A Fairy Tale – Cheaters Always Prosper In Washington D.C. School

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Michelle Rhee. Seemingly a remarkable teacher (and she well may be), her own students did so well that the young woman was raised to a position of power in the nation’s worst school district, Washington D.C. Made queen of the whole works, and given a national presence and profile, she was determined to raise test scores, the be-all and end-all of institutionalized education (since they have no way of dealing with individual students and can only deal, if poorly, with large numbers and averages). Queen Rhee created an incentive program. Teachers and administrators whose students got good test scores, got money.

What? Oh, good question! YES, those teachers and administrators were already being paid, and rather well at that compared to many other occupations. But I guess they simply weren’t paid well enough to want to actually do their jobs, not without an extra and juicy incentive.

What kind of money are we talking about? Well, since this is a fairy tale, the numbers can be a bit silly, can’t they? How about a $10,000 bonus for administrators whose schools showed raised scores, and $8,000 bonuses for teachers whose students showed the same. Yes, that’s a lot better than a cute, shiny trophy and a pat on the back. In fact, that’s a lot more than almost any of us might make as a “bonus” for simply doing the job that we were hired to do in the first place. Mighty generous of Ms. Rhee, mighty generous use of money that never belonged to her in the first place. Mighty big incentive to see to it that those scores rise, one way or the other. But this is simply the back story in our fairy tale.

Enter the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, a school in the Washington D.C. school district. They took Ms. Rhee’s offer seriously. Why, SUDDENLY, math test scores soared! The principal received $10,000 bonuses – twice over a three year period, and teachers got their nice, fat bonus as well. Why, it was a miracle, right! Must have been the principal’s fairy godmother stepping in with a wave of her wand, or perhaps elves laboring over tests late at night.

Yes, well it certainly appears that someone was laboring over the student’s math tests, after hours.

USA Today did a statistical analysis of the strangely stratospherically raised scores (84% up in 2008 alone!!!). Their computer analysis came up with interesting results. It showed that when students (or someone) erased the original answers and replaced them with a second-thought answer…why, those were almost always right! In fact, they were right to a near statistical impossibility! You see, there still is magic in the world!

Clap your hands if you believe in public schools! If enough people clap, maybe Tinkerbell will show up and explain this…um, miracle that resulted in hefty bonuses landing in the bank accounts of certain administrators and teachers.

It is interesting, though. One reason this became a story is that one dad paid attention. This D.C. Dad realized that his daughter was struggling with math…though her test scores kept rising. He didn’t think that made much sense. Neither do I, but then, this is a fairy tale!

Let’s not make any real accusations until all the facts are brought together, carefully manufactured to protect the guil…um, we’ll wait on pointing fingers at people. But we can certainly point a finger and issue a nice, loud raspberry to the policy of teaching to tests, and to the people who believe that this is what education is all about and that this ruinous policy should be encouraged with large piles of tax money.

In USA Today’s analysis, over 100 schools nationwide were flagged for raised test scores that seem statistically impossible. (Strange, in many cases, jobs or financial rewards were at stake. But scores went up, so happy ending for everyone! Yay for Fairy Tales!) They weren’t the only ones concerned. Even the D.C. School Board is holding hearings to find out more about this strange rise in scores. Of course, it’s not to the school board’s advantage in any way to discover any cheating or wrong-doing, is it? That’s a bit like asking the fox to look over the chicken coop. But that’s life in Fairy Land, and also another fairy tale.

Schools almost universally teach with the goal of creating good test scores. In many school districts now, high test scores are rewarded financially, so it is entirely to their advantage to structure all their methodology and efforts toward this “achievement”. These tests never really evaluate what a student can do, what the student knows, or how useful his education is to him now or will be in his future. They don’t test for those things because they can’t. The only test of a person’s education that really matters is life. How does the person use what they have learned, or new skills they’ve developed, to improve their life? And that test is out of any school’s reach. Too many students to evaluate, too little time.

A school, as well as the vast majority of teachers, never get to know the student in the first place. This means that they have no “baseline” from which to measure progress. They have standardized test scores, and that’s their tool of evaluation, period. But students aren’t standardized. It is indeed a fairy tale to believe that all students respond to testing in the same way. It is a fairy tale to believe that such testing tells us much of anything other than that some students memorize well and are able to parrot information when required to. This, of course, does not mean that the student understood anything that they studied. But they done memorized it good, Ma!

Homeschooling parents, on the other hand, have a very effective baseline from which to evaluate progress. They are dealing with their own children. One assumes that they know their children rather well, certainly better than that stranger we call “teacher” who poses herself as the ‘expert” on the student’s education after spending perhaps 55 minutes a day with that student…along with thirty other students…for a semester, or part of a semester. It’s important to realize that when teachers, administrators, and other people connected to a school pose themselves as the “expert” on your child and his progress, well…that’s a cute fairy tale, too. But it is such a tale as might give one nightmares without milk and cookies to go with it.

So how did those test scores go up so astonishingly, so quickly, and based on so many erasures and second answers on each test? Are students really given that much time for these math tests, that they can go back and redo large percentages of each test – and get it right the second time where they did not on the first try? Are the D.C. administrators and teachers really worthy of financial bonuses for these mysteriously-raised scores? Is Ms. Rhee on the right track, here? Was Dad wrong when he felt his girl was struggling with math, since he watches her struggle each day, even though the “experts” told him that no, his daughter is improving by leaps and bounds. Is teaching to tests a good idea? Is rewarding teachers financially for doing a job they’re already paid to do a good idea?

Do you believe in fairy tales?

As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Connect The Thoughts (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

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