eight Atlanta schools were flagged for possible cheating. The school district launched an investigation which looked into the matter at just the dozen schools with the highest erasure rates. The investigation ultimately found that there was no concerted effort to boost scores. Since the release of this report in early August, the Governor of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Education have stepped in to conduct their own evaluations.

A major underlying issue here is to what extent Atlanta schools will be eligible to receive Title I money when the investigations are complete. Title I is federal money given by the federal government to states to distribute to schools with a higher population of indigent students. Any school with 40% or more student qualifying for free or reduced price school lunches is eligible for Title I grants. However, schools that receive the designation of “distinguished” may qualify for additional grant money. This designation requires improvements on the CRCT assessments and attendance over the previous three consecutive years. Of the 57 schools which received the designation for the 2009-2010 year, 39 were flagged for excessive exam erasures. Unfortunately it appears this issue may not be isolated to just this year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported on statistically unlikely increases on the CRCT assessments in both 2008 and 2009.

Facebook Cares?

23 Sep

Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, is expected to announce a gift of $100 million to Newark schools on the Oprah show this Friday, September 24th. I spotted this story on Huffington Post, which specifies that Zuckerberg intends to establish a foundation using Facebook stock, to benefit education in America, and specifically education in Newark.

The WSJ explains: “[u]nder terms of the understanding between Mr. Zuckerberg, the Republican Mr. Christie and the Democratic Mr. Booker, the mayor would become the governor’s representative to devise plans for the schools.” Hmm… The NYT even reports there has been speculation that Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education for Washington D.C. will go to New Jersey.

Having attended the most competitive law school in the country (Yale), Corey Booker automatically gets my respect for being brilliant. However, this increasing push for education governance by people who have not actually worked in (or even studied) education is disconcerting. The underlying insinuation seems to be that control should be centralized… I get that. But why aren’t we looking to education experts to execute that authority? Have we decided that there is not teacher, principal, or even Harvard GSE or Teacher’s College Ed.D. that can make a contribute of any value?? I think my puzzle is a piece short.

I also still haven’t figured out why so many big for-profits have made education the cause du jour. When I saw this story I automatically assumed Zuckerberg must be from Newark. He’s not. Apparently he has no connection to Newark whatsoever except that he and Booker met at a conference in July and have kept in touch about education. I bet I couldn’t meet anyone today who would be willing to give me $100 million in two months. Education seems an odd cause for huge companies to support, especially when the support comes with subtle or outward expressions of how the cause should be helped.

I will continue sleuthing.

Race to the Top, a very brief overview

17 Sep

…yawn. If you’re like me, then you probably find this the most uninteresting hot topic on the ed scene right now. Nevertheless, NY became $700 million richer this summer, here’s a tiny bit on how and why

Race to the Top, what is it?

Technically, it’s an economic recovery initiative as well as an ed reform initiative. It was passed under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009. Race to the Top (RTTT) provided for $4.35 billion in federal grants to states meeting the federal education department’s criteria for ed reform. Competing state’s grant proposals were judged on a 485-point rubric. Grants were judged and received in two phases. The executive summary of the competition can be found here.

The Four Magic Goals:

  1. Adopt standards and assessments for student success in college and the global workforce.
  2. Build data systems to measure student success.
  3. Recruit, train, and retain effective teachers and principals.
  4. Turn around their lowest-performing schools.

The Priorities (and non-priorities)

Capacity and potential to the the magic goals were the bulk of the selection process, but states could earn 15 extra points on the rubric if they also demonstrated a “high quality” plan to further Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. A few more “invitational” priorities were listed, but were not indicated to impact each state’s rubric score. Among the invitational priorities were improving early learning (pre-school/kindergarten), and the expansion of data systems to include assessments for special ed, ELL, and at-risk students.

$700 Million for education, pretty awesome… right?

This award should mean some big changes in testing, student data, and teacher recruitment, training, evaluation, and termination procedures. Neither the RTTT Executive Summary nor the NYS RTTT application addressed the prospect of asking teachers and principals what is hindering student success at their schools. And sadly, under RTTT, students with special needs are only an afterthought.