Tuesday, January 9, 2018

More Education BS

“The Dumbing Down of Scholastic Achievement”

by Sheriff David Clark

"When all 164 of Washington D.C. Frank W. Ballou Senior High School’s graduating seniors last year applied for and were accepted to college, the whole community - students, teachers, administrators, parents, and education reformers - had reason to celebrate the achievements of these obviously hard-working graduates. With a graduating class the school system considered “academically disadvantaged,” someone in the school district should have smelled a rat.

After all, 98 percent of Ballou’s 930 students were African-Americans, and two percent were Hispanic/Latino, according to data from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system. One hundred percent of them were considered “academically disadvantaged” by the system. Kids like this deserve the great opportunity that a high-quality, character-building education can help provide. There was a time when good educators, in fact, would tirelessly fight to give it to them. Those days are apparently over.

Sadly, this happy story collapsed in November, when an investigation by WAMU and NPR found that the much-ballyhooed Ballou graduated dozens of these students despite high rates of unexcused absences throughout their senior year. Half of them missed more than three months of school. One in five was absent more than present. When kids don’t show up for class, no learning can take place. And many continue to be perplexed about the growing achievement gap between black and Hispanic kids and their white counterparts. These truancy rates are a big part of the problem.

Some teachers, saying they felt pressure to pass failing students and get them to graduation, cooperated with the investigation. An internal e-mail shows that in April, just two months before the end of the school year, only 57 students were on track to graduate. Many of the others could scarcely read or write. All of which means the graduation jubilation in June was not, in any way, justified. Put bluntly, Ballou’s administrators and some teachers cooked the books, used taxpayer money to commit fraud, and above all harmed poor black youths and their futures the most. Quite an indictment.

Perhaps even more alarmingly, NPR’s report led teachers from around the country to share similar situations in many other districts. This is a nationwide academic scandal in K-12 urban school districts, not to mention the serious disciplinary issues they have.

As I recall, when the multinational energy corporation Enron cooked the books and committed private-sector fraud that hurt mostly white-collar investors, people were actually indicted and in some cases sentenced to prison for crimes. Shareholders sued. That scandal ended with Enron closing its doors for good. And even that wasn’t considered sufficient accountability in the private sector: the fraud also essentially ended the life of Arthur Andersen, the distinguished accounting firm Enron had used.

I hope the same kind of attention will be paid to the Ballou scandal. So far, it’s being taken with apparent seriousness. In late November, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson announced two investigations arising out of the Ballou deceit. One will be conducted by D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and is slated for completion later this month. Another will be led by two deputy DCPS chancellors who are examining the problem system-wide. I hold out little hope that anything more will come out of this than for the school district to attribute the problem to a lack of teacher training or a misunderstanding with no intent to deceive.

The D.C. Council’s education committee held a lengthy hearing on the matter in mid-December, and Ballou principal Yetunde Reeves has been reassigned, pending the outcome. That is likely the worst of what will happen to her, because the teaching establishment tends to punish only by reassignment.

Two things were left out of the story. First, where were the parents? They had to have some inkling that their son or daughter was not attending school regularly and certainly were not learning. They have a duty to see that their child shows up to school everyday in a state of readiness to learn. Second, what colleges accepted the kids who can’t read or write? They should be outed.

Whoever is responsible for perpetrating, encouraging, or tolerating this Ballou fraud should be held as accountable as those who were behind the Enron scandal. Having helped to deny real opportunity to mostly poor black kids who deserved it, the fraudsters should receive what every such crook deserves. Jail.

But that will require major change in America’s schools. Today, Enron’s cheating is a felony. Teachers’ cheating is job security.”

From Here

First of all, it would be hard for me to believe that all of any graduating class was going to college. Surely someone would have joined the military, taken a year off to travel, gone to work to get a grubstake to pay for college, or just decided they needed a little time off from school before they committed to four more years. Secondly, regardless of how good the high school is, if they came up through the Washington D.C. school system, from what I've heard over the years, it would be real surprising if the majority of them were even close to being prepared to do high school level work without a substantial amount of remediation. 

The attendance records tell most of the story. You can't learn anything if you're not there. If half of the students  missed more than tree months of the school year, do you really think they're going to be well prepared for college? I would bet there's a rule on the books in D.C. that after so many days you are going to be expelled for truancy. Obviously that didn't happen.

We had similar problems at the high school I retired from. The first day of school the principal goes through all the changes in the handbook and explains the new attendance policy. The second day of school I explain the new policy to the students. On the third day the absences begin. After one student had 22 days of absence, I discuss the situation starting with the superintendent, then the principal and then the student's counselor. Lot of tap dancing but no good answers. The answer no one wanted to give was if we expel a student that has a negative affect on the graduation rate, which affects how the school is graded by the state. Also, if we expel the student we don't get any money from the state. The longer the student is on the books, the more money the corporation receives without having to provide any services. Why wouldn't the school keep them on the books? Because you're not doing the students any favors, that's why!

They graduate from high school and then fail at college because they aren't prepared. They go out into the work community and can't do simple math or put two sentences together. The employer asks where they went to school and he then thinks twice about hiring anyone else from that school. Or when the kid fails to show up on time or at all, the boss knows the kid had to learn that behavior somewhere, so even though the school allowed you to show up only a third of the time, our company prefers 100% attendance. Here's your check - you can sleep as late as you want tomorrow.

There's a lot of things that could be done to improve public education. Cooking the books obviously isn't one of them. I doubt much will ever change until the decision making process is driven by outcomes rather than outside influences. In the meantime, the value of a high school diploma continues to drop.



Rich in Ky said...

Hear, Hear!


Shop Teacher Bob said...

Stories like this one in DC just drive me crazy. Those in power create high-stakes tests which mean the schools are forced to teach to the test and if that doesn't work, let's try cheating. Students are allowed to miss half the school year and still are allowed to move to the next grade level or graduate. The teacher's unions are influencing political decisions and layers, upon layers of political decisions are made by politicians who's main concern is to get re-elected, not to do what's right by the students. I can't see it changing anytime soon, unfortunately. As soon as Trump appointed DeVos the belly-aching started. I'm not a big fan of charter schools - I'm more a fan of fixing what's wrong with what we've got - but if the status quo is failure, something definitely needs to change.