The book that lay on Beverly Hall’s desk through years of acclaim and reproach at the Atlanta Public Schools contained neither business-school bromides nor educational platitudes.
It was “The Art of War.”
The millennia-old, pre-Machiavellian classic, by the Chinese general Sun-Tzu, lays out strategies for prevailing in any conflict through ruthless efficiency. Its eternal presence on her desk underscores Hall’s approach to her dozen years as Atlanta’s school superintendent: Schools were a battlefield. Test scores were weapons. Defeat was not an option.
An indictment issued Friday charging Hall and 34 other Atlanta educators with racketeering and other crimes sends the former superintendent into a new battle — this one in a courtroom. The case asks the court to render judgment not just on Hall and the other defendants, but also on the aggressive, sometimes-intimidating management style that she, her top advisers and their subordinates propagated for years.
Even setting aside criminal culpability, the indictment portrays a workplace with a toxic culture in which leaders routinely sacrificed their integrity to preserve the district’s image, not to mention Hall’s. Desired results, no matter how unlikely, drew little skepticism, grand jurors found. Truth-telling, on the other hand, could result in severe punishment. Employees who reported cheating put their jobs in jeopardy, and the indictment recounts an episode in which Hall lightly punished a cheating teacher but fired the whistleblower.
Through her lawyers, Hall denied the charges, as did other defendants, and the indictment provides no direct evidence that Hall ordered district employees to cheat on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT. But it states that Hall did little or nothing to ferret out cheaters, and it alleges the superintendent and others took extreme actions to cover up wrongdoing.
“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu wrote.
If the indictment is accurate, Beverly Hall took his words to heart.
Rhee, Henderson, Klein, Bloomberg - they've all created workplaces with toxic cultures in which leaders routinely sacrifice integrity to preserve a district's image as well as their own.
If New York City and Washington D.C. were given the same going-over that Atlanta received under Governor Sonny Purdue, there would be lots of people carted out in handcuffs on RICO charges.
Does anyone really think Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson were unaware that administrators and teachers, under tremendous pressure from the feds and the city, were funking with the numbers in D.C.?
Does anyone think Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg were unaware that administrators and teachers, under tremendous pressure from the feds, state and city to increase test scores and graduation rates, were funking with the numbers in NYC?
For that matter, does anyone really think Bloomberg and Ray Kelly are unaware that the precinct officers, captains and central office brass, under tremendous pressure from the mayor, are funking with the crime stats?
The pressure to continuously get better stats NO MATTER WHAT creates that toxic workplace culture that leads to cheating and funking with the numbers.
This is not to excuse the behavior, only to say that the people REALLY responsible for the toxic culture that leads to cheating and numbers-funking - the policy makers and politicians - are being spared the perp walks.
Do not think for a minute that the people who set up these policies - get the numbers up AT ANY COST - are not aware that they have set off a rash of cheating under them.
But they will not be held accountable in this mess.
George W. Bush, Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings, George Miller, Ted Kennedy, John Kline, Tom Harkin, Lamar Alexander, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and all Wall Streeters and hedge fund managers and other corporate reform functionaries will skate accountability (in Kennedy's case, his memory will remain unsullied, at least by NCLB if not by Chappaquiddick.)
From the stories that are emerging of how Beverly Hall ruled by fear, punished whistleblowers in the system and let cheaters get off lightly, she ought to be held accountable for the cheating.
But so should all the policy makers and politicians and corporate funders and malanthropists who have engineered the education reform movement that created this toxic mess in the first place.
Just as the banksters who raided the economy and continue to engorge themselves off the Federal Reserve printing press have skated accountability for the financial collapse of '07/'08, the people responsible for the cheating of the children in Atlanta will skate accountability.
"Test scores were weapons."ReplyDelete
Indeed, they still are...
The problem with a lot of the focus right now is the continued acceptance of standardized tests as pure, pristine and objective measures of academic aptitude and achievement when the truth of the matter is that they are anything but,,,ReplyDelete
Anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of psychometrics knows how infinitely malleable these instruments are, for a variety of purposes. When I entered high school in 1974,I was tracke to be in an advance Math an science program. I remember well taking my first math exam in this class. I got a score of 30%, an absolute shock to me, as I'd never had a score that low previously (or actually since).I was, however, relieved to find out that the passing grade for that test was set at 15%, with the goal of weeding out the weak students. More than half the original cohort were actually invited to leave the program after that. giving me an interesting early insight into testing manipulation.
The other canard that people fall prey to is that the cheating is happening at the school level only, due to teachers and principals feeling pressure from above. There is such a thing as using one's wealth an or political power to purchase tests which have been designed and normed to obtain desired results, such as downward trending scores during contract negotiations with the teacher's union, and upward trending scores preceding an election or vote on mayoral control. The books are so damned cooked it's not funny, witness the crime stats, the economic numbers, the housing bubble, the testing bubble, etc.
I agree on both counts. Test scores easily manipulated - as you point out, using attrition to raise the scores is one way it's done in the charter system. I saw something similar in Catholic schools, although there I think they were worried less about state test scores and more about behavior issues (toe the Jesuit line or else!) I started 9th grade with 287 students in my class. I graduated with 204. That's 83 students who disappeared. Catholic schools and charter schools do this all the time - but public schools cannot and should not. Still, to make comparisons between the three systems is unfair at best, deceptive at worst.Delete
As for your second point, that's a good one as well. Bloomberg and Klein KNEW the test scores were bogus back in 2009 when they touted historic gains on the way to Mayor4Life's third (illegal) term. They KNEW it and lied about it to the public anyway for their own ends. They are despicable men, untrustworthy, opportunistic - in short frauds.
Well, I will share with my friends about this.ReplyDelete
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