No pressure, no progress

Pressure to improve test scores is getting the blame for the cheating scandal in Atlanta (and Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C. and elsewhere). But if there’s no pressure, there will be no progress, argues Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

Pressure doesn’t have to come from a high-stakes test, he writes. Pressure can mean Mom’s raised eyebrow.  In some countries, it’s a report from the school inspector.  But it’s got to come from somewhere.

School administrators and teachers who changed answers did something worse than cheating. They lost faith in the ability of their students to learn.

. . .  teachers and students, like all of us, must learn how to deal with some forms of pressure. Reducing stress in the either/or dynamic of public schools can lead to eliminating it altogether, which is bad. If we don’t have a chance to fail, no one will know that we need help. We won’t be able to improve.

Then we will be back where we were before, patting some kids on the head, deciding they weren’t up to anything tough and passing them on to the next grade until they are fit for nothing better than the unemployment line.

Those pat-on-the-head diplomas are another form of cheating.

Update: Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, adds Justin Baeder.

About Joanne


  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Pressure upon whom? The students? the teachers? the administrators? the parents?

    Spend some time with an unschooling family who let their children’s own curiosity and interests guide their education. Children learn as they learned to walk, talk and tie their shoes. No one gave them pass or fail on those things and yet they learned them.

    My own family – neither school-at-home nor unschooler – capitalizes on the kids own will to mastery. We do 3/4’s what the kids are interested in and about 1/4 what the adults think they should know. We use the Core Knowledge “What You Child Should Know” series as our guide. Give the books to the kids and say, “What do you want to work on first?” We test solely to see what remains to be mastered, no grades. Answer books lie around but there is no cheating.

    Is there any way this sort of thing could be applied in a school?

  2. Pressure caused the schools to cheat? Too bad it couldn’t cause them to improve.

  3. No pressure on the teachers or on the students? There’s a big difference. There is absolutely no excuse for teachers and administrators to cheat…

  4. CarolineSF says:

    Interesting that Jay Mathews sent his kids to the same schools as President Obama, whose policy is the polar opposite of one that does high-pressure testing and rewards or punishes schools and teachers for the result.

  5. Heterogeneous grouping and tolerance of chaos have to take a lot of blame for this.  A teacher with a room full of kids who have roughly the same pre-existing knowledge and skills can handle the few exceptions if the rest of the class behaves.  A teacher with a room full of kids with abilities all over the map and no way to keep order (because there is no task that she can assign to the majority working with the outliers, since they’re all outliers) is screwed.

    Administrations have to stop fearing the R-word and place kids with other kids at their level, learning more or less the same things.  And this means that Eric Holder and his crew need to shut up and listen for a change.

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    What’s the R-word?

    Seriously… I’m brain cramping on this one.

    Was that a typo, and you meant to type “T-word”? Because I’d get that.

    But I’m coming up blanks for R.

  7. Michael, I believe the r-word is “racism”.

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Ahhh. Thank you.