A culture of corruption

In Education Week, James Guthrie, a Vanderbilt education and public policy professor, responds to Nel Noddings, a Stanford education professor, who wrote earlier that No Child Left Behind is “bad law.” Noddings offers no evidence to back her assertions, writes Guthrie, and no ideas to do more than spend more money doing what’s already failed.

What is the damage being done to students’ psyches by testing? If there is such damage to children, however unlikely, is it any worse than the damage ultimately triggered from being promoted to the next grade regardless of academic performance? Why are negative sanctions for schools with sustained records of failure bad? Would it be better to ignore their failings and simply continue to pay adults who routinely contribute to students’ failure? What is the link between a restricted range of curriculum offerings and the No Child Left Behind Act? Simply because the law emphasizes reading and mathematics does not mean that it prohibits other subjects.

. . . Ms. Noddings concludes with an unusual twist of logic. She asserts that the No Child Left Behind Act promotes a culture of corruption because educators are called upon to test students and report progress. What of the converse? Is it not possible that the absence of appraisal conceals corruption, obscures a school’s failure to perform?

Via Eduwonk.

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Comments

  1. Bluemount says:

    The culture of corruption isn’t in the test, but what you do with the test violates reason. Testing is essential feedback for correction and building discipline skills. Computers are great testing machines because they provide instant, non-critical feedback. Some schools for dyslexics use computers heavily for this reason. The corruption is very real though.

    When the testing is used as a personal evaluation it becomes corrupt. When it becomes a measure of the worth of a child, a parent, the teacher and the community it is the essence of tyranny. A test is point in time measure that looses it usefulness as a goal. When the number is a goal administrators must fear anything that creates the wrong set of numbers (too high or too low). Teachers must teach to test and parents become subjects of the authoritive arm of education instead of the emotional glue of intimate day to day life.

    Statistics are an impressive tool when large numbers and objective data is gather. When the data is a goal the numbers are not a good sample because corruption can easily fudge numbers. When the data reflects the individual the statistic is inclined to be a reflection of a broad number of variables. Creating numbers does not create discipline or learning. Testing does provide feedback that facilitates discipline.

  2. In my neighborhood there are a lot of low income apartments. The local grammar school has the lowest STAR scores in the district and the largest number of “English learners”. Across the street, there is another school in a neighborhood with no apartments – houses there sell for 700K and up. That school has some of the highest STAR scores and no “English learners”.

    I suspect that the difference between the two schools lies in the academic “toolbox” each kid brings with them into the classroom, not in the teachers or administrators that run the school. This leads me to wonder how testing is helpful in this case. I like the idea of accountability and an intelligent administrator would use low test scores to try to get more resources for her school by documenting the challenges that contribute to low scores. But NCLB has always seemed like an unfunded mandate to me – long on punishment and short on support.

    I wish we had a system that combined accountability and testing with the distribution of enough resources that children from poorer communities could achieve their educational goals. The kids in my neighborhood are always starting two steps behind in the race and it’s not clear to me that closing the school or bussing the kids out to another district will change that.

  3. I can’t figure out if Bluemount is claiming that the goals of NCLB are impossible. I would agree that holding schools responsible for meeting impossible goals would lead to corruption, but holding an organization responsible for meeting a quantitative goal doesn’t — businesses do this constantly, and in my experience corrupt behavior is rare.

    As to the second point, it is surely easier to
    teach kids of educated parents who themselves understand and value a good education, but it has been repeatedly demostrated that it’s possible to do a very good job with less fortunate kids. I’d say that at least some of the corruption in our school systems takes the form of failing schools that really don’t want to learn from schools that succeed.

  4. Mike in Texas says:

    Once again I’m left wondering if the person this is about, Professor Guthrie, actually took the time to read the article they are criticizing. In her article Noddings clearly says,

    Our poor and minority students are hurt again by the high-stakes testing under No Child Left Behind. Disproportionately, they are the kids who are retained in grade, forced into summer school (for more test prep), beaten down by repeated failure, and deprived of a high school diploma.

  5. Bluemount says:

    hardlyb, In my experience in business, people fudge, totally ignore or falsify numbers if they don’t feel they have a good value. They aren’t corrupt, it’s an arrangement that has integrity. In the case of NCLB no one can make that arrangement, so the number do lead to corruption more often. It demoralizes everyone in the system because they have little control.

    IMO education should not make or break a person, there are too many variables to be within reason. It takes generations to move masses into uniform change, by that time everything has changed again.

    What is more reasonable is to have academic rewards and the reward for sane working people. Assume that most people are not corrupt and encourage them to work toward cooperative goals in education.

  6. Andy Freeman says:

    > deprived of a high school diploma.

    And that’s why a high school diploma is worthless.

    When you tell me that you can’t teach to the test, why should I think that you can teach at all?

    We’re paying teachers to make a positive difference in student achievement. Why should we pay them teachers who can’t demonstrate that they do make a positive difference?

    And no, we don’t trust you. We see too many diploma holders who demonstrate that such trust is misplaced.

  7. Matthew Tabor says:

    Mike in Texas,

    The quote you pulled demonstrates Noddings’ assertions bereft of any real evidence or… commentary with any value. I think it’s clear why Guthrie thought her content was lacking.

  8. Bluemount says:

    She asserts that the No Child Left Behind Act promotes a culture of corruption because educators are called upon to test students and report progress. What of the converse? Is it not possible that the absence of appraisal conceals corruption, obscures a school’s failure to perform?

    A teacher should be able to teach to test and use the test to determine useful academic resource for a child. Practice, practice, practice and lots of discipline is the working model of achievement. What we need to evaluate is whether the test is used to manipulate funding or to responsibly provide feedback and build discipline.

  9. Andy Freeman says:

    > What we need to evaluate is whether the test is used to manipulate funding or to responsibly provide feedback and build discipline.

    Manipulating funding is one of the most effective ways of providing feedback and building discipline.

    Remember, we’re paying for positive effects on student achievement. Public schools are not the only possible means to that end.

  10. mike from oregon says:

    “… and no ideas to do more than spend more money doing what’s already failed.”

    Anyone remember the definition of stupidity?
    Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. My friends, I submit that Nel Noddings is just plain stupid.

  11. Bluemount says:

    Andy, manipulating funding is not building discipline. The last thing I heard from the fortune 500 was, “We don’t want good tracking, we want to know what works.” I would say the same is true for education.

    You can teach a tone deaf child piano all day long and they can practice dilligently, they still won’t learn because they don’t have feedback. Likewise a child who learns a familar une well-played will learn more easily. Funding can only provide the piano.

  12. Andy Freeman says:

    > Andy, manipulating funding is not building discipline.

    Let’s review what I actually wrote:
    >> Manipulating funding is one of the most effective ways of providing feedback and building discipline.

    While it’s possible that teachers don’t respond to funding changes, that would make them very different from the vast majority of the rest of the population.

    The resistance to vouchers suggests that teachers actually do respond to funding changes. The whole “pay them more” movement assumes that funding matters. (Interestingly enough, the advocates of said policy never suggest freezing the pay of current teachers and reserving the “more” for the superior teachers that the increased funding is supposed to attract.)

    > The last thing I heard from the fortune 500 was, “We don’t want good tracking, we want to know what works.”

    And the way you know what works is ….

    Public school advocates seem to have problems with fairly simple concepts. Testing is not the end. It is overhead. However, it is necessary overhead. It tells you where you are and where you’re going.

    > You can teach a tone deaf child piano all day long and they can practice dilligently, they still won’t learn because they don’t have feedback.

    Interestingly enough, tone deaf children can learn to play. Sound through the ears is not the only possible feedback.

    > Funding can only provide the piano.

    If public schools can’t succeed, why should we fund them?

    Note that the correct answer doesn’t depend on why they can’t succeed.