Reactions to my recent Education Week commentary on the Atlanta cheating scandal have been interesting (see also this Washington Post blog post by Valerie Strauss that highlights my commentary). They mostly relate to the question I raised, whether the system is to blame or whether individuals, even when faced with strong pressure and incentives for opportunistic behavior, should act morally and legally. And, of course, several of the commentaries rehearse the somewhat well known criticisms of testing.
As best I can tell though, readers didn’t take up the issue I mentioned regarding the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, which apparently improved during Beverly Hall’s tenure in Atlanta. If student performance was really getting better, then there was arguably less reason to engage in the alleged tampering. We won’t know whether the people accused of the cheating considered any of this, or indeed if most of them knew about the NAEP results in the first place. Meanwhile, suspicions have been raised about whether there had also been mischief in the NAEP sampling and scoring. For an especially lucid analysis of the NAEP results and how they relate to the Atlanta situation, I refer you to this excellent article by our friend Marshall (Mike) Smith, former Under Secretary of Education and Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
April 15, 2013
I recently returned from an exhilarating faculty mission to Israel aimed at discovering and shaping potential exchange programs and collaborative research ventures with colleagues in various Israeli education and research organizations. We participated in an all-day joint workshop at the Western Galilee College, met with education leaders in various cities including Rahat (a Bedouin village near Beersheva) and Jerusalem, held intensive deliberations with senior staff of the Mandel Leadership Institute, and visited with the President emeritus and senior scholars of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. While in Jerusalem, I had the good fortune of being invited to speak at a major international education conference. The theme of this meeting, organized by the renowned Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, was “From Regulation to Trust: Education in the 21st Century,” and featured workshops, working groups, lectures, and sessions that probed the tensions – along with possible remedies — between trust, accountability, and regulation in education.
In my remarks I addressed some of the origins of accountability in democratic societies and some of the risks associated with relying too heavily on testing as the preferred metric by which the public acquires knowledge of the quality of schools, teachers, and learning. I encouraged a more moderate approach to developing a balance between blind trust of teachers and stifling controls that prevent professional excellence in the classroom.
An abridged version of the speech is below. Valerie Strauss, author of the Washington Post blog The Answer Sheet, was kind enough to post this version on her blog, which you can view here.
June 21, 2012
Abridged version of the Van Leer Institute Speech – Jerusalem, June 2012:
The topic of this conference brings back fond memories of my undergraduate years at Queens College (CUNY), where lessons of accountability and trust were a central part of the informal curriculum. The president when I was there, 1969-1973, was a remarkable young man named Joseph Murphy. Joe had come to Queens after writing his PhD under Herbert Marcuse at Brandeis University, drafting speeches for the Kennedys, and directing the Peace Corps in Ethiopia – all by the time he was 38. The name Murphy sounds Irish, but there was more to it.