Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Michael Josephson Commentary: Even Our Schools Are Cheating 731.3

Michael Josephson Commentary: Even Our Schools Are Cheating 731.3

Even Our Schools Are Cheating 731.3

Most Americans condemn cheating in sports, business, and marriage, yet our culture is pervaded by cheating. Premier athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, cheating in business ravages our economy, and the media regularly exposes infidelity by prominent personalities and politicians.

But it gets worse. Atlanta’s Public School system, which won national recognition and millions of dollars of awards for apparent improvements in student test performance, is embroiled in the largest school cheating scandal ever: 44 of 56 schools and 178 teachers and principals were involved in alteration of student tests; eighty-two have confessed.

Even our schools cheat?

As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s substantial evidence of teacher cheating in at least half a dozen other states – and altering the answer sheets is just the most blatant form of cheating. It’s likely that thousands of teachers are pumping up test scores by giving students advance exposure to test questions.

When widespread cheating occurs, lots of people blame the system or the test for subjecting individuals to seductive temptations or putting heavy pressure on them to earn bonuses or keep their jobs. Many argue that it's human nature to put self-interest above honor.

This is a dangerous rationalization.

People of character don’t surrender their integrity to greed, self-indulgence, or fear; they do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay. We should expect nothing less, especially from those entrusted with the intellectual and moral development of our children.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


The Georgia report called test-tampering "an open secret." In one school, a group of teachers brought students' answer sheets to a teacher's home and held a "changing party."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the teachers union complained about cheating in Atlanta in 2005, but it was ignored. Though the union has been critical of the testing and extreme consequences associated with test scores under No Child Left Behind, to her credit Ms. Weingarten said cheating "under any circumstances is unacceptable."

Interim Superintendent Errol Davis replaced four superintendents, and trustees of the DeSoto Independent School District near Dallas placed Kathy Augustine on leave as they re-examine her previous post. Augustine denied any knowledge of test cheating as Atlanta's deputy superintendent.

A report by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Atlanta school administrators emphasized test results "to the exclusion of integrity and ethics." A third-grade teacher told investigators that "there are ways that APS (Atlanta Public Schools) can get back at you" if teachers don't go along. "APS is run like the mob," the teacher said.

The Atlanta investigation found a "culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation" that spread district-wide over the last decade.

Recently evidence was published strongly suggesting that similar cheating occurred at Baltimore and Washington, DC schools and evidence of test-tampering has been uncovered in California, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan.

In 2007, The Dallas Morning News found more than 50,000 cases of student cheating on high-stakes state tests, with 90% of students, in some cases, showing suspicious answer patterns.

At least 10 states require that student scores be the main criterion in teacher evaluations. In some areas, teachers may earn a large bonus if scores climb.

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