Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:14 pm

The Atlanta schools and crimes against children

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 10:14 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Defendants reported to the Fulton County Jail today for booking on charges of racketeering, theft and making false statements. And because I’m deeply immersed in a management course this semester, I guess I have been led inevitably to wonder: Did the test-score scandal now unfolding in the Atlanta Public Schools (and, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution data analysis, likely going on in other large school systems as well) result from public schools trying to perform too much like a business — or not enough?

My sense is that under the No Child Left Behind Act (which was never funded at anywhere near the levels the Bush administration assured Sen. Edward Kennedy it would be; without that assurance, Kennedy and other Democrats would never have supported the act), test scores, which used to be used as only one tool in assessing students’ academic progress, became an actual proxy for learning. Legislators convinced themselves that they were buying learning by buying test scores, and so that’s what they paid for. And the Atlanta Public Schools, at least, decided to supply what its customer had said it wanted.

This was not a victimless crime. In one case, a child who changed schools was found to be unable to read. His counselor eagerly awaited his test scores, assuming they’d be low enough for the child to be given special help catching up. Instead, when the scores arrived, they showed not just scores too high for help, but scores classifying the child as gifted.

Did teachers and administrators break the law to do what they were trying to do? So they stand accused. Did they misuse money for personal gain in the process? So they stand accused. Did they lie to officials in the process? So they stand accused.

Is this different from what happened when nonbank mortgage lenders, security ratings agencies and investment banks blew up the economy in 2008? Only in that in the Atlanta Public Schools case, dozens of people stand accused.


  1. Hey. From 1947-1953 I wound my way through the public schools of Atlanta The grades we got were the ones we deserved ..good or bad. But then we didn’t have a US Dept of Esucation. Things have changed .. I fear.. not for the better

    Comment by Fred Grregory — Wednesday, April 3, 2013 1:41 am @ 1:41 am

  2. The Dept. of Ed was just the enforcement mechanism, Fred. The real problem has been this willingness by politicians of all stripes to treat test scores as a proxy for learning, because they don’t know, and don’t care enough to want to learn, how to assess real learning outcomes. That assessment is not quite rocket science, but it is, for the most part, master’s- and Ph.D.-level work.

    Comment by Lex — Wednesday, April 3, 2013 7:43 am @ 7:43 am

  3. An even bigger problem is that schools aren’t teaching subjects anymore. They’re *teaching how to pass the test in the subject*, which leaves out important things.

    On the other hand, though, the tests themselves aren’t the problem. My kids had no issue with them, as my wife and I have taught them how to gather information and solve problems. The problem is what our Congressmen have tied to the test scores.

    Comment by Andy (not Andy) — Thursday, April 4, 2013 12:20 pm @ 12:20 pm

  4. Cheating IS Cheating

    “It may well be that standardized tests are being overemphasized. But such concerns have no place in the discussion of cheating. Whether teachers think the tests are fair or not, they’re required to administer them honestly. Weingarten is pushing the boundaries of excuse-making when she conflates the two issues — just as a student couldn’t get away with calling his own cheating a sad but understandable consequence of his teachers’ expectations, no matter how unfair and irrelevant he might consider them.

    By all means, policy makers should reexamine how extreme reliance on standards tests, which measure a limited portion of what students have learned, might harm education. But cheating isn’t one of the issues they should consider. Holding pizza parties while tampering with student answer sheets, as some teachers in Atlanta did, isn’t a natural reaction to academic or career pressure. It’s dishonesty, plain and simple.”

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, April 5, 2013 1:10 am @ 1:10 am

  5. Certainly, Fred, anyone who broke the law should be prosecuted, whether it’s for the kind of fraud we see in Atlanta, the kind that got us into an illegal war in Iraq or the kind that blew up the economy and put tens of millions of Americans out of work. I’m not arguing that.

    I’m just saying that human nature being what it is, this fraud was a foreseeable, and foreseen, consequence of using test scores as a proxy for measuring learning. The blowing up of the economy was a foreseeable, and foreseen, consequence of repealing the Depression-era split between commercial banks and investment banks. Sen. Kent Conrad, voting against repeal in 2000, famously said, “In 10 years we’ll be sorry we did this.” He was wrong. It only took eight. The fact that it was foreseeable and foreseen doesn’t mean you don’t prosecute the miscreants, and I’ve never argued otherwise.

    (And in the Atlanta case, I want to know why the superintendent was spending $100,000 a year on armed escorts when she traveled on business. Or maybe that question answers itself.)

    Comment by Lex — Friday, April 5, 2013 10:26 am @ 10:26 am

  6. Lex, puh-leeze can’t you leave the Iraq war out of a discussion on a cheating fraud scandal in the Atlanta School system. Are you still haunted by BDS ?

    Since you brought up the foreseeable and the economy blowing up……

    Obama administration to banks: Why aren’t you making higher-risk loans?

    What could go wrong ?

    “On one level, it’s almost unbelievable that anyone would ask this less than five years after the housing-bubble crash and the near-wipeout of Western financial institutions. On another, it’s almost inevitable, given the efforts by the governing class and the media to ignore the central failure in that bubble, which was incentivizing increasingly risky loans with government cash and coercion, which created a false-equity trajectory that nearly ruined us. If that core cancer gets overlooked, it simply keeps coming back”:

    [ The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place. ]

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, April 5, 2013 1:58 pm @ 1:58 pm

    • Fred, it’s an analogy, not a moral equivalence. (The economy and Iraq are worse, but they’re all damn bad.)

      Comment by Lex — Friday, April 5, 2013 2:49 pm @ 2:49 pm

    • The central failure of the bubble was not “incentivizing increasingly risky loans with government cash and coercion,” but nonbanks operating without government oversight creating a bubble in the subprime market, FOLLOWED BY government-supervised banks rushing to get a piece of the action. HMDA loans were not a major cause, and we know this because the map of large numbers of HMDA loans and the map of large numbers of defaults overlap almost nowhere. Moody’s et al. were slapping AAA ratings on securities backed by crap mortgages and investment banks were selling them, and the demand for those securities was so great that banks went out and started making loans anywhere and everywhere they could. I’ve explained this to you before and pointed you to knowledgeable, reputable, impartial sources (e.g., Barry Ritholtz’s book “Bailout Nation”), and you keep wanting to blame all our economic problems on the poors. Well, guess what: The poors didn’t blow up the economy and the poors are not the major risk of blowing it up again. They’ve done all the damage they can do, which was never much in the first place.

      Comment by Lex — Friday, April 5, 2013 2:55 pm @ 2:55 pm

  7. Blaming the poors. Where did you get that.?

    I blame Obama and his cronies especially Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson who made a mess and walked away with millioms

    The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac meltdown

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, April 5, 2013 7:06 pm @ 7:06 pm

  8. And, as I have said before, Fannie and Freddie, bad as they were, were WAY late to the party and had to change their own rules to get there. By the time they began to get deeply involved, the Countrywides of the country, aided and abetted by investment banks and ratings agencies, had piled up the dynamite and lit the fuse. This would have been almost as bad as it was even if F&F had not gotten involved. Again, read “Bailout Nation” for a clear chronology.

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, April 6, 2013 7:52 am @ 7:52 am

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