CHEAT THE PARENTS WELL! Houston is trying to help prevent cheating. Newspapers ought to discuss it: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, JANUARY 14, 2006
COUNTRY BOYS: Well postpone our reactions to this weirdly fascinating PBS show, which can be viewed in full (six hours) at its web site. (Click here for a superb overview from the Baltimore Suns David Zurawik.) If you watch this show, youll see adults working heroically to help poverty kids—and you may even see part of the reason for those lower literacy scores among the nations college graduates. More to come on both topics next week.
CHEAT THE PARENTS WELL: On Friday, we noted that the Houston schools have adopted a merit pay program for teachers and principals. Given recent cheating problems in Houston, we wondered if the system had built security measures into its plan (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/06). As it turns out, the system did consider the problem of teacher cheating when it created its new program. Indeed, the Houston Chronicles Jennifer Radcliffe discussed the matter on Tuesday. Heres the start of her report:
RADCLIFFE (1/10/06): Houston's plan to reward top teachers with bonuses upwards of $3,000 is expected to win school board approval on Thursday, but district officials warned it comes with a new testing policy that makes it harder for teachers to cheat to get the money.What exactly will Houston do to make it harder for teachers to cheat? Teachers will no longer administer high-stakes exams to their own students. Well present Radcliffes full account:
RADCLIFFE: To reduce teachers' temptation to cheat to earn the incentives, [Superintendent Abelardo] Saavedra also said Monday that teachers will no longer administer the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills to their own students. Instead, teachers will be rotated to other classrooms on testing day.Teachers will no longer administer these high-stakes tests to their own students. How does that help prevent teacher cheating? Over the decades, many teachers have actively cheated while high-stakes tests are being conducted, making sure that students mark the right answers. But this is hardly the only way that teachers have cheated on such tests in the past. We agree with Cizek, the UNC prof; Houstons new practice should help prevent teacher cheating. But Radcliffe doesnt discuss the many other ways teachers and principals have cheated in the past. Has Houston addressed these other bad habits? Theres no way to tell from this report.
Radcliffes report is excellent—as far as it goes. But well note what weve noted in the past; for reasons only they can explain, the nations major news orgs seem to hate discussing this critical topic. Teacher cheats on test! Youd think the story would be a natural, given its comical man-bites-dog aspects. But news orgs avoid this topic like the plague. Around the country, a good number of papers did report on Houstons new merit pay program this week. But we cant find any who mentioned the delicious fact which Radcliffe reported. Did Houston have to search for a way to help prevent its teachers from cheating? Youd think that would count as news, or as human interest. But no one but Radcliffe reported it.
When we start our new site in the next few weeks, it wont be exclusively a press critique site. But we think the public discourse about public ed has often been very weak down through the years. The reluctance to talk about teacher cheating would be an excellent case in point. Over the years, teachers have cheated the public well. And as theyve done so, the mainstream press corps—like an unwilling student—has tended to gaze into air.
MORE ON READABLE TEXTBOOKS: When kids are years behind in reading, do they get textbooks (and other materials) they can actually read and understand? On Tuesday, we posted some e-mails about that from Jerry Pace, former Georgia state textbook coordinator. Later, Pace sent us the following reaction from a friend of his—someone he described as a third grade teacher of low-level students in a metro Atlanta school system with a large number of minority students. Well post her statement in full, along with a brief reaction:
THIRD GRADE TEACHER: As for my thoughts on textbooks, yes, they are better than they used to be in the past, and they are being used. In my opinion, they are being used too frequently, especially with lower level students. Reading First is the initiative funded fully by the federal government to implement research based instructional programs and practices in failing schools to meet NCLB requirements. Through Reading First, many many many schools and districts are having to adopt certain programs or text series to meet their students' needs. What is being said, not in words but through actions, is that teachers are not succeeding in teaching their students. This is being shown through poor test scores. So, they need to put programs into place that either teach teachers how to teach or are teacher-proof. Teachers are not being recognized for their craft or their professional knowledge. Instead, they are handed the textbook series or a scripted program and told Do this...in this order. Schools are going back to skill and drill exercises. The textbooks are full of them. The stories in the books are great, but the activities chosen to go with the stories are not meaningful learning activities.Thats a fairly complex answer to the question we raised last week. We agree that textbooks are not the whole answer. But education cant proceed without good textbooks and supplementary materials—materials children can actually read, understand, enjoy and learn from. Literacy is a culture; you cant involve kids from low-literacy backgrounds in that culture unless you have a wealth of materials they can actually read and enjoy. Their classrooms should be full of top-quality materials—and those materials must be both challenging and readable. For obvious reasons, we dont ask average sixth-graders to read MIT textbooks. We cant ask struggling, below-level readers to engage in equivalent practices. Are classrooms full of readable books—books with which those kids can be challenged? Well be exploring that question all year. If youre a teacher or a principal, wed love to hear what you can tell us.
By the way—the modest Pace chided us gently for describing him as a former textbook czar. We were just having some fun with the language! As a matter of fact, we had reined ourselves in. Wed wanted to go with textbook tsar, but we decided to mind our ps and qs and adopt the more common weird spelling.
SKILL AND DRILL: One final note on the teachers post. She refers to teacher-proof skill-and-drill programs—programs she doesnt much care for. The PBS program Making Schools Work examined the use of such programs with struggling students in several of the systems it visited. For ourselves, we dont have any particular view of such programs; if they work, well be all for them. But in our view, the test scores from the schools in question didnt seem to suggest that the programs were working in any major way, as we noted in our endless reviews of this PBS show. For one example, she THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/03/05.