Scandalous Schools

April 19, 2013

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One of the bad features of the school reform movement that was cited in our posting of March 29 (“Hit Again”) is the obsession over standardized testing and the linkage between children’s scores and adults’ salaries.  The length to which some so-called educators have gone reached new highs (or perhaps lows) in Atlanta recently; but that’s far from the only school testing travesty we’ve seen, as Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post Writers Group reported on on April 4, 2013:

“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, 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.  For educators who worked for Hall, bonuses and promotions were based on test scores.  After a day of testing, teachers would allegedly be 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 a much bigger bonus.

“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 such a short time, or the statistically improbable number of erasures on answer sheets.

“Sonny Perdue was 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.  Those findings laid the foundation for Friday’s Grand Jury indictment.

“My Washington Post colleague Valerie Strauss, a veteran education reporter and columnist, wrote Friday that there have been ‘dozens’ of alleged cheating episodes around the country, but only Atlanta’s has been aggressively and thoroughly investigated.

“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.  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.

“School 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.”

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.