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Despite Sweeping Scandals, Big States Don’t Check for Cheating by Teachers

California no longer screens for teacher cheating, while Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania chose not to investigate suspicious results.

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Students at Emma Hutchinson School in Atlanta leave after the day's classes. In just one school district in Atlanta, at least 178 teachers and principals were implicated in a wide-scale cheating scandal. (John Bazemore/AP Photo, File)

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the role of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution in uncovering systemic cheating in Atlanta’s schools.

This summer, as students enjoyed their summer vacations, education officials in many states were busy handling sweeping investigations into teacher cheating. In one school district in Atlanta, at least 178 teachers and principals were implicated in a widespread falsification of student test scores. They had taken students' standardized test sheets, erased wrong answers and replaced them with the right ones. One teacher told investigators that the district was "run like the mob" and that she was afraid of retaliation if she didn't participate.

The cheating in Atlanta was uncovered in part thanks to two simple checks that states can conduct to look for suspicious test results.

The same machines that grade the penciled-in bubbles of standardized tests can also tally how many answers on the tests have been erased and changed from wrong to right. The technique, called "erasure analysis," flags suspicious patterns of answers that may indicate teachers have tampered with answer sheets to inflate their students' scores.

In Atlanta, students' test scores also jumped or dropped from year to year in unlikely ways. Checking for such dramatic swings is another way of spotting potential teacher cheating.

Experts view such screening as crucial. Teachers and principals are faced with increasing incentives to cheat, since student scores are being used to determine whether schools get funding and how teachers and principals get paid. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently told USA Today that states should require such screening.

Some states are indeed becoming more aggressive. Florida and Illinois instituted more rigorous screenings of statewide tests this year. (Yesterday, USA Today noted that 20 states regularly screen.)

Yet, some of the largest states have lagged.

California stands out. The state’s Department of Education conducted erasure analysis on tests for several years but ended the program in 2009. John Boivin, an administrator in the department, said screening was stopped as part of massive cuts after a drastic budget shortfall two years ago. (Boivin also said the erasure analysis cost the state $105,000 per year.)

Deborah Sigman, California's deputy superintendent of public instruction, said the state ultimately had to choose between eliminating some of the tests themselves and scaling back test oversight.

Sigman also said the state has always uncovered more cheating via on-the-ground reports, which the state now relies on. The number of reports of teacher cheating has increased from 69 three years ago to 263 in the past year, she said.

But Boston College Professor Walt Haney, an expert on testing, said screening is critical.

"Any large districts or state that didn’t employ those techniques would have its head in the sand," Haney said. "Given the number of large cheating scandals that have emerged over the last 20 years, any large institution would be derelict in not instituting some of the widely documented techniques for identifying cheating."

Sigman said California plans to reinstate erasure analysis as soon as it has the money to do so—perhaps this spring.

"This is a real priority," she said. And, she noted, "It's kind of a small investment."

Other states have also been slow to act. In Georgia, it was a dogged investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that first brought Atlanta’s suspicious score gains to light, and that provided continual pressure on the state to uncover the full extent of the cheating. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, officials screened for suspicious levels of erasures, only to let results gather dust for years until local journalists investigated and published the results themselves.

"People don’t want to know," said Jennifer Jennings, a sociology professor at New York University who specializes in education. "People would rather hold their noses and hope the scores mean what they think they mean. At every level of the system, there are adults who have an interest in the scores going up."

Such methods as erasure analysis don’t provide proof on their own that cheating has occurred. Because the screenings depend on statistical analysis, they can only say which results are typical and which ones are highly improbable.

When USA Today consulted statisticians about the 2009 test results from one elementary school in Washington, D.C., they were told that so many erasures by chance were less likely than winning the Powerball grand prize with a $1 lottery ticket.

Screening methods do flag schools that are later cleared on further investigation, but screening also consistently identifies cheating that might otherwise have gone undiscovered.

In New Jersey, the state Department of Education has conducted erasure analysis of state tests since 2008. But the department did not investigate any of the schools flagged in those reports until this summer, when the Asbury Park Press successfully sued the department to obtain a copy of the analysis and made it public. (Spokesman Justin Barra told ProPublica that while the department did not share the reports with districts, the state did use them to decide whether to send observers on test days.)

Following the Asbury Park Press expose, 34 schools are now under investigation.

Pennsylvania's Department of Education received an erasure analysis report in 2009 that flagged dozens of schools for potential cheating but left the results untouched for two years and did not notify school districts about the anomalies. After reporters for an education blog obtained the report and made it public, the state ordered initial investigations of 89 schools.

In Texas, assessment officials said the state's education agency has done erasure analysis reports for at least 10 years. But until this year, the state had not used them to investigate schools unless school staff members or test monitors also had submitted cheating complaints.

Texas' policy continued despite a 2007 update to the state's education code requiring the adoption of statistical measures to screen for cheating and a procedure for investigating schools with suspicious results. The state will finally implement those measures at the end of the school year.

Criss Cloudt, Texas' associate commissioner of assessment and accountability, said the state has relied on its rigorous test security measures, including seating charts, honor pledges and legally binding oaths that test administrators must sign, to prevent cheating.

Testing experts say that test security, while important, is not a substitute for screening measures.

Other states are also beginning more rigorous screenings.

In a report released last week, New York's Department of Education recommended a multipart screening of state tests, looking for score jumps, unlikely patterns of answers, and high levels of erasures. North Carolina also is considering more regular erasure analysis.

Florida has screened a subset of high-stakes tests since 2004 and implemented a state-of-the-art analysis of all statewide test results this year.

"Generally, from leadership we have gotten a good but nervous response. This obviously is not the kind of work that people relish doing," said Kris Ellington, Florida's deputy commissioner for accountability, research and measurement.

"Other than that, the discomfort with it, there aren’t any drawbacks."

Of course, instituting a more rigorous screening of test results means facing how widespread teacher cheating actually is. The new analysis revealed more suspicious results from both students and teachers than in previous years, Ellington said.

But Ellington said the problematic results represented a tiny fraction of the tests administered—and that screening has given Florida confidence that the remainder of its scores are valid.

"We want to make sure that no corruption is part of this process," she said. "We don’t believe that there are big pockets of problems. But we can’t just live in our happy place and believe it. We have to know it."

What’s wrong with this picture?

After decades of research showing that standardized testing measures nothing of relevance, we increase our reliance on it.

We vote for administrators who find it acceptable to institute widespread cheating policies, violators of which are punished.

We allow districts to hire teachers who are utterly spineless, setting the example for our next generation that morality is much less important than a car payment.

Does that sum up the situation?  Other than the apparently enormous cost of catching the cheating, I mean.

Can’t wait to see what this country is like when those kids grow up.

Seriously, it’s shameful that we’re operating on the same industrial plans for schools when all the real industry is gone.  In an age when all of human knowledge and collaborators are a click away, when even China is turning away from the idea, it’s shameful that we’re trying to drill rote learning into our kids’ heads and test them solely through computer-scanned multiple-choice tests, let alone the corruption that it’s led to.

I see two options.  First, we could involve the community in education.  That’s not likely, since taxes, housing costs, and such require that both parents work full-time.  So, alternatively, since this is widespread and arguably a conspiracy, we could dust off the RICO laws and bust some pseudo-academic bureaucratic heads.

I wish they would get rid of this system. Test scores should not dictate how well teachers and schools get paid. Schools in poor area’s should be given more money, and teachers should be evaluated on other things besides state wide tests. Craming for a test and actually learning are two very different things…

What’s bewildering is the multiple forms of tests and its effect on promoting elitism in education.  State standardized testing doesn’t seem to coordinate with what is on the GED or SAT gateway tests, let alone the Advanced Placement.  Poor students are socialized avoid critical thinking and simply spew back answers. 
  Having taught in Japan, I see the benefit in testing but by the time the students are in high school this should fall away into critical thinking.  The unfortunate thing is that the U.S is going the other way.

Standardized testing needs to relegated to simple progress measurements. That is what SAT’s are!  No child left behind is sendinng our public education system down the wrong path. Parochial schools don’t have to measure up!! The ambassador from China told Charlie Rose the beauty of the american school system was its willingness to challenge students to think, to innovate and create, he criticized China education as being far too structured and disciplined. And, this past summer an chinese are student in Balto, Md was interviewed and she said she was so excited to be educated in the US, because she learned how to draw lines and mixed colors, but in AMERICA she is FREE to create and express her emotions in her art. We changed the school systems to move toward privatization, and a generation of children are harmed by this ill advised misdirection of public school energy. Our teachers, are just that. I spent 16 years in school and had some good and mediocre and one bad teacher. The good inspired, the mediocre taught the basices and the bad teacher only half wasted by time. We can do better. Public education is absolutely necessary for our democracy to survive and we have to do better as a country.

john wheat gibson, sr.

Sep. 13, 2011, 3:59 p.m.

John Gaddo’s book Implements of Mass Instruction is essential reading for understanding why preparing students for obedience to totalitarian dictatorship has replaced preparing them for participation in a democracy.

Michael Mantion

Sep. 13, 2011, 4:06 p.m.

“Boivin also said the erasure analysis cost the state $105,000 per year”

California has over 6 million public school students, And pays over $10k per year to “educate” them.  That is $60 million dollars.. 

I can’t find a stat on how much it cost to administer the tests but I am guessing its is about $500 per student in teacher salaries and testing equipment. 

From what I can tell it cost less then $.02 per student to check for erasure analysis. 

If you aren’t going to check for cheating, then why test, hell why educate them?  Just pass them every year and give them all straight “A”..

A disappointing commentary on the direction of some of our education and educator compensation programs.  Seems like there are some simple ways to reduce the risks here.  Why are the student’s “home room teachers” anywhere around this type of testing?  Exchanging teachers and administrators from other schools in the area during testing and using lock boxes to deposit tests would eliminate much of the risk without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars outside the district for erasure analysis on every test for every child in every school. 

Unfortunately,  even if the testing incentives and controls were such that there were no cheating, we would still be “teaching the test” vs. “developing the learning ability of students.  Unless we change direction and return more focus on accelerating the best students vs. teaching to the lowest common denominator we will only succeed in promoting mediocrity into our future workforce, citizens and leaders.  Not a bright future for our county in a globally competitive world.

I’m a retired teacher, so I have some street cred on the classroom and testing thing.  Don’t know how many thousands of tests I administered in my nearly 20 year career.  Once the tests are taken, they are boxed, sealed and delivered, sometimes by a truck driven by a school principal, sometimes by courier.  And in six weeks, just when school is letting out, we get results.  So at what level is the cheating taking place?  Guarantee though that the only ones who lose their jobs will be teachers, who will be blacklisted, never to teach again while the principals that encouraged the cheating will be moved to another school, or leave the district.  Happens all the time, the low man gets the boot!

Disatisfied Ged holder

Sep. 14, 2011, 1:02 a.m.

I was an eighth grade dropout from NY and took my GED test without any study whatsoever, and the Department of welfare sent me to Towanda H.S. in PA. They wanted to get me a job and wanted me to have a GED so I took the test and passed the very first time, but with some secret help. The teacher who gave me the test had taken my test paper after I filled out the personal information with my signature and SSN filled in and said that he gave me the wrong test paper, took them and gave me a new set of tests, which were the very same test he took back from me with the same headings and GED levels. So you see if the welfare Department wants to get people off the rolls they just give the High School holding the tests a phone call and sets up this little scam. All and I mean ALL government agencies in countys are all doing what they need to do to collect big paybacks to do under the table agreements to receive high state funding, including child protective agencies and Child abuse hotlines. They all fudge the books and cook them until they have effected every family in their county to make sure they have dumbed down every child they can so future generations keep getting dumber and dumber to hide the conspiracies the governments are continueing to do. This is part of the main conspiracy of the Federal Government, and thats the reason that you don’t see the old saying that “you can become President some day” There has not been any plain jane or slopy joe becomming President, just super rich conartists with phony documents bought from the internet ID mills for $200 or less. Even I an eigth grade drop out can print up the same documents like college and medical degrees on my computer. All it takes is a little record searches and the right paper and stamps, and you have yourself a $500,000 Job. Don’t be fooled, with most professionals, as they don’t have the education in their professions that they claim they have, and some even are medical school dropouts that learned all the right medical terms to get started and learned most by on the job training as assistants and under grads.

What ever happened to teachers who taught a SUBJECT and not a test?  I remember in the 50’s in third grade, we learned about Switzerland and made cheese in the classroom; the next semester, we learned about Mexico and made chocolate.  School was interesting and we learned a lot.  I still remember EVERYTHING I learned about both those countries.  Can you imagine if we used this same type of teaching for ALL subject.  Bored children act up in class, and teaching to a test is not the way to motivate bored children.  Also, passing them just because they can pass a test is also not a motivation for future education.  School used to be fun!
Additionally, it seems to me that it would be smarter to throw MORE money at schools that were failing to help them excel in the future than to throw money at good schools, who are already doing their jobs.  Why do we punish the below-grade schools rather than go in, provide money to fix the problems, and let them go on to excel?  It’s a little backwards to my way of thinking.  Aw, for the good old days of school…..things were SO much more interesting than they are now…no wonder kids don’t want to learn!  Rote learning is BORING!!!

Scott Griffith

Sep. 14, 2011, 10:31 a.m.

Born and raised in the US, now retired after teaching for thirty years in local public schools in Scotland.  First reaction to this:  where’s teacher autonomy gone?  If I selected a novel for my English department to teach - yes, it was my choice - and a parent complained - which happened a few times - that, say, controversial language appeared in it, I thanked the parent for his/her interest but gently explained that I was the one with the expertise here, it’s why I was appointed, and nothing more was said.  I was backed up.  Second reaction:  what happend to testing what pupils write down rather than on what boxes they tick?  Third reaction:  idea to save lots of money for the school system:  boycott the people who devise and sell all these tests.  They’re not teachers, they’re businessmen.  Their main interest is profit, not teaching.  They’ve no more business in the classroom than do preachers.

Part of the disastrous Bush legacy.  Is our voters learning?

Tom if you notice every state have different procedures, the point of the articles is some stats take it seriously and try to prevent cheating, others don’t care. 

Max, the bush legacy is great, having kids tested isn’t a good idea.  If anything it shows teachers know they can’t teach so they spend their time trying to prep the kids for the test and then if all else fails just cheat.  If you pass a law that says I must get a drivers license to drive, and I cheat on the test and get a drivers license, does that mean drivers license are a failed idea?

Scott you sound like one of those arrogent incompetant teachers that should of been fired.  You are being paid to teach children, paid for by the tax payers.. If the tax payer complain, you should grow up and do your job. You are clearly what is wrong with our education system. Testing what they write down is is open to interpretation, not useful in a standardize test that needs to compare multiple schools and multiple years…  As a teacher you were in the business of teaching.  Your complaint is based on the belief that business men are less valuable then teachers. lol.  Remember those who can’t, teach.  My chemistry teacher was in the industry for 20 years.  He wanted a nice fat teachers pension so he started teaching and retired after 24 years.  He was by far the best science teacher in the school, perhaps the best teacher period. I was lucky to have him twice.  He taught so well, kids paid attention and learned.  Maybe we need to get rid of professional teachers and qualified educators from the real world. OH and by your logic anything someone sells me is bad.. lol. I bet your little mac computer was sold to you…  I pity you Scott.

john wheat gibson, sr.

Sep. 14, 2011, 12:19 p.m.

If anyone doubted the futility of US education, Mantion’s blather demonstrates it beyond a doubt.

“If anyone doubted the futility of US education, Mantion’s blather demonstrates it beyond a doubt”

Typical aging liberal. If you can’t argue insult.. So you don’t like my writing style, did you have a point of your own to make?  Anything to add to the conversation? How sad, I bet you are some teacher or lawyer who hates the us, corporations, religion and the military.  Yet you lives in the US a nation whom’s principles were founded by the same religious freaks he apposes today, protected by the military you call criminals and using a computer made by some big bad corporation.

If it weren’t for the religious freaks that founded this country, the military you call criminals and the big bad company making your computer, you wouldn’t be able to go online and make a lame insult.

I a saying that it is sad that teachers are so bad at teaching they have to turn to cheating, and school administrators are more concerned about getting funding then educating kids.. 

Do you have a reply to that?  I bet not. And did I get any of the above wrong? its pretty easy to see the bitter liberal online..  Go cry to someone who cares.

Could a shift to computer-based test administration obviate at least some of these security issues? By 2014-15, the majority of high-stakes tests to be delivered in English language arts and math (through participation in the PARCC and SBAC consortia), will be done so. For more details, see: http://assess4ed.net/blog/are-online-tests-key-addressing-cheating

Doug, computers are only as good as the people buying them want them to be.  Nobody is going to install a system that can audit their intended subversion of the system.  On top of that, the system is only as secure as the people administering it, who have already proven to be unethical.  More likely, the cheating will continue, but there’s no eraser mark to guess where it happened.

Computers are also going to completely miss the big-picture problem that your kid’s ability to guess A through D, even an educated guess, doesn’t tell you if the kid read and understood the novel or understands trigonometry.

Mantion, your comments suggest that you won’t listen to contrary viewpoints, but I’ll give it a shot anyway:

First, if people can cheat to get certification, then yes, the certification is bad.  It’s a burden on people willing to play by the rules without any benefit to anyone other than the certifying authorities.

Second, the customer is almost never “always right.”  You can “have it your way” at Burger King, but a real chef knows better how to cook your steak than you do.  Likewise, I won’t defend teachers in general, because I’ve known a lot who just wanted tenure and a pension, but they have the experience communicating with kids and what aspects of the curriculum are important.  Your saying that you’d rather the class cover Etruscan sculpture instead of long division isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the child, which is what the entire school system is supposed to be about.

And if you want specific things taught to your kids, do it at home!  Parents have custody of their children for the overwhelming majority of the time.  Maybe they should take some responsibility for their legacy instead of screaming at the school for teaching too much or not enough about birth control, the Holocaust, dollar cost averaging, or astrology.

(Education needs to be more community-based.  Not only should parents be involved in educating their own children, but a long division lesson pales in comparison to real-world projects where division is something you learn because you needed to solve the problem.  The formal lessons in a classroom should be a follow-up to hands-on experience, rather than the goal.)

As to the “blather” comment, I think it’s somewhat warranted.  I had to read your comment several times to figure out what you were talking about.  It’s muddled, contradictory, insulting, and…not really what you want to present when talking about how great education is, y’know?

That said, I agree that education has become an “industry” that looks to its own preservation more than it looks to its responsibilities.  You shouldn’t need a magic certificate to stand in front of a room, if only because the certificate fails to measure the ability to deal with kids, present information digestibly, and the degree to which the prospective teacher can serve as a role-model.

When the country was founded, one-room schoolhouses were usually taught by ex-convicts who were otherwise unemployable (the source of the idea that “those who can’t do, teach,” as I understand it), and literacy was almost complete.  With a social class of dedicated educators, we need to cheat to make it look like half of them can even pretend to read.

Jaames B Storer

Sep. 15, 2011, 11:21 a.m.

The Mantion diatribe, a litany of conclusions posted over several comments and irrelatively based upon statements in other posts, was properly put to rest in the JohnWheat Gibson, Sr comment:  “If anyone doubted the futility of US education, Mantion’s blather demonstrates it beyond a doubt.”
  Otherwise, I think the comments to this Becket report are generally outstanding.  People are really beginning to wake up and face the basic absurdity of these various test schemes and the related destructive motivations behind pushing privatized schools and incessantly bashing the public school system and teachers.  These various required tests (and especially the totally illogical NCLB) detract from time better spent to teaching the students.  Using these standardized test results for failing or passing the school and the teachers is counterproductive and encourages falsifying results.
  I enjoy Lois Becket’s many fine reports, but I am disappointed in her use of “Despite Sweeping Scandals” in the title of this one.  I applaud those states that tend to oppose imprisoning their schools and teachers in this corporate driven stultifying ideology.    Skartishu, Granby MO

john wheat gibson, sr.

Sep. 15, 2011, 11:28 a.m.

The cheating begins with our cheating our children out of an education and forcing them into intellectual feedlots to be fattened on rote and dogma for standardized testing, because our oligarchy prefers standardized citizens to free and original thinkers.  We have trillions to spend on murdering the children of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya, but cannot spare a dime to provide our own with real education.

Mr. Gibson, I agree with you, except…education shouldn’t cost nearly as much as it does.

Yes, a teacher is helpful (required) to provide guidance, discipline, and social contact with adults, so I’m not advocating getting rid of them.  But just the same, we live in a world where a lot of information is free and instant to access (ProPublica, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, Wikipedia, and a host of others) and collaboration is all but free, with a cheap computer and an Internet connection.

Not only that, every community has needs and and an insufficient supply of volunteers.

I’m a fan of on-demand teaching, as sort of hinted at above.  The lesson you’ll remember the longest is the one where you asked the question of how to do something.  And something that’s long lost in schools is a sense of community and respect for others.

So, imagine a “lesson plan” where, for the month of November, the class takes over a soup kitchen.  The kids (with supervision but minimal help from adults) need to serve lunch to the less fortunate for thirty days.

In the course of doing so, this means (a) interacting with people as peers, (b) using research skills to find recipes that can be handled, (c) learning math to scale the recipe up and figure out the servings, and (d) learning responsibility for making it happen and cleaning it up.  They might also learn to actually cook and follow a budget, but that’s just a bonus.  Oh, and poor people get fed, in the process.

(Note that this is probably unworkable, between prissy parent outrage, health department regulations, and insurance issues, but I think it illustrates the point.)

That’s just the morning.  In the afternoon, they walk down to the theater, where they take a book and have to turn it into a play.  That’s reading, writing, art (sets and costumes), possibly music, and a whole mess of technical skills like administration and lighting.  Again, there’s the bonus that a project like that would lend support to the tiny theater groups scattered around.

If that’s not academic enough, take one or two days a week and assign the kids videos frorm the Khan Academy or a similar source for weekend homework and discuss the topics in class to fill in what they couldn’t understand.  I don’t LIKE the Khan Academy materials, mind you, but I’ve heard a lot of teachers are getting great response by reorganizing their classes this way:  Homework is to watch a half-hour lesson in math or science, and the class the next day is fielding questions and working on examples and applications.

(There’s a TED talk…I don’t have access to the site at work, so I can’t grab the guy’s name, but an Indian guy did a lot of research on self-directed learning by kids—literally, give them an Internet connection and a goal, and come back in a month—and saw phenomenal results as the kids worked together.  And by phenomenal, I mean poverty-stricken pre-teens were able to pass college-level genetics tests and retained the knowledge.)

Again, all examples off the top of my head, but it’s all to say that, if education costs eight to thirty thousand dollars (depending on who you ask) per kid, you’re doing something wrong.  If you’re spending that much and they can’t even pass a standardized test, you’re doing something VERY wrong.  The trillions we waste on bombing the crap out of Arabs and other “brown people” isn’t any excuse for not having well-educated children.

john wheat gibson, sr.

Sep. 15, 2011, 1:31 p.m.

Of course, the problem with self-directed teaching is that it produces self-directed citizens, instead of obdient robots.

True, but we can give them tax incentives or welfare to obey.

Or just whack the independent kids over the nose with a newspaper.  See, we’re even supporting failing newspapers!

That reminds me, though, that I do need to pick up a copy of “Weapons of Mass Instruction,” which I think you’ve mentioned elsewhere.  Gatto’s other books were great reads, if a tiny bit hyperbolic.

For those unfamiliar, John Taylor Gatto was the New York City teacher who accepted his second or third Teacher of the Year award with a scathing indictment of the disservice “mass market” public schools do to kids, which you can find posted under the title, “I Quit, I Think.”

He’s since done an amazing job piecing together primary sources that show that the system was built intentionally to support the industrializing company—you don’t need entrepreneurs, you need factory workers.

Gatto takes it a step too far, I think, suggesting that this was (and still is) done, in turn, to have a docile population.  I don’t think that’s true as such, just that, with the exodus of industry from the country, there’s not much left for the schools to do, on their original mission plan.

(I should also mention that, growing up, my teachers all got in trouble with the school board at least once a month for deviating from the curriculum or saying something politically incorrect.  It was only when I got to college that I learned that other people didn’t have such an open education as I was lucky to get, and that informs a lot of my thinking, on the subject of what should happen.)

James B Storer

Sep. 16, 2011, 2:07 p.m.

“John and John,” great comments.  On-demand teaching is a concept difficult to implement universally, but as you say, is quite successful in places.  Perhaps an on-demand system requires significant input and cooperation of parents (akin to the neighborhood involvement we used to have) to be wholly successful.  This, in turn, requires much smaller schools than the mega installations that are the trend in metropolitan areas.  An advantage of a properly supervised on-demand system is that it tends to eliminate the economic and elitist cliques that presently develop.  Kids would group together to tackle a project and the successful groups would include a broad variety of skills and abilities.

James, I wonder if size is that big an issue.  I mean, if I look at a typical classroom around here, class sizes are twenty to thirty people.  If I look at what it takes to clean a beach, open a play, run a large dinner, or do a bunch of other community service kinds of projects that have an academic side, those all take about the same size group, give or take.

Mind you, I do think the community aspect is critical, here:  My view of schools is that they should help the kids integrate into the community as responsible citizens.  But I’m not sure that taking a class of kids to paint a retirement home, say, would need a chaperone for every five kids.  Could be that the teacher and the “hosting” staff are enough, with parents and other members of the community welcome to join in.

I think you hit the nail right on the head, by the way.  Working from a real-world project basis (contrived projects don’t hold attention) that require a lot of manpower levels the social classes very quickly, because you need that (to pick a cliched example) weird smelly kid’s help and ideas to succeed.

Incidentally, I went back to Gatto’s speech over the weekend, and given the set of recent articles, I think his second paragraph is a bit interesting.  “I’ve come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in.”

I don’t know if charter schools are the answer (the speech ends with a call for free-market solutions), but by definition, the fixes need to be local, because they won’t and can’t come from the Federal level.  And it probably can’t come from administrators, who have spent their entire careers trying to get more money into their schools, when less is actually the direction we want to take.

James B Storer

Sep. 20, 2011, 2:24 p.m.

John, I appreciate your response to my comment concerning school size.  I was not referring to class size.  My concern is with the total student population of the school.  In the large cities the schools tend to be so large that the teachers do not have even a nodding acquaintance with each other, let alone with the students.  It seems to me that much smaller facilities would be more efficient in the long run, as adapting to constantly changing populations of districts would be easier.  Also, true neighborhood involvement might be better achieved.
  In a less populated school facility, the staff would have a better chance of heading off, or at least being aware, of the formation and activities of various student cliques that might become dangerous.  Also, a greater percentage of the students would be able to participate in various school programs, such as music, sports, etc.
  I am getting off the topic of this ProPublica report, so I will shut up.
  Skartishu, Granby MO

Ah, OK.  Yes, I absolutely agree.  The counter-argument is “economies of scale,” but it somehow never works out:  Larger communities somehow need larger staffs, which require larger administrative staffs, which…

Probably not just schools themselves, but school districts.  California is hit hard, here, and I believe they have a unified school system.  By me (that fish-shaped sandbar sticking out of New York City), school systems are separate per town, generally.

I think we do better on the ethical side (though I’ve never investigated), but we have the awful problem of pushing kids into college and making them feel bad about not going to “good” colleges.  But that’s even further off-topic…

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