Bill Ayers: Road to Atlanta cheating scandal ‘runs right through White House’

Bill Ayers, a retired professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in no uncertain terms takes aim in this post at federal school policies that led to the Atlanta cheating scandal. Ayers, a radical activist during the 1960s and ’70s, had the national spotlight thrown on him during the 2008 presidential campaign when right-wing commentators tried, incorrectly, to say he had a close relationship with then candidate Barack Obama. In any case, Ayers is a well-known Chicago educator who worked with mayor Richard Daley on school reform and who taught and did research for years at the university. He has written numerous articles and books on elementary education.

By Bill Ayers

The road to the massive cheating scandal in Atlanta runs right through the White House.

The former superintendent, Dr. Beverly L. Hall, and her 34 obedient subordinates now face criminal charges, but the central role played by a group of unindicted and largely unacknowledged co-conspirators, her powerful enablers, is barely noted.

Beyond her “strong relations with the business elite” who reportedly made her “untouchable” in Atlanta (according to this New York Times story), she was a national superstar for more than a decade because her work embodied the shared educational policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. In the testing frenzy that characterized both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, Dr. Hall was a winner, consistently praised over many years by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for raising test scores, hosted at the White House in 2009 as Superintendent of the Year, and appointed in 2010 by President Obama to the National Board for Education Sciences. When the Atlanta scandal broke in 2011 Secretary Duncan rushed to assure the public that it was “very isolated” and “an easy one to fix.”

That’s not true. According to a recently released study by the independent monitoring group FairTest, cheating is “widespread” and fully documented in 37 states and Washington D.C.

The deeper problem is reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. Teaching toward a simple standardized measure and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” both incentivizes cheating and is a worthless proxy for learning.

I recently interviewed leaders at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools—the school  Arne Duncan attended for 12 years and the school where the Obamas, the Duncans, and the Emanuels sent their children—and asked what role test scores played in teacher evaluations there. The answer was none. I pressed the point and was told that in their view test scores have no value in helping to understand or identify good teaching. None.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · April 2, 2013