Baltimore, We Have a Problem

A scandal rocking the Baltimore public schools exposes a serious problem in the educational bureaucracy -- and in the local media.

The Maryland version of the achievement tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act are the MSA (Maryland School Assessment) tests.  In May of 2010 an 18-month investigation into George Washington Elementary School culminated with the conclusion by Baltimore City investigators that school administrators had erased thousands of wrong answers on the MSA tests and had changed them to the right answers.

In the summer of 2010, a second Baltimore City School, Abbottston Elementary School, fell under suspicion.  As a result, Baltimore City Schools spent nearly $400,000 to insure that the 2011 tests were on the level, going to unprecedented lengths, including an ominous video message telling of dire consequences if more cheating was discovered.

They made it nearly impossible for the administrators to change the students' answers before the tests were graded.  With the new security measures in place, six Baltimore City Schools saw a staggering drop of 20% or more in reading and math results.  Dozens of schools saw drops in performance significant enough that they are now under investigation or at least "scrutiny."

Dr. Andres Alonso, the CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System, is the man responsible for enacting the strict new measures.  On the morning the latest results were made public, Dr. Alonso made an appearance on Baltimore's most popular morning radio show, The Larry Young Morning Show.  Dr. Alsonso was repeatedly put on the defensive, the common thread being that his crackdown solves little.

At one point, one of the hosts of the show declared that this was the result of the No Child Left Behind law which ties public funding to school performance.  The exchange was maddening.  The agony in the host's voice was palpable.  I felt a yearning to deflect the blame from where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders who defrauded the Maryland taxpayers, deceived the parents of countless children, and cheated the children.

Had this been an Enron executive, I'm certain the host wouldn't have blamed capitalism for forcing the executive into cheating his investors because of the meager returns the executive would have received had he followed the laws of the land.  But since these are mostly teachers who share the host's political philosophy, teachers who contribute to the right political party, they are painted as victims, at least in part if not mostly, of the law passed down by the evil George W. Bush and the Republican Party.

The sad part in all of this is that there has been some progress.  The test scores have improved since the passing of No Child Left Behind when one compares the scores prior to its passage to the untainted score results just made public.  No, they're not the 7% and 8% increases in performance the schools saw over the last few years when, by all appearances, the schools were cheating.  But there are improvements.

This ordeal is a colossal embarrassment to Baltimore, and the tendency to protect teachers is understandable on some level because there are so many good people in the profession out there.  We root for them to do well.  We need them to do well.  So many parents are removing themselves from the education process and leaving it almost completely up to the schools other than perhaps the occasional admonishment, "Have you done your homework?" or "You need to do better than this."  But the voices of Baltimore's media must put aside the political rhetoric and point the finger of blame where it belongs.

Had the parents whose children didn't test well known the children weren't doing well, they could have acted differently.  Perhaps they could have canceled a vacation and sat down with the children to work on their math skills.  Perhaps they would have read a book together instead of allowing the child to play a video game, secure in the knowledge that the child was excelling in school -- just look at those test scores!  Let's go out for ice cream!

Instead, those parents and children wake up today, confused, humiliated, depressed, and full of self-doubt.  Betrayed by the administrators to whom they had entrusted to their child's education.  Betrayed for a buck.  And what makes it worse is that, in a backhanded and incredibly insulting way, the statement of the cheaters is that these kids can't be taught.  Can't pass these tests without the help of the cheaters.

Don't make excuses for the cheaters; they got greedy.  And at its core, their deception is every bit as evil as the men of Enron's, maybe more so because it was perpetrated on children.  If this is the kind of people Baltimore has entrusted its education to, then we all need to fear for the children of Baltimore.  Who among us wouldn't rather see schools who give everything they have and fail to increase scores with an honest dignity than this?  It's bad enough, but to have Baltimore's most popular morning talk show blame the No Child Left Behind Act is like blaming insider trading laws for forcing the men of Enron to swindle.

A scandal rocking the Baltimore public schools exposes a serious problem in the educational bureaucracy -- and in the local media.

The Maryland version of the achievement tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act are the MSA (Maryland School Assessment) tests.  In May of 2010 an 18-month investigation into George Washington Elementary School culminated with the conclusion by Baltimore City investigators that school administrators had erased thousands of wrong answers on the MSA tests and had changed them to the right answers.

In the summer of 2010, a second Baltimore City School, Abbottston Elementary School, fell under suspicion.  As a result, Baltimore City Schools spent nearly $400,000 to insure that the 2011 tests were on the level, going to unprecedented lengths, including an ominous video message telling of dire consequences if more cheating was discovered.

They made it nearly impossible for the administrators to change the students' answers before the tests were graded.  With the new security measures in place, six Baltimore City Schools saw a staggering drop of 20% or more in reading and math results.  Dozens of schools saw drops in performance significant enough that they are now under investigation or at least "scrutiny."

Dr. Andres Alonso, the CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System, is the man responsible for enacting the strict new measures.  On the morning the latest results were made public, Dr. Alonso made an appearance on Baltimore's most popular morning radio show, The Larry Young Morning Show.  Dr. Alsonso was repeatedly put on the defensive, the common thread being that his crackdown solves little.

At one point, one of the hosts of the show declared that this was the result of the No Child Left Behind law which ties public funding to school performance.  The exchange was maddening.  The agony in the host's voice was palpable.  I felt a yearning to deflect the blame from where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders who defrauded the Maryland taxpayers, deceived the parents of countless children, and cheated the children.

Had this been an Enron executive, I'm certain the host wouldn't have blamed capitalism for forcing the executive into cheating his investors because of the meager returns the executive would have received had he followed the laws of the land.  But since these are mostly teachers who share the host's political philosophy, teachers who contribute to the right political party, they are painted as victims, at least in part if not mostly, of the law passed down by the evil George W. Bush and the Republican Party.

The sad part in all of this is that there has been some progress.  The test scores have improved since the passing of No Child Left Behind when one compares the scores prior to its passage to the untainted score results just made public.  No, they're not the 7% and 8% increases in performance the schools saw over the last few years when, by all appearances, the schools were cheating.  But there are improvements.

This ordeal is a colossal embarrassment to Baltimore, and the tendency to protect teachers is understandable on some level because there are so many good people in the profession out there.  We root for them to do well.  We need them to do well.  So many parents are removing themselves from the education process and leaving it almost completely up to the schools other than perhaps the occasional admonishment, "Have you done your homework?" or "You need to do better than this."  But the voices of Baltimore's media must put aside the political rhetoric and point the finger of blame where it belongs.

Had the parents whose children didn't test well known the children weren't doing well, they could have acted differently.  Perhaps they could have canceled a vacation and sat down with the children to work on their math skills.  Perhaps they would have read a book together instead of allowing the child to play a video game, secure in the knowledge that the child was excelling in school -- just look at those test scores!  Let's go out for ice cream!

Instead, those parents and children wake up today, confused, humiliated, depressed, and full of self-doubt.  Betrayed by the administrators to whom they had entrusted to their child's education.  Betrayed for a buck.  And what makes it worse is that, in a backhanded and incredibly insulting way, the statement of the cheaters is that these kids can't be taught.  Can't pass these tests without the help of the cheaters.

Don't make excuses for the cheaters; they got greedy.  And at its core, their deception is every bit as evil as the men of Enron's, maybe more so because it was perpetrated on children.  If this is the kind of people Baltimore has entrusted its education to, then we all need to fear for the children of Baltimore.  Who among us wouldn't rather see schools who give everything they have and fail to increase scores with an honest dignity than this?  It's bad enough, but to have Baltimore's most popular morning talk show blame the No Child Left Behind Act is like blaming insider trading laws for forcing the men of Enron to swindle.