Test cheating has for years provided ammunition for critics of public school accountability, and the latest out of Atlanta on the country's apparently largest test-cooking scandal to date only amplifies their crows. As Mark mentioned earlier, that's the quick conclusion even "objective" reporters are highlighting. A sampling from some star-studded outlets.
Washington Post: "Few who have paid attention in the education era of high-stakes testing will be surprised at this. And the stakes are only getting higher for teachers and principals, who are increasingly being evaluated and paid according to how well their students do on standardized tests, despite research showing that test-driven reform hasn’t made an impact in the last decade on student achievement." This research is by no means a consensus and education reform has had giant barriers to progress in the past decade such as, well, teachers' unions.
Associated Press: "Problems have mounted, some [unnamed] experts say, as teachers and school administrators — particularly those in low-income districts — bow to the pressure of the federal No Child Left Behind requirements and see cheating as the only way to avoid sanctions [rather than, you know, actually improving schools]. Under the law, failing schools must offer extra tutoring, allow parents to transfer their children to higher performing schools and fire teachers and administrators who don't pass muster."
CBS: "Atlanta's scandal is the biggest in recent years, but other school systems, in Baltimore, Houston and Detroit, have had isolated cheating issues on state-wide tests. Educator Diane Ravitch [of all people to call for a quote], author of 'The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,' blames it on a federal law that links funding with test performance." Yes, the law forced teachers and administrators to cheat. Odd law, that.
Dallas Morning News: "Is this any different than a corporation whose CEO and workers play fast and loose with booking revenue and hiding debt in order to make targets? On Wall Street, that would be called investor fraud; in the classroom it's education fraud. It's not reform." No one on Wall Street would call investor fraud the result of "unfair federal regulations" but instead blame those unethical CEOs and workers who sidestepped them.
It is as well-known at this point that federal and state education regulations are as onerous as their tax codes. But no one defends tax frauds, or uses their cases as reasons to discourage taxation. Just imagine: "This man cheated on his taxes! We must stop...taxes!" Or imagine Atlanta schoolchildren cheating and telling their teacher why: "I had to do it. You made the test too hard."
Professor Kirk in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when faced with appalling logic from the two children and main characters, mutters to himself: "I wonder what they do teach them at these schools." Education accountability critics ought go back and check their deductions before children imbibe (more of) their wrong ideas.
Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News at the Heartland Institute.