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Cheating Scandal Goes National

The cheating scandals in Atlanta and Long Island that rocked the educational establishment last year appear to be spreading. In the past, the tendency has been to view these scandals as isolated incidents—examples of moral failures on the part of individual teachers or school districts. A new study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, refutes this view—the problem of cheating is much more serious and widespread than previously thought. According to the study, which examined test results from the largest school districts in all 50 states, a full six percent (196) have evidence of widespread manipulation of test results. The evidence implicates school districts from Los Angeles to Houston to Baltimore, and the scandals, if true, could impact tens of thousands of students nationwide.

It is certainly possible that some of these anomalous results are just that—anomalies with a perfectly valid explanation behind them. But it is exceedingly unlikely that all—or even the majority—of them are; cheating is clearly a serious problem in a growing number of American school districts.

This speaks to a serious failure, both moral and systemic, in our education system. The moral issues are obvious—teachers face many difficulties in their jobs, but there is absolutely no excuse for fabricating test scores and lying about student’s achievements. The widely distributed nature of these allegations shows that this is a serious moral problem and not simply the work of a few bad apples.

Yet perhaps more serious is what this shows about the weakness of the big box model in American education. In today’s bureaucratic and centralized public schools, parents often find that they have little knowledge of the teachers who are entrusted with their children’s education. Taxpayers are frustrated: schools seem to be getting more and more money, but old problems persist and in some ways get worse. Partly to respond to these concerns, districts try to assess both teachers schools and states and federal authorities try to assess everything going on locally under their jurisdiction.

These evaluation process are almost always clumsy, bureaucratic and deeply flawed. Fraud often results; teachers and administrators resent what feels like the unfairness and arbitrary nature of crude and one sided evaluation measures. With both funding for their students and their own professional standing potentially at risk, the temptation to cheat isn’t always resisted.

In the short run, the authorities should come down on the cheaters like a ton of bricks. Students need to see that cheaters don’t prosper. Longer term, the solution is to keep bringing education closer to the grass roots and to give parents more say in how and by whom their children are taught. Big box schools that can’t monitor teaching effectively, and where teachers and administrators cheat are no place for this country’s kids.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    I hope this makes the folks in Atlanta feel better about their actual scandal, But it doesn’t convince me that there is one in the districts with which I am familiar.

    In particular, I doubt there is scandalous cheating going on in Palo Alto, Cupertino, Ross Valley, Piedmont, Orinda, and Moraga, let alone Tredyffrin-Easttown. It would show up in the SAT scores and there would be [heck] to pay.

  • Mrs. Davis

    That intern deserves a commendation.

  • Chase

    This whole education debate in America is a joke. The time tested formula for obtaining a good education is as follows: you need a caring and knowledgeable teacher and you need students who are willing to work hard to master the assigned material.

    Everyone wants to blame the system, but that is the easy way out in that we are deflecting blame away from ourselves. Well folks, I can speak from experience on this one. I went to a great high school in a Chicago suburb, but I didn’t do very well because I was lazy and lacked direction. Thankfully I did somewhat better when i went to college. It would be disingenuous – not to mention morally wrong – for me to blame my lackluster high school performance on the school personnel. But that seems to be the American way lately, blame everyone but yourself.

    If you want to replace the public school system with vouchers, knock yourself out, but don’t expect things to change until we create a culture that values high work and academic excellence.

  • http://www.theparenttrigger.com Bruno Behrend

    It’s time for people to realize that this is normal. The government education complex does not exist to educate American children.

    It exists solely to increase the number of people employed by the complex.

    There is no law that can reform this monstrosity. It must simply be dismantled. This dismantling is done through vouchers, charters, and digital learning.

    If you aren’t breaking the system, you aren’t helping American kids get educated.

  • BillH

    Chase @3. You left out the parents. That’s where it’s gotta start. Parents en masse = culture. (You anthropologists and human ecologists stay out of this!)

  • Richard

    There is no reform of the schools that cannot be undermined and defeated by those who have the power and vested interest to do so.

  • Tina L

    They are uncovering a lot of cheating in Philadelphia and Camden. There have been several articles in the Inquirer. They have hired third party proctors to administer the state proficiency exams. This is VERY widespread. The education system is panicking because the metrics show the true results of what is happening for all the tax dollars spent.

  • mark of Lombard

    The teachers design and administer a test on whose results their jobs and salaries will depend. And now, surprise, surprise! They’re fudging results! Who could have foreseen it?

    I did, from the beginning. Figured there would be a scandal and they’d figure out they need independent people to administer the tests. While we’re at it, can we also get independent agencies to design the tests in the first place?

  • Dantes

    The same top down “integrated” system is being developed by Obamacare even now, where hospitals employ doctors and are rewarded by dispensing care according to population based protocols. The result will be health care cheating scandals by a health care industrial complex to maximize reimbursement and ration care.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Interesting revisionism at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

    Yesterday I went to their interactive map to see what districts were the offenders. The red dot at that time had all school districts with 10% or more of classes flagged. All of the districts mentioned in my comment 1 were red dotted.

    Today, after seeing that this post was given Instapundit notice, I went back to re-read the article to see just what evidence of cheating there was beyond statistical anomalies. I also went to the interactive map and, lo and behold, the red dot is now redefined to be districts with 15% or more of classes flagged and none of the districts mentioned in my first comment remain red dotted.

    But the legend still says

    Districts which consistently have 10% or more of their classes flagged or which have an extremely high flag rate in a particular year certainly deserve further examination.

    We’ll know you have loyal readership at the AJC if that is updated to 15% tomorrow.

    There are undoubtedly other districts where widespread systemic cheating is occurring. But it is a great leap to go from a list of statistical anomalies to accusations widespread manipulation of test results. These anomalies deserve attention district by district but until there is evidence other than statistics, it seems premature to start painting with broad brush strokes. And too soon for the people of Atlanta to shrug and say “Well, everybody else does it.”

  • Robert Sendler

    Look, the simple fact is that they have done a lousy job educating most of the children they were(and are)given to educate.

    They know this.

    They know it better then anyone.

    And now that those crazy parents are demanded that wacky accountability thing they only have two choices. Admit that, as a profession, they are failures or cheat like hell to hide that failure.

    Guess which one they chose…

  • DSmith

    Widespread moral failure? In an industry almost entirely populated by Leftists?

    Boy, never saw that coming.

    As to “blame the parents”, ok, that’s valid, but who educated those parents? That’s right, the same Leftist-dominated educational establishment that’s been in place since the 60s/70s.

    Post-modernists insisted that values are relative, and the self-esteem branch of psychology insisted that “fairness” meant being non-judgmental and that everyone must be a winner regardless of merit.

    What we see here isn’t so much a moral failure as an inevitable result.

  • Sean Bannion

    @ Chase. You say, “but don’t expect things to change until we create a culture that values high work and academic excellence.”

    That’s very true, but it will be hard to do unless you create a culture of excellence among the teachers themselves. Good luck with that. They (a) have no interest in it since teacher’s unions are going to make sure they’re paid no matter how well or poorly they perform and (b) teachers as a group (please note the qualification) represent the bottom of the American intellectual barrel. This is demonstrable fact and there are studies every decade going back to the 1920s documenting it.

    You can’t get excellence from a group that is not excellent. You can get mediocrity, however, and that’s what we have now.

  • Duncan Frissell

    We warned you back in the ’40s when standardized tests were introduced. That’s why unstandardized tests (handwritten essays) are superior. Bit harder to cheat. Sure you need literate graders but, hey, I thought schools were supposed to produce literate graders.

  • J Pritchard

    I’m not terribly convinced by the AJC’s methodology here. I’m familiar with several of the school systems that are “red-flagged” on their map (I grew up in and attended one of them), and they’ve been among the best public schools in my old home state (Alabama) for decades, long pre-dating NCLB or other testing schemes.

    I’ll grant that “best public schools” is a decidedly-relative description, but still, when Mountain Brook Public Schools in Birmingham (not where I grew up, for whatever that’s worth) is flagged, that’s a sign that your methodology is flawed. Mountain Brook has been near-universally considered the best public system in the state since at least the 1970’s.

    The schools in Atlanta with cheating problems were, to put it bluntly, all pretty bad to begin with. It might be useful to compare the scores of those schools with the ones that were not involved in the cheating scandal, but the AJC doesn’t supply their “red flag” rankings for comparison.

  • Robert Sendler

    Yes, the parents do have a part in the blame game. But teachers, as a group, have to have some sort of baseline competency before you blame the parents.

    If I go to the ER with a heart attack and I’m 500lbs and smoke like a chimney then I am indeed the architect of my condition. But the ER doctor also needs to treat me correctly. If I come in with my heart attack and he treats me for indigestion then he has failed irregardless of my actions.

    The Education Mafia has failed to prove it is even fit to teach children let alone whether or not they are doing a good or bad job of it.

  • willis

    @ Chase. You say, “but don’t expect things to change until we create a culture that values high work and academic excellence.”

    We had such a culture Chase, from the founding of our country up until about the 1960s and 1970s. What happened then to change everything? If you can figure that out then you can create that culture you’re looking for just by reversing whatever caused it to vanish in the first place.

  • http://www.tempeteaparty.org Lee Reynolds

    You can’t teach dumb kids to be smart.

    Yet that is exactly what schoolteachers are expected to do. All discussions of education in this country seem to be predicated upon the unspoken and ridiculously false assumption that all kids are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Individual test scores, good or bad, are a measure of each student’s intelligence and willingness to learn. They are not a direct measurement of a teacher’s effectiveness as an instructor.

    If you want to come up with an actual objective measurement of teacher performance, it would be necessary to first individually evaluate each student they are teaching, and then measure each student’s academic progress.

    Smart kids are going to learn anything you throw at them. Average kids are going to learn some of what you teach them. The dumb ones are going to learn very little. It’s called a normal distribution and it is ruthlessly enforced by reality.

    Yet this simple and inescapable fact of life is totally ignored. Everyone wants to pretend that someone with an IQ of 90 is going to do as well in school and on standardized tests as someone with an IQ of 110. Sorry folks, but that just isn’t going to happen. So much of the [complaining] about education in this country is nothing but the search for a scapegoat to blame for the unavoidable fact of life that some people are smarter than others.

    Furthermore, the intelligent and not-so-bright tend to self-segregate, which creates divergent test scores based upon geographical area and socioeconomic status. Areas inhabited by educated professionals will tend to have schools attended by kids who are able and willing to learn. Areas inhabited by welfare parasites and criminals will tend to have schools attended by kids who are not. The teachers who work at these schools have very little to do with it.

    Imagine for a moment that farmers were evaluated based upon an arbitrary standard for food production that did not take into account the quality of the soil they had to work with or how much rain that piece of land received. The result would look much like our attempts to quantify education look today. Farmers blessed with good soil which received sufficient rain would look like star producers, while farmers trying to grow on infertile land with little rain would look like incompetents.

    This is precisely the situation we have in our schools right now. Teachers are being judged without any regard for the quality of the students they are expected to teach. Judge someone by criteria over which they have no control and sooner or later people are going to get fed up. They will either find a new career where their performance will be based upon the quality of their work instead of the quality of the materials they have to work with — or they’ll start cooking the books.

  • Recovering Lutheran

    No one has yet commented on the fact that the education establishment has radically overpromised what it can actually deliver.

    Overpromising is largely a political ploy to secure more taxpayer funding of public schools. How many times have we heard something along the lines of: “Let’s make education a priority.” Or: “The key to the future is education.” Critics who point out the fact that schools are not doing a great job with the funding they already have are demonized and dehumanized.

    There are a number of negative effects that fall naturally from the education establishment’s obsessive focus on increasing funding by any means necessary. One is the cheating scandals that are probably just the tip of the iceberg. American taxpayers are funding one of the most expensive education systems in the world, and naturally want results that match that financial commitment.

    Another negative effect is the fact that schools are going beyond their natural function of teaching subject matter and branching out into areas they have no business being involved in. There are pregnant mother programs, gang-intervention programs, “sex-ed” programs, birth control distribution programs, teen parent training programs, etc. This mission creep is an effort (intentional or otherwise) by the educational establishment to usurp the roles best filled by parents, churches, businesses and other individuals and institutions in society.

    Yet another is the “dumbing down” of American students. I have taught in public schools (high school level), and at the present time I am teaching mathematics at a community college. The national standards that schools are failing to meet are largely a joke. Being able to meet the low threshold of No Child Left Behind is no guarantee that students will succeed in college. But failing to meet it is a clear warning sign that they are definitely not ready. Yet the education establishment wants to eliminate the nearly worthless standards of NCLB and replace it with, well, nothing.

  • pashley1411

    “Everyone wants to blame the system, but that is the easy way out in that we are deflecting blame away from ourselves” Actually, yes, we need to blame the system, because teachers, today and tomorrow, are and will be fallible, short-sighted, and prone to temptation. In education, like elsewhere, I don’t believe in saints.

    As much as Adam Smith gets kicked around today, for education he has an answer. A market encourages teachers to act in a manner that improves the education of customers. A bureaucracy stifles customer-driven behavior with a different set of customers, metrics, and rewards. This is basic Hayek, and it seems pointless to tweak, or shovel more money, into an education bureaucracy, when competition has not even been tried.

  • Richard S

    A few years ago I was teaching at a highly ranked liberal arts college. I asked students about cheating. I was shocked by their answers. Copying someone else’s homework, not a big deal . . .
    Relativism’s inevitable result?
    As Plato noted long ago, the democratic mind rebels against any standard, since all standards imply hierarchy. (See book 8 of the Republic).

  • Deckin

    Mrs. Davis’s reply hinted at something that I’m surprised no one has taken up. Hint: See any patterns in the schools and districts where this is happening? Overlay some demographic data and you sure will. All we are seeing is the inevitable attempts to remedy what looks in all likelihood to be un-remediable: The Achievement Gap(s). Scores in those schools are low because they’re full of low scoring children. This causes pressure on the schools to ‘do something’. Unfortunately, the schools aren’t the ones that create these facts, so there’s little they can do to change them. So what happens? Cheating. Why this isn’t a ‘dog bites man’ story tells you everything you need to know about our times and our country.

  • dries

    About 2 years ago, several guidance councillors in our HS were caught altering SAT scores of graduating seniors. AND it’s a good school system, almost 40% Asian, mostly Korean. Kids had good grades, but in today’s competitive world scores weren’t high enough.
    Councillors were sacked, getting rid of principal who professed ignorance of their actions proved more difficult.We had to wait him out till his contracts was up. Very surprisingly, he found new job almost instantly in another district. Sheenanigans in Fort Lee, didn’t weigh against him at all.

  • BillH

    Willis @17, “If you can figure that out then you can create that culture you’re looking for just by reversing whatever caused it to vanish in the first place.”

    Whatcaused it to vanish in the first place is easy and obvious: disintegration of the [insert favorite modifier (e.g. nuclear, traditional…)] FAMILY. A cursory look at the census data before and after the War on Poverty and Great Society makes it crystal clear. It’s just that no one wants to face up to it.

    The fix is something else again. It would involve stigmatizing procreation outside the family structure, and we all know how that would go over in this environment. The only workable solution I can think of is to let the country self-destruct, then try to replace it with a family-centered society. Hope there is a less calamitous way.

  • EvilBuzzard

    It wasn’t fair that Atlanta got to cheat and they didn’t. Also, if everybody does it, it overloads the system and no meaningful sanction can be levied. I mean, we can’t flunk every 10th Grader in the US can we?

  • FrancisChalk

    The public school teachers belong to the Teacher’s Union. Such organizations have a way of corrupting everything and everyone they touch. The only real question is: where were the “honest” teachers, the whistle blowers, the school administrators, the local news media, and the parents. Is it fair to consider the entire public school system a racket? Should we prosecute those involved under RICO statutes?

  • Kris

    willis@17: “What happened then to change everything? If you can figure that out then you can create that culture you’re looking for just by reversing whatever caused it to vanish in the first place.”

    That would certainly be operationally optimal and philosophically convenient, but it’s not necessarily true. See Humpty Dumpty vs Wall.

  • teapartydoc

    Dantes is right. I look forward to the day when I get paid for denying treatment, just like the teachers get paid now for denying students an education.

  • doc

    I’m in the Atlanta area and this was front page with a map. You know where most if not all the cheating scandals are suspected? Liberal areas and areas that are mostly black. Middle America and other areas are blank. It seriously looks like an election map of blue states. The whole idea of teachers monitoring tests which amounts to their evaluation is idiotic. Of course they’re going to cheat. I pulled my kids out of what is considered a good public school system. Yeah, good compared to the cess pools elsewhere but not near what I’m looking at for my children. Funny how much time there is in a day to actually learn mathematics and reading once you remove the sex ed and obama studying. Also once you remove the thugs who disrupt the class.

  • Chris N

    About Plato and that Book 8 reference…it’s haunted me since I first read it over 15 years ago as an undergrad:

    Freedom becomes the highest good in a democracy, and the people extend the concept as far as it will go to every part of their lives…to each successive group… until the democratic people become so sensitive to any perceived hierarchy or law that they demonize the lawmakers as being overly tyrannical and against freedom itself…throwing them out. Out of this stew, the man least in control of his passions, the man who followed freedom without restraint eventually comes to power. That’s the tyrant, though eventually he’s thrown out and the timarchy, or rule by those who succeed with honor and the noble virtues in military conquest begins again and on to oligarchy and democracy again.

    Not a direct map, by any means, and I don’t mean to frighten anyone, but it’s fascinating to think about.

    Anyways, back to education: It’s a mess in many places, and heavily regulated federally. Too many other interests in the way, but in the worst areas, the basic needs aren’t being met anyways (violence, hunger, basic literacy).

  • koblog

    The laziest, most unemployable person I know (and, who is, coincidentally, a staunch liberal) is now a teacher somewhere in Southern California.

  • CatoRenasci

    There’s no need to cheat if the kids are actually learning what they’re supposed to learn.

    Apparently, teachers with students with low cognitive ability (on average) and who lack the sort of cultural (i.e. parental) support common in upper-middle class suburbs, find it easier to cheat than to teach the children the material.

    Those teachers are far more concerned with their own jobs than with students learning. Surprise!

    Teachers unions have been an unalloyed disaster for everyone except the unionized teachers. Do away with tenure, do away with unions. Start over.

  • CharlesP

    Why SHOULDN’T we see cheating in the schools??
    This is NOT the first and only cases of cheating.’
    Decades ago, laws were passed to FORCE teachers and Administrators to report child neglect/child abuse.
    THEY HAVE AVOIDED DOING THIS FOR ABOUT 40+ YEARS!!
    They produce NO REPORTS on WHICH SCHOOLS REPORT HOW MANY CASES EACH YEAR!!
    If anyone ever LOOKED at it, they would see THOUSANDS OF SCHOOLS/SCHOOL DISTRICTS HAVE NEVER MADE SUCH A REPORT!
    Cheating STARTS WITH THE PARENTS AND THE ADMINISTRATORS, who ENCOURAGE THE TEACHERS TO DO ANYTHING THEY WANT!
    (One school I attended ACTUALLY HAD MANY SCAMS IN PLACE TO INTENTIONALLY [punish] KIDS THAT THEY DID NOT LIKE!!- THEY SEEM TO STILL DO THIS [stuff]! It is the school where the school shooting /turn kids into mass murderers started, back in 1969!)

  • Kenny

    Nobody wants to (or is allowed to) talk about the elephant in the room.

    Okay, ignore it, but you’ll be bellyaching about the same problems until you addresses reality.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Day 3

    The map with the red dots has fallen into the memory hole. Now there is just a list of big city school systems with anomalous results. You didn’t need to do a statistical analysis on 69,000 school districts to know that the Baltimore City Schools stink and are probably a cesspool of cheating. And the AJC didn’t need to libel countless school districts across the country by making unfounded implications. This is more a demonstration of how far journalism has fallen than of how rotten inner city schools are.

    I hope it boosted circulation.

  • http://crimevictimsmediareport.com Tina Trent

    The parents? I tutored in two school districts in downtown Atlanta. I lived in the jurisdiction of one for 20 years and knew many parents and children very, very well.

    The parents don’t care: they aren’t doing parenting in any way that you would recognize, just as they weren’t parented. It’s not merely that there are no fathers: there are no parents, and at the same time there are lots of people not working and not trying and not taking responsibility at all around these kids. Those who do parent tend to be elderly and frankly worn out. I knew great grandparents raising kids. Some people talk a good game because there’s money in doing so — fifty years of cash-heavy interventions that merely siphoned into someone’s pocket, leaving the same result. But it’s easy to see reality, if you look.

    And the teachers? Too many of them buy into some notion that their charges are helpless victims from day one, and they inculcate these views through their teaching. Failure proves their politics and “saving” these children through any means necessary feed their egos, especially when they can point a finger at the big bads when they get caught: “big schools,” “standardized tests.” George Bush.

    Meanwhile, the places these children grow up look like war zones. This hasn’t changed, and it is the fault of the residents and generations of activists who grew rich pretending to change it. What do you think goes on in a neighborhood where the after-school program is in a guarded building surrounded with high fences and barbed wire, and kids shoot at each other walking home at least once a year?

    The size of the school is meaningless. Recommending ‘parental involvement’ is a cruel joke. At what point are we going to tunnel through the distractions and acknowledge that the cheating scandal is merely a sideshow to a real tragedy that far too many people are invested in denying?

  • richard fitzwell

    Responsible parents ARE the missing link in all sub par schools, when compared to their counterpart suburban schools.

    When parents care, and participate in their child’s education, as well as teaching them responsibility, then school test scores are high

    All low scoring test score schools have a mass absence of responsible parenting, causing the low test scores.

    This has occurred throughout academic history in the US

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