Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Grand Tradition

Preuss at UC San Diego is a nationally acclaimed charter school. Its grades are outstanding, its training of kids impeccable, and its leaders are miracle workers.

Its methods follow in the footsteps of great reformers, like Rod "The NEA is a terrorist organization" Paige, who oversaw the "Texas Miracle" (which helped GW Bush acquire the White House). Mr. Paige managed to sharply reduce the dropout rate by erasing dropouts from the record books. Mr. Paige, of course, with no background as an educator, is still recognized as an authority on education.

The Preuss School emulates the methods of the most prominent reformer in the country, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg has managed to close schools and shuffle kids all over the city. When he closes a school, he fills it with new kids, and voila! The new kids all speak English, and waddya know, they get higher scores than those kids who came from El Salvador six weeks ago! It's a miracle! But strangely, on tests he can't blatantly manipulate, Mr. Bloomberg makes no progress whatsoever. Mr. Bloomberg managed to sharply increase the graduation rate by excluding dropouts from the record books. Mr. Bloomberg, of course, with no background as an educator, is still recognized as an authority on education.

So, when the renowned Preuss Charter School was audited, one reason for its amazing progress became clear. In the grand tradition of Mr. Page and Mr. Bloomberg, its leaders had cooked the books:

About 420 grades at the Preuss School have been inaccurately recorded in the past six years, reflecting a system with insufficient internal controls and pressure on teachers to pass students, according to the audit, to be released today

The "pressure on teachers to pass students" is the same method uber-reformer Mr. Bloomberg's been using, and one of his principals was foolish enough to commit it to paper a few days back. One of Mr. Bloomberg's reforms is to give kids credit for "seat time." Apparently, if kids sat in the classroom, whether or not they paid attention or did work, they ought to do a project for a few days rather than actually take the class again (And given the unconscionable overcrowding that has typified Mr. Bloomberg's tenure, whether or not the kid actually had a seat was irrelevant).

The new paradigm for schools is that they must improve every year. Even if they do consistently well, they need to do consistently better. As Diane Ravitch noted yesterday, that's plainly absurd. We'd be better off asking our schools to do well consistently, and allowing passing rates to go up and down from time to time.

And until a more reasonable standard is established, schools will continue to get results the old fashioned way. They'll cheat.
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