So being an economist means that I look at the world a lot more pragmatically than those that massively overreact in a “honey, the world shall end tomorrow” fashion.
Take the Atlanta public schools cheating scandal.
If you haven’t heard, the Atlanta public schools were a tad bit negligent in being honest about how they were testing their little lads and lassies. Nearly 200 teachers have been implicated in doing things like giving answers, having high end students help low end students with the test, and having “erasure parties”, weekend get-togethers where tests were changed. Funny, I thought Erasure parties would have “A Little Respect.” (laff)
The cheating was pretty much all-inclusive (allegedly). Teachers, principals, high end administration, it looks like one serious headache that is now considered the biggest cheating scandal in American history. Now, I’m not about to justify cheating and I’m totally into making sure those that cheated are properly dealt with. But we need to step back and ask ourselves about the incentives, or disincentives, we are creating with high stakes testing. Teachers deal with cheating in their classrooms not only by swiftly punishing the cheaters, but also by creating an environment that doesn’t promote cheating, and by eliminating the incentives to cheat. The higher the stress, the greater possibility to engage in cheating. My Advanced Placement classes have my highest cheating rates and it isn’t even close. The stakes for test takers are high and the risk starts to come into play when students feel enormously pressured. How do I solve that? Consistency and reputation is one method. However the most successful method to contain cheating involves students feeling they actually have a chance at succeeding on the test. When students feel prepared, they don’t feel the need to cheat. Those that don’t feel like they have a chance, whether it’s their own fault or no fault of their own, are much more likely to engage in dishonest activities.
So while the cheating is wrong, the reasons behind it can’t be ignored and it needs to be looked at whether or not teachers feel like there is actually an incentive to cheat. Do teachers feel like the extra money or monetary penalties are so great that the cheating might be worth it? Or do teachers feel like so many variables are out of their control that the cheating is simply for survival’s sake? As much as society might want to say “stupid, greedy public schools”, they would be smarter to actually analyze what is going on and see if the current way of doing things is best practice. The cheating scandals are popping up everywhere; Atlanta, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Houston, and they are not relegated to the great metropolitan areas either. Locally, problems for El Molino High School in Forestville have placed pressure on its staff for more success, and may or may not have led to irregularities.
So are these tests really achieving the results that the Federal government initially hoped when No Child Left Behind was signed into law? Are we really seeing more accountability? Or are we watching a law (100% proficiency within the next three years) turn education into a lesson in cheating or passing, not learning?