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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Devil Did It!

In "Won't Get Schooled Again," Jim Goad discusses the recent Atlanta school cheating scandal.  Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued a report that reveals systemic failure in that state's government-run education.  Revealingly, fraud that educators perpetrated was so ineptly concealed, it suggests that many of the city’s teachers are too stupid to be school janitors. 

Perhaps if they are fired, they can find employment as auto detailers, pickpockets, or fast food workers.  Education hustlers have depicted the Atlanta school system as a shining national star that dared leave no child behind as dedicated educators and their eager-to-learn pupils joined hands, chanted slogans, marched together, chest-bumped and fist-pumped one-another’s self-esteem, established a clear vision, looked to the future, kept their eyes on the prize, and made countless other ultimately hollow gestures.

However, the data supporting these accolades seemed implausible.  After all, how could Atlantans do what people in similar metropolitan areas have failed to accomplish?  It was not the water; it was sleight of hand.  At one school, special education students scored higher than gifted students in math.

To create the illusion, teachers placed failing students near successful students to copy their answers.  In oral exams, teachers exaggerated their voices to highlight correct multiple-choice answers.  Others pointed to correct answers while some read them aloud.  Teachers changed answers after students handed in their exams.  Some held social gatherings to alter tests.

The report alleges that cheating teachers worked in an atmosphere of intimidation, fear, and retaliation.  That explains it; just like Flip Wilson’s Geraldine, the devil made them do it.  This time, the devil was the unattainable requirements of Georgia’s standardized competency exams.  It was difficult to circumvent those requirements system-wide, and it took leadership from the top.

At $400,000 a year, Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall—2009 Superintendent of the Year—seemed to earn her keep.  That is, until the investigation began.  Then shortly after it started, she resigned her position and began a Hawaiian vacation the very day that the report went public. 

Although it seems that the system was rotten to the core, some claim they cheated to shield students’ self-esteem from the stigma of failure.  They also claim that poverty is the primary cause of low cognitive achievement and that we need to spend more money on education.  There are problems with this argument.

Author Goad chose Rabun County—this is where the movie Deliverance was filmed—for comparison.  It is far from Atlanta but with similar poverty levels, only Rabun’s schools are as white as Atlanta’s are black.  The author compares rural Rabun's circumstances to inner-city Atlanta.

The schools’ fifth-graders scored approximately equal in 2009; however, in Atlanta education cost $3,000 more per pupil annually than in rural Rabun, and 51.4% of Atlanta’s classrooms had high wrong-to-right testing irregularities. Additionally, the banjo pickers' tests showed zero cheating.  So in order to achieve testing parity with Rabun County's hicks, Atlanta’s  kids needed an extra $3,000 in funding and had to cheat their [gosh-darned backsides] off. 

Poverty does not cause academic failure; its cause is parental failure.  Nothing improves the likelihood of educational success more than two supportive, concerned, and proactively involved parents.  There is simply no replacement for effective parenting.

May your gods be with you.

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