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July 9, 2011
Did Obama Administration Pressure Teachers Into Cheating?
A week ago Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sat down with MSNBC'S Andrea Mitchell to discuss the need for educational reform. In the interview Duncan touted
Since then investigations into two school districts, Baltimore and Atlanta, have confirmed widespread cheating on standardized tests occurring under Duncan's watch. "Creative" and "innovative" might not be synonymous with "cheating" but a July, 2009 Washington Post article featuring a video interview with President Obama raises some very serious questions about the administration's role in the latest school scandals.
The former CEO of Chicago Public schools blitzed across the country back in 2009 flush with billions of dollars in stimulus monies. The $4.3 billion allocated to Duncan's 'Race to the Top' program was used as leverage to lure school districts to "embrace reform or risk being shut out." President Obama made it clear to the Washington Post reporters in 2009 he wished to go beyond just closing the achievement gap through yearly testing proposed in George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind act.
Secretary Duncan carried the President's message from state to state in a "pressure campaign" to broaden the federal government's role in local legislatures. Michael Shear and Nick Anderson of the Post described the administration's tactics in persuading school districts to get with the program or else.
When Shear/Anderson reminded the President that no other administration had provided so much money to an educational program without congressionally mandated restrictions, Obama responded that "the proof of the pudding is...in the quality of the competition that's been set up."
The Obama/Duncan dangling-carrot strategy may have induced numerous superintendents, teachers and principals to manufacture the desired "results" in their districts. Evaluating the "quality of the competition" two years later even supporters of Race to the Top must take into account testing anomalies erupting all over the United States.
At the end of the Oval office video Obama laughs at the reporters' unintended honesty.
Who loses in this kind of a deal? The poor kids in the classroom whose coerced teachers and administrators find they've been threatened into making bad choices. Three Atlanta school teachers accused of cheating, but denying the charges against them told a local Fox affiliate that "they were told to produce high test scores no matter what it took or they could wind up working at Wal-Mart." Presumably state investigators have told them they have "lost their immunity."
The three teachers described an intense culture of fear and abuse to produce passing scores. They say their principal was so intimidating she told them if they didn't produce, "Wal-Mart was hiring."
The saddest report comes from Amirah, a 12th grader heading to college from Atlanta after attending schools there from kindergarten through high school. After the scandal broke the teen said she "felt very sad inside, and I feel very hurt...considering I made it..I couldn't even think if I made it by myself or not."
When the president hands taxpayer money to his DOE chief and tells him to go strong-arm school districts into doing as he says or else, he clearly has overstepped the bounds of his elected office. If Obama's and Duncan's pay were tied to their performance in raising school districts' test scores we would have to fire them and suggest they go to work in retail.
Read more M. Catharine Evans and Ann Kane at Potter Williams Report
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