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.
So how much funding is
the district committing to root out academic fraud?
Zilch. Zero. Nada.
— Houston Columnist
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.
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."
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
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
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
Markley wrote the following about TAAS testing (TAKS'
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
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
Jan. 8, 2005
More 'miraculous' education
numbers from Texas
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.
feds assessed a $444,282 fine for the transgression.
Imagine how many books that would buy for at-risk school
libraries in 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
much of the Texas "education miracle" was
to be believed?
much of a role did his business paradigm play in its
failures and frauds?
Houston's miracle was a hoax or mirage, then how much
of NCLB is also?
couldn't reach its numbers legitimately, how can other
urban or rural areas be
Houston administrators were profiteering from phony numbers,
who's making the
killing with NCLB?
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 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
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.
By today's nomenclature,
they might have called it
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.
More on the Texas cheating scandals can be found
(If any of the links
below are now outdated, try the WayBackMachine web
"HISD pupils' math skills in question: One
elementary's high TAKS scores bring investigation," by
Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 19,
"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
"Monitors will police
HISD tests," by Joshua
Benton, The Dallas Morning News, Jan. 12,
"State plans TAKS cheating inquiry: TEA also
will hire expert to help prevent, detect deceit," by
Joshua Benton, The Dallas Morning
News, January 12,
"HISD plan: Fight fraud on the cheap," by
Rick Casey, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 8, 2005
"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,
"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
24, 2003 (www.edweek.com/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=04Broad.h23&keywords=Houston)
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
documentation on the above material, as well as an earlier
at the these issues, can be found here at Miracle
One and Miracle Two.
essays, articles on No Child Left Behind, see More
search this site, use the Google search
engine to the left. Occasionally Google reports
older, out-of-date pages ("404
Error") which can usually be found using
Archives (pasting the missing URL
the "WayBackMachine" space).
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