Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fraud Up and Down the U.S. education System

From beginning to end, the incentives are AGAINST accurate assessment of educational progress

In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz the Wizard tells his constituents that he wants an educated populace, “so by the power vested in me I will grant everyone diplomas.” Welcome to the education system of 2011. Much of what we now observe comes right out of the Baum novel.

When Charles Eliot was president of Harvard, he was asked why there is so much intelligence at this college, He replied, “because the freshman bring so much in and the seniors take so little out.” My guess is if a university president were completely honest today, he might say the freshman bring almost nothing in and leave by taking nothing out.

The question is: if the society spends billions on primary, secondary and higher education, why is it that so little is accomplished? There are, of course, many answers to this question, but I would argue the overarching reason is fraud, fraud at every level in order to satisfy political demands.

At the elementary school level it is simply embarrassing to have a large number of students leave who are illiterate or semi-literate. As a consequence, students pretend to read and teachers pretend to assert their competence. Test scores are altered to satisfy political concerns. In a society suffering from the Lake Woebegone effect in which everyone is above average, you can’t tell Mom that Johnny and Mary cannot read at grade level. Rather than declare inadequacy, you change the grade. The disparity between NAEP scores – the gold standard of evaluation – and state sponsored tests is startling with NAEP scores 20 to 30 percent lower on average. Obviously some manipulation is at work.

When scores are low, mayors and governors are held accountable. Since most are vulnerable to the political heat, the incentive to cheat is overwhelming. In fact, across the country there is a euphemism for this cheating: scrubbing. This practice suggests that teachers should “search” for clues in the test that would allow for an alteration in scores.

At the high school level, graduation rates are invariably employed as a standard of evaluation. Yet here too most scores are bogus. If a student is pushed through the system through social promotion, his cognitive skill may be near zero, but he is added to the percentage of graduates nonetheless. Rigor rarely exists as a demand or a practice, a condition that explains in large part why American students compare unfavorably to foreign students on international tests in language skills, math and science.

Once holding a diploma in their hands, however questionable their skill level, these high school graduates are now deemed college ready. Since America has a college for everyone and the society is committed to mass education, students who can read at only a marginal level or who cannot solve quadratic equations are seated in institutions of higher learning.

Surely something has to give. Invariably remediation must take place, but that is insufficient to deal with widespread incompetence. Obviously course content and requirements are modified. A physics instructor at the City University in New York told me recently it is impossible to teach real physics when your students are incapable of engaging eight grade math.

Of course there are exceptions to the lugubrious picture I’ve painted. Yet in far too many cases fraud from one level to another is passed on like a virus that cannot be controlled or cured. In fact, most teachers and professors who know the truth become complicit in this institutionalized fraud in order to retain their jobs. They simply cannot say college isn’t for everyone and most students are not prepared to engage in college work or that rigorous exit requirements at any level do not exist. Hence, there is the clarion call for more money; there is the deceptive claims about the success of our educational systems and there is the belief this investment is worthwhile.

Unfortunately there is rarely a soul who will say fraud keeps this system going and like it or not the emperor hasn’t any clothes.


MD: Parents see political slant in 3rd-grade text

Some Frederick County parents are upset over a third-grade textbook that they say promotes such ideas as government-sponsored child care and universal health care.

The county’s Board of Education met Wednesday to discuss “Social Studies Alive! Our Community and Beyond,” a book the county has used since 2004 but has come under fire in recent months.

The book examines culture, government and public service in the U.S. and other countries, but some parents have pointed to passages in the text they believe subtly promote foreign political systems while disparaging the U.S. “The entire slant of the book is you’re getting used to the idea of government running your life,” said Cindy Rose, a parent who requested that the book be removed from the county’s curriculum. “Government is setting the rules. We’re all going to live by it, and we’re all a collective society,” she said.

Board members chose Wednesday not to eliminate the book from the county curriculum, instead allowing it to come up for review next school year as part of a mandatory eight-year review cycle for all books.

Mrs. Rose was the lone parent to testify during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, after which board members discussed the text for more than an hour.

Mrs. Rose has taken issue with several chapters in the book, including one that explains how many Americans struggle to pay for health care while countries such as Canada and Sweden provide care free of charge or for a small fee. The book states that those countries’ “communities pay the rest of the bill,” and asks the reader whether he or she believes health care should be a public service.

Critics have argued the text endorses expanded government but fails to fully explain that its public services are paid for by taxpayers. “Do you get much pushback from an 8- or 9-year-old?” said board member James C. Reeder Jr. “It seems to me either were leading them in a certain direction or were trying to get them to evoke a certain response.”

School officials have defended the book, saying it provides important lessons in multiculturalism and is not a primary text but just one of various books the county uses to teach social studies in third-grade classrooms.

Jim Gray, the county’s social studies curriculum specialist, said the book serves a valuable purpose but that teachers are not forced to use it and have the option of replacing it with other materials. The book “provides an opportunity for every culture in our community to see itself,” he said. “I think that’s a very important thing.”

While some school board members raised questions about the book, board member Angie Fish said she believes it highlights the differences between cultures.


Striking teachers' unions betray staff, pupils - and British education

By Katharine Birbalsingh

One day during my teacher training, we were all herded into a large hall where union representatives sat smiling behind their stalls. We dutifully queued up and signed on the dotted line, not least because the option of not belonging was, in essence, hidden.

Everyone agreed to allow £150 to leave their bank accounts every year because that's what teachers do: we belong to unions. Except for me, that is. I had to use the loo, was bored of queuing and left with the intention of signing up later. But by September I was busy working and couldn't see the point of paying money to a union for nothing.

In those first couple of years, every teacher who heard of my lack of protection from the big, bad bosses (whom I have never met) rushed to warn me I was putting my life in danger. Even if I didn't worry about being fired for incompetence, what if a child were to accuse me of something? Who would defend me? Eventually, I capitulated and signed up.

In state education, there is social obligation to belong to a union. The most ardent union supporters belong to the National Union of Teachers (NUT): they are the driving force behind tomorrow's teachers' national strike. They tend to be loud in the staff room, forcing others to toe the line. They push the mantra of evil senior management exploiting staff, and bully younger teachers to buy into it.

The idea of holding colleagues to account or requiring high standards of teaching is not on their agenda. Good teachers keep their heads down, ignore the fact they are paid the same or considerably less than the worst teachers, and get on with the job.

Interestingly, it is not just bad teachers who are vocal in support of union power. The union grip on schools, psychologically and socially, is more pernicious than that. Some young teachers, good and bad, are radicalised by senior ones. The veterans seek out the more vulnerable and awkward young teachers, who may want to be part of a club or simply be looking for approval and to feel valued.

Most teachers believe fervently in their union. If you ask them why, they will say something about being protected from evil management. If you're a bad teacher, there is some sense in this, for unions are powerful and will stand in the way of a headteacher trying to get rid of you. Heads know firing a teacher is practically impossible in a school beholden to the local authority. It is estimated that in the past 40 years, only 18 teachers — out of the 500,000 in the UK at any one time — have lost their jobs because of incompetence.

In academies or free schools, which are independent of the local authority, unions do not have the same kind of power. Instead of taxpayers' money going to the local authority, where bureaucrats decide how to use it, the money is given directly to schools and heads decide how it should be spent.

Academies and free schools can set their own pay and conditions (thereby giving heads the option of rewarding good staff financially) and employ non-qualified teachers who haven't been forced to sign up to a union. Thus, if the centralised state education system is broken up — which will increasingly be the case if Education Secretary Michael Gove's free schools revolution succeeds — unions will no longer be able to call for national strikes with ease.

More importantly, they will no longer be able to protect bad teachers. A more open system will reduce union power. So it should come as no surprise unions are pumping huge amounts of their members' money into an anti-academy, anti-free school campaign.

They pay members' travel expenses to attend anti-academy rallies, spread propaganda about free schools selecting pupils (simply not true and not allowed) and spend thousands on flyers to go up in every staff room.

After all, if unions become redundant and lose members, who will pay the union bosses, who earn more than £100,000 a year?

Naturally, unions can't say this out loud. Instead, they pretend they are defending teachers and children. They argue that Mr Gove is destroying our education system and values.

They deny simple facts that prove our education system is failing: that nearly half of our children are unable to get at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Even worse, a staggering 84 per cent fail to achieve five C grades at GCSE in the academic subjects specified by Mr Gove's proposed English Baccalaureate: English, maths, science, a foreign language and either history or geography.

These are the core subjects we take for granted that our children are learning at school, yet the majority are leaving school without what is considered to be a pass by employers.

Before I am vilified, let me say the basic concept of a union is admirable. They are meant to protect workers against exploitation.

But if only this were what modern teaching unions are doing. Teachers sign up to them because we believe they will help us when in need and ensure our profession is highly regarded. But they keep poor teachers in their posts and give us all a bad name by lowering standards.

Degrading our profession, as teaching unions are doing, helps neither teachers nor children. Children are left to rot in chaos, the public believes teachers are inadequate and lazy, and the profession is considered unsavoury by many talented graduates.

But persuading teachers their union may not be acting in their interest could be difficult. The culture in schools is such that rejecting the role of the NUT representative or questioning the union mantra is considered to be letting the side down.

At the free school I am setting up, I would be happy for teachers to belong to any union they may choose, because I believe in freedom and encourage people to debate ideas. I only wish unions could do the same.

If they did, they would also be doing a marvellous job for our children: staff would be held to account, bad teachers would be weeded out, the public would respect us and teachers and children would fare better in the classroom.

The concept of a union defending the worker is one we should seek to reshape, instead of allowing political ideology to consume everything in its wake.

I am not alone in thinking this: according to a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research, only 21 per cent of teachers think schools have enough freedom to sack incompetent colleagues.

That would tally with what I used to hear teachers say behind closed doors. They hate the fact children are let down by less competent staff. But as with everything in our broken education system, they have to shut up.

Wake up, teachers of Britain — you are being duped. Deep down, I know you know it, just as we all know standards have dropped, behaviour is out of control and our children are being failed, year after year.

Unions don't care about teachers. Neither do they care about children. If they did, they wouldn't be going on strike. When you look carefully at what they're doing, it's clear they care only about themselves.


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