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A Texas Mirage — page 3 of 3
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Each classroom was just a mini-assembly line of lock-step learning and rote responses. The trouble was that too often what was being assembled there appeared to fall apart when it left there.

 

 

 

 

 

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So how much funding is the district committing to root out academic fraud?

Zilch. Zero. Nada.

— Houston Columnist
Rick Casey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Texas was just so busy investigating the alleged fraud and promoting the 'miracles' that it had no time to notify parents about the 293,000 students who were attending failing schools and could transfer if they wished.

 



piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation.
piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation. piece of art stating: No child left behind is not inking under its own weight-it's going down because it's on a false foundation.


By Jim Trelease, © 2005, 2007

Texas "Mirage" — page 3 of 3

"T"he reporters phrased it this way: "A Dallas Morning News data analysis has uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the TAKS test in dozens of Texas schools – and suspicious scores in hundreds more."

 Among the paper's findings:

"Sanderson Elementary School in Houston scored 2068 in fourth-grade math, in the bottom 2 percent of the state. Given that number, Sanderson would be expected to score 2086 in fifth-grade math. Instead, it scored 2696, 610 points higher than expected and the highest score in the state. By comparison, 70 percent of schools scored within 64 points of their predicted score, and 96 percent scored within 128 points.

Sanderson's top score is also surprising given its economic makeup: Thirty-seven out of the 38 kids who took the fifth-grade math test are poor. Education researchers have long found a relationship between test scores and poverty: the higher the poverty rate, the lower the test score, due to the many challenges that poor families face.

. . . But Sanderson's fifth-graders had astonishing success on the math test. They had the highest scale scores of any school in Texas, beating every magnet school, every wealthy suburban school and every high-performing school in the state."

burning school notebook with words: cookin' the Enron wayburning school notebook with words: cookin' the Enron wayburning school notebook with words: cookin' the Enron way

As the news broke throughout the state and the numbers climbed to 400 suspect schools, officials vowed investigations, with Houston promising 600 classroom monitors for the next round of state tests.

Among those schools named as highly suspicious was Wesley Elementary in the Acres Homes community of Houston, mentioned earlier here as the site for Bush and Oprah appearances.

Wesley, with its Direct Instruction approach of poverty-level students chanting a chorus of answers and responses to their teachers' highly scripted queries and demands, was the kind of school that titans of industry had to love. Each classroom was a mini-assembly line of lock-step learning and rote responses. The trouble was that too often what was being assembled there appeared to fall apart when it left there, at least according to The Dallas Morning News investigation:

"The News' analysis found troubling gaps in test scores at Wesley, Highland Heights, and Osborne elementaries, all in the Acres Homes neighborhood in Houston. Scores swung wildly from year to year. Schools made jarring test-score leaps from mediocre to stellar in a year's time.

. . . If the test scores are to be believed, students at those schools lose much of their academic abilities as soon as they leave elementary school.

In 2003, fifth-graders in the three elementaries fared extremely well on the reading Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Collectively, they ranked in the top 10 percent of all Texas schools – outscoring high-performing suburban schools in places such as Grapevine, Lewisville and Allen.

The fifth-graders' math scores were less spectacular but still slightly above the state average.

But a year later, the scores of those same students came crashing down. When they were sixth-graders at M.C. Williams Middle School, they finished in the bottom 10 percent of the state in both reading and math.

A drop-off of that scale is extremely rare in education. According to The News' analysis, no Texas school saw as large a score drop from fifth to sixth grade as the Acres AP."

But there had long been questions about the accuracy of Texas testing. A year earlier (2004), the Houston Chronicle's Melanie Markley wrote the following about TAAS testing (TAKS' predecessor):

"Consider the Aldine Independent School District. In 2002, because of rising TAAS scores, all of the district's five high schools were rated either "exemplary" or "recognized" in the state's accountability system.

"Yet Aldine's high schools overall reported a six-year drop on SAT scores, despite fewer students taking the test. At the same time, only about one-third of Aldine's graduates entering public colleges scored high enough on college readiness tests to avoid remedial classes. "

Cheating is only one way to explain the scoring anomalies. There remains the possibility that the heavily scripted Direct Instruction approach to teaching didn't work, that its benefits did not carry over from one year to the next, or beyond the test week. Teaching and learning to the test in elementary school doesn't guarantee the lessons will transmit to middle school.

Both the state and local authorities in Texas promised an immediate investigation into the TAKS accusations, but there is reason to doubt how much time and effort will go into that. As Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey pointed out shortly after Houston officials promised an investigation:

"In total, the district shells out about $7 million in bonuses based in good part on TAKS performance. ... In addition, the district pays $150,000 annually to PR man Terry Abbott, whose four-member staff's sole purpose is to maximize good publicity for the district and prevent or minimize bad publicity. ... These are some of the resources devoted to pumping up test scores and good news. ... So how much funding is the district committing ... to root out academic fraud?

Zilch. Zero. Nada."

— Rick Casey, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 8, 2005

More 'miraculous' education numbers from Texas

Under provisions in both No Child Left Behind and the Texas Public Education Grant, students attending a school that does not make adequate yearly progress in its tests scores have the right to move to achieving schools. By December, 2004, Texas' latest count was 293,000 students at the state's worst 420 schools (199 of the latter on the federal failure list) had the right to transfer to a better school.

    

How many of the students were expected to make the switch to better schools? Since Texas established its Public Education Grant program under George Bush in the late 1990s, only 2,000 students (about 200 a year) have switched schools. Why so few? Transportation cost is not included, good schools are already overcrowded, and out-of-district schools are not obligated to accept neighboring students. Even with vouchers, how many Texas private schools would you need to accept 293,000 students, many of which come with special deficits? Since NCLB is modeled on the Texas program, it also incorporated many of its liabilities: There is little enough room or money to accommodate the millions of students nationally who now attend what government labels "failing schools."

As for notifying the parents of those 293,000 students that their children are attending "failing schools" and thus eligible to transfer, that's a hefty amount of paperwork for one state, even a "miracle" state. Who's got time to investigate all the so-called cheating, promote all the "miracles," and still send missives to the parents? In fact, the state dragged its feet so long about the notification (which by the NCLB law it must do within a specified period), it missed the deadline. Penalty? The feds assessed a $444,282 fine for the transgression. Imagine how many books that would buy for at-risk school libraries in Texas.

Texas isn't worst of worst

None of this is not to say that Texas education is any worse than that of other states. While New York has some of the same low achievement and scandal woes, it hasn't received the spotlight the way Texas has because New York hasn't been held up as a national education model. The attention comes with the spotlight, requiring role models "be purer than Caesar's wife," something the investigations have proven to be an impossible code of conduct for Texas.

Much of the TAKS cheating news broke as Secretary Paige was quietly exiting via the back door of the Department of Education after not being retained for the second Bush term, announcing that he was returning to a project he'd interrupted for his Washington stay—remodeling his Texas home.

In his wake, Dr. Paige left many unanswered questions:

arrow-bullit How much of the Texas "education miracle" was to be believed?

How much of a role did his business paradigm play in its failures and frauds?

If Houston's miracle was a hoax or mirage, then how much of NCLB is also?

If Houston couldn't reach its numbers legitimately, how can other urban or rural areas be
     expected to?

If Houston administrators were profiteering from phony numbers, who's making the
     killing with NCLB?

And exactly how much did Paige know and when did he know it?

The program they might have called 'No Child Gets a Fat Behind'

On Sunday, February 12, 2006, The New York Times ran two stories, seemingly unrelated to each other but totally connected beneath the surface.

The first story ran on Page 1 ("Tutor Program Offered by Law Is Going Unused" by Susan Saulny) reported that after four years only 12 percent (226,000) of the 2 million students in need of tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act were actually receiving any treatment. The fault was divided between warring factions on the local school districts and the private tutoring firms, as well as the government's failure to fund the tutoring (Washington, DC schools had 24,563 eligible students but funds for only 3,025).

hat tied this article to the second was the note that no government study has been initiated or offered to demonstrate the efficacy of the tutoring done for even the small number receiving it to date. From the very start, it was the assumption of government that if you fix the school's reading program, you can fix the child's reading. This completely ignored the fact that the child's 900 hours in school each year are dwarfed by the 7,800 hours spent outside school. A basic assumption of NCLB was that the parental/home impact was negligible next to that of the school or tutoring company. True or false? For the answer we turn to the second article in The New York Times that Sunday.

child eating five hamburgers

By today's nomenclature,
they might have called it
'No Child Gets a Fat Behind'

That article appeared in the Times' Week in Review section and was entitled "Thinning the Milk Does Not Mean Thinning the Child" by Gina Kolata, and was written in reference to the previous week's announcement that a largest-ever study of 49,000 women's diets showed no benefits to their rates of obesity, breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease due to a reduced-fat diet.

The Times' article pointed to two large diet studies done with school children during the 1990s, both sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. It was the supposition of researchers that if you created intensive classroom diet-education programs it might affect the child's eating behavior outside school (900 hours vs. 7,800 hours). The first of the two studies (complete with control groups) was done on a largely Native American population of 1,704 third-graders in 41 schools. It included an intensified physical education program, nutrition classes, and a curtailment of fat foods in the school cafeteria. The study cost $20 million. The second study was almost three times as large and covered 5,106 students in 96 schools in four states.

Both studies came back with the same results: they had no impact on the children's weight gains or obesity rates whatsoever.

There are, however, some significant differences between the NIH diet studies and the NCLB reading programs that are worth noting. There were time and spending limits, as well as monitors on student results in the NIH diet studies. There are few if any such limits or studies in the NCLB Act. Private contractors and textbook/test publishers are free to back their bank trucks up the school house door for as long as they wish, cashing in on millions of federal dollars for as long as the funding holds out and for as long as no one is accountable for results.

Mirage pages 1   2   3

 

More on the Texas cheating scandals can be found at:

(If any of the links below are now outdated, try the WayBackMachine web site.)

"HISD pupils' math skills in question: One elementary's high TAKS scores bring investigation," by Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 19, 2004 (www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/121904dnmetcheating.64fa3.html)

"DISD probing TAKS scores: FW also joins Houston in investigating schools that might have cheated," by Joshua Benton, The Dallas Morning News, Jan. 7, 2005 (www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/news/longterm/stories/010805dnmetcheatfolo.b0cbe.html)

"Monitors will police HISD tests," by Joshua Benton, The Dallas Morning News, Jan. 12, 2005 (www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/010705dnmetcheatfolo.d7236.html)

"State plans TAKS cheating inquiry: TEA also will hire expert to help prevent, detect deceit," by Joshua Benton, The Dallas Morning News, January 12, 2005 (www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/011005dntextaks.978e4837.html)

"HISD plan: Fight fraud on the cheap," by Rick Casey, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 8, 2005 (/www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/casey/2983201)

"Monitors descend for TAKS testing: 70 at Wilmer-Hutchins called agency's biggest anti-cheating effort ever," by Joshua Benton, Dallas Morning News, February 22, 2005

"Test scores fall sharply at scrutinized schools; Expert cautions the decline doesn't prove past cheating," by Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 19, 2005

"Another is shown door at Kashmere: Two linked to cheating scandal elsewhere in HISD had been hired to help fix the school," by Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 23, 2005

"Analysis: Houston schools implicated in cheating scandal," Claudio Sanchez, reporting, Morning Edition/NPR News, March 21, 2005

"TAKS quiz: A tale of two districts" by Rick Casey, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 29, 2005.

Other articles on the Houston dropout scandal can be found at:

“Education Secretary Defends School System He Once Led,” by Diane Jean Schemo, The New York Times, July 26, 2003, p. A9;

"Questions on Data Cloud Luster of Houston Schools: Unreported Dropouts Are Said to Skew ratings," by Diana Jean Schemo, The New York Times, July 11, 2003, p. A1, A12;

"State to Monitor Houston Schools to Ensure Reporting of Dropouts," by Diane Jean Schemo, The New York Times, Aug. 8, 2003, p. A10. (NOTE: New York Times archived articles can be obtained for $3.00 per item; use http://query.nytimes.com/search/advanced/ )

"Principals at Center of  Press for Results," Education Week, September 24, 2003 (www.edweek.com/EW/ewstory.cfm?slug=04pressure.h23)

"Houston Case Offers Lesson on Dropouts," Education Week, September 24, 2003 (www.edweek.com/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=04Houston.h23)

"Despite Disputed Data, Houston Backers Say District Merited Prize," Education Week, Sept. 24, 2003 (www.edweek.com/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=04Broad.h23&keywords=Houston)

"Assistant principal files whistle-blower suit, says HISD retaliating over Sharpstown disclosures,' by Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, April 16, 2004

"Probe finds evidence of grade tampering; Tip leads HISD to reassign head of high school," by Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, June 18, 2004

"Education Secretary's Allies Depart Under Cloud in Houston," by Sam Dillon, The New York Times, June 26, 2004, p. A8

"HISD's Ethnic Gap" Stats show how district policies help whites with educational opportunities," by Robert Kimball, Houston Press, July 1, 2004

"After the Whistle," by Jerry Jesness, Teacher Magazine, September, 2004

 

Footnotes and documentation on the above material, as well as an earlier in-depth look
at the these issues, can be found here at Miracle One and Miracle Two.

All essays, articles on No Child Left Behind, see More NCLB.

 

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