"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Racket With Standardized Test Scores”: Treating Test Scores The Way A Corporation Might Treat Sales Targets Is Wrong

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform — requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores — is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket.

I mean that literally. Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, was indicted on racketeering charges Friday for an alleged cheating scheme that won her more than $500,000 in performance bonuses. Hall, who retired two years ago, is also accused of theft, conspiracy and making false statements. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Also facing criminal charges are 34 teachers and principals who allegedly participated in the cheating, which involved simply erasing students’ wrong answers on test papers and filling in the correct answers.

In 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named Hall “National Superintendent of the Year” for improvement in student achievement that seemed, in retrospect, much too good to be true. On Georgia’s standardized competency test, students in some of Atlanta’s troubled neighborhoods appeared to vault past their counterparts in the wealthy suburbs.

For educators who worked for Hall, bonuses and promotions were based on test scores. “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated,” according to the indictment.

But there was a sure-fire way to meet those targets: After a day of testing, teachers allegedly were told to gather the students’ test sheets and change the answers. Suddenly a failing school would become a model of education reform. The principal and teachers would get bonuses. Hall would get accolades, plus a much bigger bonus. And students — duped into thinking they had mastered material that they hadn’t even begun to grasp — would get the shaft.

State education officials became suspicious. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote probing stories. There seemed to be no way to legitimately explain the dramatic improvement in test scores at some schools in such a short time, or the statistically improbable number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets. But there was no proof.

Sonny Perdue was Georgia’s governor at the time, and in August 2010 he ordered a blue-ribbon investigation. Hall resigned shortly before the release of the investigators’ report, which alleged that 178 teachers and principals cheated over nearly a decade — and that Hall either knew or should have known. Those findings laid the foundation for Friday’s grand jury indictment.

My Post colleague Valerie Strauss, a veteran education reporter and columnist, wrote Friday that while there have been “dozens” of alleged cheating episodes around the country, only Atlanta’s has been aggressively and thoroughly investigated. “We don’t really know” how extensive the problem is, Strauss wrote, but “what we do know is that these cheating scandals have been a result of test-obsessed school reform.”

In the District of Columbia, for example, there are unanswered questions about an anomalous pattern of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets during the reign of famed schools reformer Michelle Rhee, who starred in the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and graced the cover of Time magazine.

Our schools desperately need to be fixed. But creating a situation in which teachers are more likely than students to cheat cannot be the right path.

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

Not every school system will become so mired in an alleged pattern of wrongdoing that officials can be charged under a racketeering statute of the kind usually used to prosecute mobsters. But even absent cheating, the blind obsession with test scores implies that teachers are interchangeable implements of information transfer, rather than caring professionals who know their students as individuals. It reduces students to the leavings of a No. 2 pencil.

School reform cannot be something that ostensibly smart, ostentatiously tough “superstar” superintendents do to a school system and the people who depend on it. Reform has to be something that is done with a community of teachers, students and parents — with honesty and, yes, a bit of old-fashioned humility.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform, Educators | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Budget, No Pay”: How To Get Congress On Good Behavior

If taxpayers want better results from Congress, they must stop paying their elected officials for failure. After all, you get what you pay for.

That’s why I’ve introduced a bill called No Budget, No Pay. It’s not your typical congressional reform. It is the first effort to pay Congress for performance, the way that an increasing number of doctors, teachers, corporate executives, athletes, and other professionals are paid.

The bill, H.R. 3643, is so simple that it sells itself. If Congress fails to pass a budget and all 12 appropriations bills by the beginning of each fiscal year, October 1, congressional pay will stop. If Congress is even a day late, the penalties could be hundreds of dollars per day per congressman. Longer delays mean greater penalties (and the missed pay cannot be retroactively restored). It’s a harsh regime, but a necessary one. Our nation suffers when Congress fails to pay America’s bills on time.

Today’s Congress has not passed a budget in three years and has not completed all of its budget and appropriations bills on time in 15 years. Few incumbents can even remember meeting these obligations. This is no way to run a superpower.

Congress is so accustomed to today’s back-loaded schedule that it cannot imagine efficiency. Congress barely meets in January and February and, this year, the House was in session for only 10 days in May. Each house delights in passing bills that are dead on arrival in the other body. No Budget, No Pay would make the House and Senate actually talk to one another again. The heat from members to meet the deadline would be so intense that Congress, as a whole, could start forging deals.

A conventional reform would simply levy a flat penalty to punish Congress for tardiness. That’s like yanking a teenager’s allowance because he misbehaved. The goal should be to encourage better behavior. The threat of cutting congressional pay would do precisely that.

Properly understood, No Budget, No Pay is gentler than you think. It will not result in a single senator or congressman losing any pay. The reason: When everyone has an incentive to meet a deadline, you naturally finish on time, even early. For example, when California legislators tried it, they suddenly got much better at meeting deadlines. This is the power of aligned incentives: When everyone is on the same team, you have a much better chance of winning. The threat of punishment is more effective than the punishment itself.

This new type of reform engages the most powerful lobbyists on earth: congressional spouses. No one wants to miss a paycheck, especially spouses who are tired of excuses. These spouses will force Congress to work much harder much earlier in the winter and spring, instead of procrastinating into the summer and fall. Remember, members’ spouses have never let Congress miss a major holiday like Christmas. No Budget, No Pay puts October 1 in the same elite category as December 25.

The dirty secret of today’s Congress is that many members actually benefit from missing our financial deadlines. When they hold up negotiations, highlight a parochial cause, and take a budget or appropriations bill hostage, they get lots of free publicity and become a hero to the special interests they are protecting. This helps them finance their reelection campaigns. Some of their colleagues will honestly object to the delays, but most are just waiting for their own chance to grandstand. Meanwhile, taxpayers suffer because government agencies are crippled with unpredictable funding starts and stops on a month-to-month or even week-to-week basis. Sometimes a key agency like the Federal Aviation Administration is even forced to shut down many of its operations, as happened last August.

Having experienced (and often envied) their colleagues’ selfishness, many members are naturally afraid to be held accountable for the behavior of Congress as a whole. They are particularly afraid to vouch for the other body, either the House or Senate. Social scientists call this a collective action problem. It seems foolish to bet a paycheck that any group of politicians will be prompt. But these doubters have never been in a capitol where everyone was desperate to get paid.

Some fear that wealthy colleagues could afford to grandstand, while poorer members would be deprived of that free publicity. This is possible, but the rich are just as vulnerable to peer group pressure, sometimes more so, because they do not want to be stigmatized for being wealthy. The vast majority of members in the Senate and House need their paychecks and would be quick to ostracize anyone who slowed the budget process down, particularly a rich colleague. Fearing for their positions, party leaders would also make sure that wealthy members were not able to obstruct.

The task is an urgent one. The bill currently has 10 cosponsors in the Senate and 73 in the House. We need more cosponsors now, because there are only a few weeks left in this session of Congress before the November elections. Of course, Congress will miss its October 1 deadline again this year, but passage of No Budget, No Pay this fall would help us meet the deadline next year, in October of 2013. Unless Congress passes No Budget, No Pay this session, no adjustments to congressional pay will be possible until at least 2015, because the 27th Amendment requires an intervening election before any adjustment to congressional pay.

Since no president or Supreme Court has the constitutional power to reform Congress, Congress must heal itself with help from voters back home. Ultimately, Congressional medicine is like veterinary medicine: It must be strong enough to work, and tasty enough to swallow. No Budget, No Pay meets all these tests. It is hugely popular with voters, potent enough to make Congress meet the annual October 1 deadline, and palatable to members once they understand that they will be paid — because they will finish their work on time.


By: U. S. Rep Jim Cooper, The Atlantic, July 26, 2012 

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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