What will we tell the children in (at least) 18 DC classrooms?


by David Safier

A report on the 2012 testing in DC schools revealed cheating in 18 classrooms in 11 schools. The superintendent office's response is to say this shows there isn't rampant cheating because it only happened in 18 classrooms. Spin of that jaw-dropping magnitude makes it sound like someone is ready for higher office.

The only reason the biggest cheating scandal in the country — the one in Atlanta — was uncovered is because an investigative team went into schools repeatedly and asked the same questions over and over until one teacher who had denied the allegations a number of times (she even barred the investigators from entering her classroom) finally had an attack of conscience and confessed to rampant, systematic cheating at her school. Those 18 DC classrooms are the smoke that should lead investigators to probe for the larger fire that may be raging in schools across DC. If a thorough investigations reveals nothing, all the better. But without an investigation, no one will ever know if the cheating is widespread.

A recently discovered secret memo for 2009 revealed an investigator's concern that rampant cheating took place in DC schools when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. Rhee has always danced around the allegations and claims she doesn't remember seeing the memo, though others say Rhee saw it and discussed it with others. But in 2011 the test scores fell significantly after security was stepped up at one of the DC schools suspected of cheating during Rhee's tenure. It's unlikely the teachers worked hard to teach their kids while Rhee was chancellor, then slacked off when she left. More likely, the earlier scores were artificially inflated.

Rhee's reputation is built on a very shaky foundation. Likewise the validity of standardized testing which can be gamed in so many ways to make students' achievement look higher than it is. We need an educational version of The Untouchables to look into schools with improbably high wrong-to-right erasures on tests and other indications of cheating — including here in Arizona. It's a serious problem that is very likely rewarding the cheaters and distorting our views on what works and doesn't work in education.