Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yong Zhao and the Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal


One of my favorite ed reformers is ex-MSU professor Yong Zhao whose 2009 ASCD book, "Catching Up or Leading the Way" contains one of the best and most revealing look at how the United States public education reformers are trying to emulate China and other nations, while they are trying to be more like us. It's one of those convicting tomes conveniently ignored by the politicos and boy billionaires attempting to take down public education and pump billions into the testing arena.

Professor Zhao has chimed in on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal with a three-part (the fourth is on the way) essay that points out the wrong-headedness of the investigations: let's just blame the teachers (and administrators).

While laying blame on these educators, we must understand the root cause of cheating is not the bad nature of these “cheaters.” But rather it is the unreasonable policy, its unrealistic expectations, and blind faith in test scores as an indicator of education quality. This scandal should serve as a wake-up call to proponents of test-driven reform policies: it’s time to abandon high stakes testing in our schools. Decades of high-stakes testing has not brought improvement but has corrupted our schools. The cost is too high.  ~ Introduction to Ditch Testing: Lessons from the Cheating Scandal in Atlanta (Part 1) 

Professor Zhao's postings are a must-read for educators and policymakers looking to seriously improve teaching and learning and prepare our students for the 21st century world they live in. Here are the links to the first three parts of this insightful post:

Ditch Testing: Lessons from the Cheating Scandal in Atlanta (Part 1)  Zhao analyzes the reaction by Secretary Arne Duncan

Ditch Testing: Lessons from the Atlanta Cheating Scandal (Part 2): Not An Anomaly  In this post, Zhao takes a big swing at the systemic ills created by test-based accountability citing a number of reports about cheating that go well beyond Atlanta.  He also includes teaching to the test and test prep as a form of cheating in that it robs students "of a real valuable education and cause as much damage, if not more, to our children as the behaviors we label cheating."

Ditch Testing: Lessons from the Atlanta Scandal (Part 3): Human Nature?  Zhao begins by taking Chester E. Finn's assertion that cheating is just human nature to task, pointing out that the evidence leads to the conclusion of a concerted, systemic, on-going practice in the Atlanta Public Schools.  He goes into some of the key motivators for cheating in the test-based accountability system spawned by NCLB.

I understand that Zhao's fourth installment will look at the reasons technical fixes alone will not stop cheating. Systemic change is necessary.