Los Angeles' recent experience with cheating teachers isn't the first time school officials have been caught cooking the books. In fact, when a dozen teachers at Banning High School in Wilmington showed copies of the Stanford 9 exam to their students, they were treading ground that has become all too familiar to parents and education reformers.
Just last year, teachers and principals in New York City and officials at the Austin Independent School District in Texas did the same thing.
The sad fact is that as educators face the pressure of accountability and improved performance, chances are, we'll see such problems of teacher cheating grow.
To date, New York is still the biggest offender. Investigators charge that teachers and principals at 32 schools gave students answers to the Empire State's standardized tests. And back in April, Austin officials were caught fixing test results on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. The district threw out the scores of students in low-income areas to bolster results district-wide.
As Austin's Interim School Superintendent A.C. Gonzales explained it, "There seemed to be an overemphasis on final results and an underemphasis on just how to get there."
What should the public learn from these educators who act like partners in crime?
The truth is, the education establishment resents accountability — or any change to the status quo, for that matter. Special interests, from teachers' unions and civil liberty lawyers, to education schools and state bureaucrats, form an imposing bloc against reform. As pressure mounts expect more unethical behavior.
Whether children learn matters little. What do matter are turf and money. Americans failing schools and ignorant children are victims of special interest politics at its worst.
The problem is that accountability hurts. As charter schools become common, and school choice programs surmount their legal challenges to become reality, the pressure will be on school officials to show good results — by any means necessary.
More than a few will succumb to the temptation of test tampering because the system is incapable of true reform.
The education elite are deeply resentful of oversight, public input and any measures of student achievement. They believe that the public doesn't know what it's talking about in education, and doesn't need to know.
A 1998 poll by New York-based Public Agenda showed that education professors hold positions totally opposed to what parents and voters want. The teachers of tomorrow's teachers oppose a rigorous core curriculum, tough homework and any systematic instruction in reading, writing and mathematics.
Only 12 percent believe that it is important for students to end up with the right answer, valuing the process of learning over content. Less than 20 percent hold that teachers should stress correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Only 37 percent said that maintaining order and discipline in the classroom is important. Fully 92 percent conclude that teachers should be "facilitators" of learning, not conveyors of knowledge. Almost 80 percent think that the traditional approach to education is outmoded and instead favor those techniques which boost self esteem over systematic instruction.
"In a nutshell, at the college level, rank-and-file professors and people in leadership are in denial," says J.E. Stone, an educational psychologist at East Tennessee State University. "They think we just need to pacify the public's desire for higher standards. It's a very patronizing view of Americans."
Thirty years of sad experience shows that the education establishment is great at feigning reform. Remember what has passed for reform over the years: Look-say, Whole language, Reading Recovery, New Math, "New, new" math. The effect is less for more.
Kids get less homework, less challenging books and easier tests while pile the self-esteem higher and deeper. At the same time, the education establishment demands more and more taxpayer money.
Look at California, one of the great battlegrounds of education reform. In 1994, educrats in the Golden State created the California Learning Assessment System. The expensive test was specially designed for today's touchy-feely classrooms. It was a debacle, and became a major issue in the race for governor that year.
Questions on the CLAS test weren't fact-based. Instead, kids were asked to draw pictures, write about impressions and work in groups. There was no way to grade the test objectively. And even then, students performed dismally.
The education establishment clearly does not want reform, and it will go to great lengths to avoid it. As politicians scramble and educators grapple with increased scrutiny, expect more cases like those in New York, Texas and California.