Great discussion about Jaime Escalante, Michelle Rhee and possible cheating

Thanks, folks, for such a vigorous response to yesterday’s post about Jaime Escalante, Michelle Rhee and USA Today’s recent investigation into possible cheating in Washington, DC.

These comments were so thorough and thoughtful they merit their own post.

Here you go.

Please keep the conversation going.  It’s an important one.

From Dany Fleming:

A while back, I was part of an effort that turned a large, failing South Side Chicago high school into 4 separate small schools. The principal of the failing school was an inept, controlling blowhard and he was despised by the stronger teachers at the school.

As we began the planning, one day one of those stronger teachers walked me into what was commonly referred to as the “Eraser Party.” This was an “invitation only” event from the principal (a very persuasive invitation) that included some of his crony teachers and staff. The better teachers refused to join the party and this marked the battle lines in the school. Additionally, everyone knew that being a whistle-blower to this party was not as straight forward as it might seem for those teachers as they were taking on an experienced “player” with decades of building political and community allies. This was clearly not the only school with an eraser party.

The good news is that the principal was fired, though for reasons other than test cheating. There were plenty of other corruptions and ineptitudes to choose from to justify the firing. The group of stronger teachers did a solid job of taking on the task of turning the culture and school around

Like we’re finding out from the faux Texas turnaround, we may start finding more evidence of gaming the system in D.C. Without a doubt, an incentive for many administrators is to rocket-boost their short-term portfolio by any means necessary, cash their bonus check and get out of dodge before the skeletons fall out of the closet. Kind of like being an NCAA DI football or basketball coach.

The many teachers and administrators who fight that temptation deserve much more credit than they often get. Unfortunately, they are often left with the option of turning their classrooms into massive test prep operations during test time.

As a parent, I spend much of my time trying to figure out which teachers best balance that tedious test prep work, which bore my kids to tears, with some of their own unique teaching hooks to otherwise engage the kids. It’s a tall order for teachers and hard work as a parent in discerning the teachers that can best ensure my kids develop a love of learning.

Given our backgrounds, Carol and I are probably better equipped than many parents in figuring this out. More precise, our goal is really to make sure our kids get advanced and gifted curriculum placements. This is where teachers have more leeway in curriculum and, usually, where some of the strongest teachers are. We work hard on this front.

For many parents, this is the sad gaming of the system for which we spend spend so much time and energy – it should not be this difficult. Of course, you need to have access to a sufficient school or system to make this happen. As they say, there is already “choice” in education, it’s called your mortgage.

These thoughts are from Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who taught in our nation’s capital during Michelle Rhee’s tenure:

I’m one of those she fired. Nine great years in Calfiornia teaching, where I missed only one day of work in all of that time. Credentialed. Tenured. Had my work published in a national magazine. Came to DC to be closer to my mom, who’s by herself and getting on in years. Deepest social dysfunction I have ever seen was in those schools. Several fights a day. Parents visibly in the heroin nod. Kids dirty, with ringworms and other communicable diseases, and often homeless, rotting in big government programs and social engineering. My idiot principal obsessed over raising test scores because his job depended on it, but we couldn’t cheat because our school was heavily monitored during testing. Why? So we wouldn’t improve much. Why didn’t she want us to improve much? Because she had already handed our school over to a charter outfit from Philly over Christmas break. My principal was fighting for his life when he was already dead! I was fired along with the entire staff in June 2010. I had been with DCPS for 18 months. I worked at Stanton Elementary, and that episode taught me all I need to know about the nature of this country, it’s leadership, and it’s character.Now I tell any poor black kid I meet that it’s best to sell drugs in a smart way and arm themselves to defend themselves against a hostile government and economic system. Look to the cartels in Mexico, I say. I would never tell a kid to get an education and work hard and play by the rules.

By the way, I’m a black male and hold a Master’s degree in my field, and passed the Praxis II with ahigh score on the first attempt to obtain a clear teaching license. My mother was a hospital adminstrator, and holds a Master’s, and my father has an MBA. Nobody in my family has ever received public assistance, we worked. I don’t have illegitimate children, I have no children. And I was penalized because others have different priorities, and now the lazy and the irresponsible get to laugh at me because I believed in the big lie. Well I’ve learned. From Wall Street to the projects to Michelle Rhee, it’s all about scheming and scamming and living off the government. Believe me, I get it.

From mentor, former fourth grade teacher and friend Paul Tamburello:

Just read the hot link “a compelling and remarkably thorough investigation by USA Today” on your RSS feed, which doesnt show up as hot link in your story above.
The USA Today story seems to be a combination of what I’m beginning to understand as the use of “computer assisted reporting” and “The Document Cloud” you refer to in your post.
What I liked about the USA Today story is that it showers us with relevant data and, even though their data presents damaging evidence, makes us connect the dots re the ultimate question of cheating or no cheating.

And a link from friend and educator Trisha Boyce:

Jeff, just watched this…Krashen makes some really good points in the era of tests, tests and more tests, and the billions that are spent on them. Maybe we use the money to buy books for all children…what a concept!


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