Ed Johnson: Atlanta Needs to Reconsider Its Choice for New Superintendent

 

Photo credit: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/greg_foster/
Photo credit: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/greg_foster/

Ed Johnson, an advocate for quality education in Atlanta, provides commentary and data questioning Atlanta’s decision to hire Austin’s current superintendent for Atlanta’s superintendency. According to Mr. Johnson, there is great controversy in the process, as well as the choice for superintendent.

According an email I received from Ed Johnson, on April 7th, members of the clergy and community, including parents and educators, held a press conference to voice concerns about the undemocratic process that the Atlanta Board of Education is using to hire Atlanta Public Schools next superintendent.

According to the press release, the district paid thousands of dollars to consultants and engaged a search committee for several months to present several finalists to the public. But in a surprising move, the district presented a “sole” finalist after stating that over 400 names were submitted for consideration. The district is moving rapidly to hire the “sole” finalist without respecting a more democratic and open process that would engage and allow citizens more choices along with a more publicized and inclusive vetting process. Sadly, the board’s actions have taken the “public” out of public education.

Using his unique understanding of systems theory, he provides comparative data on these two school systems in the context of reading and mathematics performance over the past ten years.   This is an analysis you will not see performed by the Atlanta Public School Board, but whose members know him, and should take note of his thinking and caring for the students in the APS.

His analysis,  Austin Independent School District and Atlanta Public Schools Viewed through NAEP TUDA 2005-2013, can be viewed at this link, and augments his comments, which follow.

He writes:

Every two years NAEP, commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card” and respected for being untainted by political ideologies and agenda, administers the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) to voluntarily participating urban school districts.  TUDA Reading was first administrated in 2002 in Grades 4 and 8 to six urban school districts, including Atlanta Public Schools (APS or “Atlanta”).  TUDA Math was first administered in 2003 in Grades 4 and 8 to ten urban school districts, again including Atlanta. By 2013, TUDA had twenty-one urban school districts participating.  The next TUDA administration will be in 2015.  Austin Independent School District (AISD or “Austin”) participated for the first time in 2005.

TUDA results are reported as average scale scores that range from zero (0) to 500, as with NAEP results.  Looked at over time, TUDA results may be put to simple elementary level arithmetic to extract powerful, holistic insight into the performance of all the participating urban school districts taken as a system.  The same can be done to extract such insight into the performance of any one urban school district taken as a system of Reading, Math, or other subject as assessed by TUDA.  The attachment does both; just be aware that its use of the requisite arithmetic is atypical of simplistically ranking data and of computing percentage change from two data points in time as done in business-style financial reports.  Such reports inherently fail to preserve context and give no rational basis for predicting future outcome.

The USS Urban School Reform Ship

Pages 4 and 5 in the attachment look at all TUDA participating urban school districts as a system and represents, by way of analogy, that since the first TUDA administration in 2002, all the districts, save possibly a few, have been on the same ship carrying them all in the same direction no matter the disricts’ ever changing relative positions aboard ship.  Insight, here, is that virtually no urban school district has improved or declined that would amount to having “jumped ship” for the better or for the worse.  Since the ship first set sail in 2002, the outcome has been status quo maintained; no improvement of urban school districts all taken as a system.

Similarly, pages 6 through 9 in the attachment look at Austin and Atlanta TUDA Reading and Math results put side-by-side for 2005 through 2013 and represent that Atlanta stands relatively more capable to experience systemic improvement in both Reading and Math than does Austin, although Austin would “rank” higher than Atlanta.  Any ranking, however, would be only from the standpoint of Austin and Atlanta being passengers aboard the ship, thus pointless.  So stay mindful that the ship has all passengers going in the same direction.  It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Figure 1. It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.
Figure 1. It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Interestingly, during 2005-2013, Atlanta TUDA Reading and Math results continuously increased, but Austin TUDA Reading and Math results continually increased.  And during 2009-2013, Austin TUDA Reading and Math results began to appear suppressed and flattened, even stalled.  Consequently, Atlanta is now port-side and has become much closer to Austin.  (Caution: Three more continuous increases in any TUDA subject and grade results by Atlanta will be a total of eight continuous increases since 2005. Eight continuous increases should prompt conducting a study to learn the root cause(s) of the increases, lest another Atlanta test cheating crisis be in the making.  The reason is simple to illustrate: Getting eight heads in row or eight snake eyes in a row is possible but improbable with a fair coin or dice.)

By the way, if the ship were to be given a name then “The USS Urban School Reform” seems reasonable.

Kindly consider the attachment.  Consider, too, that Atlanta school board members seem unanimously committed to vote the affirmative come April 14, 2014, to hire the sole superintendent finalist they selected to present to the public, a behavior that bespeaks disregard for effective public engagement.  The sole superintendent finalist is Austin’s current superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen.  Dr. Carstarphen has been Austin’s superintendent since 2009, since the time Austin’s TUDA results began to appear suppressed and flattened, even stalled.

Having considered the attachment, now kindly consider a few questions: Why does the ideology of “urban superintendent” persists when NAEP TUDA results make clear that the ideology’s transporter, the USS Urban School Reform, has provided and will in the future provide for its passengers, the urban school districts, to move around onboard ship but not improve?  Austin seems a case in point.  Will Atlanta become a case in point with Dr. Carstarphen as yet another “urban superintendent,” however well-trained by Harvard?

It will be my pleasure to have conversation about anything presented here that in any way interests you.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

In Spite of the “System,” Urban Teachers Have a Record of Success

In spite of the “System” the evidence is that urban teachers have a record of success, not one that is spiraling down.  The present state of reform of American education is based on the idea that American students are doing poorly, and this will lead to disastrous economic consequences, and the loss of American’s place in the global economic competition.

But, education (for our students) should not be a competition.  There is no need to have winners and losers as outcomes of the school experience.  Education is about learning, and in an environment that has as its core belief that learning is the fundamental goal of schooling.  Students are living in the present, and their school experience should be based on their lives now, and should not be based on furthering the economic prosperity of society.  Schooling should not be based on job training, career readiness or college entry.  It should be based on fostering the creative and innovative aspects of youth, and create school as a learning environment designed to help students learn to collaborate, work with others to solve problems, and engage in content from the arts and the sciences that has personal meaning.

We’ve been told that urban education in America needs to be saved by pouring advise and money from the élite and influential corporations and philanthropic groups.  The problem is that these groups are focused on only one set of outcomes that all come down to increasing student academic performance measured by high-stakes examinations.

I want to show here that urban teachers have held their own for the past decade and half in spite of the problems they face in their schools day-to-day.  They not only have held their own, but the evidence shows that academic performance of their students (in mathematics at the 8th grade) in the example below has slowly but surly increased as shown in Figure 1.  As you can see, in Atlanta, students at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile increased performance on NAEP tests given from 2003 through 2013.

Figure 1. Atlanta NAEP 8th Grade Mathematics Scores for Selected Percentiles 2003 - 2013.
Figure 1. Atlanta NAEP 8th Grade Mathematics Scores for Selected Percentiles 2003 – 2013.

Reading and Math in Urban Schools

Take a look at the next four figures (Figures 2 – 5).  They were compiled by Mr. Ed Johnson in his study of the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA).  Johnson, who is a student W. Edwards Deming, examined the TUDA results through a Deming Lens.  A Deming Lens means that to understand the behavior of a system, one must look at the system.  Breaking down a system into its parts (goals, policies, finances, curriculum, teachers, administrators, parents, directors) loses one’s ability to understand the system.

Each of the graphs below shows the behavior of these four systems over ten years.  You will notice that there is variation in the achievement scores of students in reading (grades 4 and 8) and mathematics (grades 4 and 8) from one testing period to the next.  But the variation is within upper and lower limits that would be expected in each system.

Causes of Variation in Scores

According to W. Edwards Deming 94% of the variation is due to the nature of the system, not the people who work in or make the system work.  Only 6% are attributable to special causes.  (W. Edwards Deming. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (p. 33). Kindle Edition).

As you look over the graphs you will see ONLY FOUR instances where the variation in scores lies outside the Upper Control Limit (UCL), and then only in 4th grade reading  Examples include: Charlotte, 2009, Austin, 2011, Charlotte, 2011, and Hillsborough, 2011.  Except for these four instances, all the variation is due to the nature of the system.

Figure 2. Location of Cities in the Trial Urban District Assessment; Gold triangle-higher than large city; Circle--not different; Blue triangle-lower than large city. Source: Nations Report Card
Figure 2. Location of Cities in the Trial Urban District Assessment; Gold triangle-higher than large city; Circle–not different; Blue triangle-lower than large city. Source: Nations Report Card.  Click on Map for more details.

The graphs below plot reading and math scores for 21 school urban school districts.  Mr. Johnson highlighted Atlanta (in red) and DC Public Schools (purple).  As you can note in the following graphs, achievement scores in reading and math for Atlanta and DC Public Schools fell within the Upper and Lower Control limits.  There is no radical change in scores, either up or down.  It appears that the teachers in these urban schools are doing the job they were hired to do and that is help their students learn how to read, and do mathematics.  And they’ve done this in spite of all the issues that surround schools in urban communities.

In systems thinking, as Mr. Johnson would tell us, there are two types of causes of variation in any system.  The most important cause of variation in any system is what we call “common causes” of variation that is really a function of the system itself.  Examples of common cause variation will fall within control limits on a graph (as shown below in Figures 2 – 5). Examples of common causes that influence variation (scores on tests, for example, or graduation rates) include 

  • High percentage of children from low SES groups.
  • Where the school is located. It’s zip code.
  • Age of the school building.
  • Size of the school system.
  • Underpinning policies, practices, procedures of the school which determines it’s culture.
  • Inadequate resources.

According to Deming, nearly all outputs of schooling are the result of common cause variation, and these would include drop out rates, achievement test scores, violence, bullying, gang activity, low self esteem, attitudes, under performance and literacy skills.

Defying Gravity

When we examine a school system from a systems thinking view, these outputs are causes by the day to day effects of common causes of variation.  As Deming and other systems thinkers, such as Ed Johnson would say, trying to seek achievement scores beyond what see in the graphs (Figures 2 – 5) is to “defy gravity.”  Reformers have charged ahead as if they can “defy gravity” and have put the blame of not improving test scores in the wrong place.

Managers (administrators) and workers (teachers) are not “common cause” variables.  However, since schools are based on a linear factory model, “reformers” ignore common causes, and instead claim that teachers and administrators can overcome the challenges posed by common causes.  When reformers insist on market reforms, and they don’t work, they blame the teachers and principles.  And to make matters worse, they use student test scores (which are the result of common causes) to evaluate teachers on the basis of false assumptions about schooling.

We think that the present system of reading and mathematics is fairly stable.  The output in reading and math (as measured by a test score) vary little, and one can make predictions about future reading and math output.

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We will explore systems thinking in future posts.  But for now, what do think about the analysis of the NAEP TUDA data as compiled by Ed Johnson?

A Systems Thinker Reviews The Atlanta Public Schools’ Performance in Reading & Math

Latest Story

People are asking for better schools, with no clear idea how to improve eduction, or even how to define improvement of education (except to increase test performance on high-stakes tests).

Most people are in favor of improving education.  But when asked how would they improve education, the suggestions are insufficient, and in some cases, even negative (See W. Edwards Deming. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (p. 8). Kindle Edition.)

Instead of reporting the details of how people and organizations want to improve education, such as corporate chiefs, philanthropists, and the U.S. Department of Education, I want to report on the work of Mr. Ed Johnson, an advocate for quality education, and has for more than a decade devoted himself to writing and talking about improving education in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Systems Thinking

Ed Johnson consults as Quality Information Solutions, Inc., with a commitment to human social and cultural systems to receive quality information from information systems for the continual improvement of life, work, and play. His commitment extends to advocating the transformation of K-12 public education systems to humanistic paradigms from prevailing mechanistic paradigms. Ed also is former president of Atlanta Area Deming Study Group.

Ed Johnson is a systems thinker.

In this regard, he believes schools can not be improved by trying to improve the parts separately.  It is a sure path to failure.  For example, some advocates of educational reform believe that student achievement can be improved by weeding out the bad teachers.  Millions of dollars have been invested in using student high-stakes test scores to check teacher performance using a technique called Value Added Measure (VAM).  Teachers whose VAM scores are low can be identified, and according to these experts, teachers with low scores must be bad teachers.  Getting rid of “defects” in any system will not improve the system or the part that was identified.  Instead, a better investment would be to ask how can we improve the quality of teaching, and what can be done to improve the teaching of all educators.

The above example highlights the current approach to reform.  Identify a part of the system, and fix it. Bad teachers, get rid of them.  Low achievement scores?  Write “rigorous” standards, raise the bar, and give high-stakes tests.  It’s that simple.  We’ve had rigorous and not so rigorous standards in place for more than a decade, and as you will see ahead, changing standards doesn’t have any effect on student performance.

Systems thinking means that all parts of a school system are interdependent and must be taken as a whole.  The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is a system of interconnected and interdependent parts, and to improve the quality of the APS, it is critical to look at the APS as a whole.  For example, closing schools (removing so-called underperforming schools), does not have an effect of improving the APS, or indeed saving money (as some would tell you).  Fundamental questions about APS need to be asked, but in the context of the APS being a system, not a collection of  schools, students, teachers, administrators, parents, curriculum, textbooks, technology.

Ed Johnson has contributed to my understanding of quality education, and it is my great honor to share his work on this blog, and in particular to look at teaching in urban schools, and in particular the Atlanta Public Schools.

Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) created the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in 2002 to assess student achievement in the nation’s large urban districts.  Reading results were first reported in 2002 for six districts, and math results were reported in 2003 for 10 districts.

The NAEP provides data from 2002 through 2012 on math and reading and are comparable to NAEP national and state results because the same assessments are used.

Screen Shot 2013-12-28 at 7.00.56 PMUsing data from all of the Trial Urban Districts Assessments (2002 – 2013), available online at The Nations Report Card, Ed Johnson analyzed and created a presentation that is a series of systemic stories told by the data collected in the urban district studies.

Each story is about a system.  In TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessment), there are particular TUD’s each as a system.  So, Reading is a system.  Mathematics is a system.  4th grades is a system.  8th grades is a system.

Johnson’s research is a longitudinal study of performance in reading and mathematics from 2002 – 2013.  Using scores on reading and mathematics obtained from the National Center for Educational Statistics, he investigated the nature of a number of systems derived from the data.  Some of these particular systems include:

  • Reading as a System
  • Mathematics as a System
  • 4th Grades as a System
  • 8th Grades as a System

Since these systems are part of the APS system, we know that each of these systems is interdependent with other systems, not just the ones identified here, but including parents (as a system), teachers (as a system), and so forth.

There were 21 urban school districts in the study.  However, Ed has managed to make our work easier by highlighting with color coding just two systems, Atlanta Public Schools (Red) and District of Columbia (Purple).

Overall

Figure 1. Trial Urban District, Bottom Line.  Source: Ed Johnson edwjonhson@aol.com
Figure 1. Trial Urban District, Bottom Line. Source: Ed Johnson edwjonhson@aol.com

Ed starts his study by giving us the “bottom line.”  How did these systems (reading, math, 4th grade, 8th grade) do?  Figure 1, is a summary of systemic TUD student performance in reading and math at the 4th and 8th grade from 2002 – 2011, and predictions for 2013 (all the predictions were accurate forecasts of student performance in 2013).

Only 4th grade reading showed some improvement over the period 2002 – 2011, and the improvement was slight and noticed only in Austin, Charlotte, and Hillsborough.  In all other systems, no improvement was observed, meaning that the common causes that influence the system of math, or reading, or 4th or 8th grade inhibited improvement.

Student Improvement in Mathematics and Reading

In the TUDA study, a sample of students in each urban district was tested in reading and mathematics at the 4th and 8th grade level.  To help us understand how to interpret data collected over the past dozen or so years, Mr. Johnson has produced a series of graphs (control charts) showing the natural variation of scores to be expected in each system (reading, math, 4th grade, 8th grade).

Figure 2 shows a control chart for  reading, 4th grade.  Figure 3 shows a control chart for mathematics, grade 4.  Upper control limits and lower control limits were calculated for 2002, and then projected forward.  Changes in scores from one test period to the next are shown in the Figure 2.  If there is systemic change in reading at the 4th grade level, then scores would fall “outside” the upper or lower control limits.  You’ll notice that all the variation, except for four points (Charlotte, 2009 and 2011, Austin, 2011, and Hillsborough, 211), was within the variation expected.  In systems thinking, we mean that the variation for the most part was random, but there is evidence that some special causes were at work in the three districts mentioned here.

Figure 2.  NAEP TUDA, Reading, 4th Grade, All students prepared by edwjohnson@aol.com
Figure 2. NAEP TUDA, Reading, 4th Grade, All students prepared by edwjohnson@aol.com

Mathematics is another story.  As Mr. Johnson puts it in his study, “all districts have been on the same boat continuously since 2003 in mathematics at the 4th grade level.  What means is that the variation shown in the graph is random, and not due to any special cause.

Figure 3. NAEP TUDA, Mathematics, 4th Grade, All Students prepared by edwjohnson@aol.com
Figure 3. NAEP TUDA, Mathematics, 4th Grade, All Students prepared by edwjohnson@aol.com

There is very little student improvement in reading or mathematics at the 4th grade level as shown in Figures 2 and 3.

As long as we continue to ignore the common causes of variation that exist in the system then we can expect very little to no improvement.

But as Mr. Johnson has said in other letters and reports, if fundamental questions about the purpose of schooling are not addressed and if we can not agree on these purposes, very little will change in the system.  In the two systems explored here, reading at the 4th grade and math at the fourth grade, we need to ask: What is purpose of teaching reading in the elementary school?  Why do we teach reading in the elementary school?  What is goal of teaching mathematics in the elementary school?  Why do we teach mathematics?

As Mr. Johnson has shown, why are these districts on the same boat for the teaching of mathematics?  How can we used systems theory to look at mathematics teaching as a system and answer questions about how to improve mathematics learning?  How can help students develop a love affair with mathematics?

Ed Johnson has examined a lot of data from the standpoint of systems thinking based in part of his work with Edward Deming, and other scholars in the field of systems thinking.

I highly recommend that you check his study which you can get access to as a PDF file here: NAEP TUDA 2002-2011 Views through a Deming Lens.

In the days ahead, I’ll revisit Mr. Johnson’s study, and report on his analysis of the “performance gap” variation that he has depicted as a series of images as shown in Figures 2 and 3.  I’ll also explore systems thinking and school in more detail.

NAEP Large City Study Sheds Light on the Effects of the Atlanta Public Schools’ Cheating Scandal

NAEP Large City Study Sheds Light on the Effects of the Atlanta Public Schools’ Cheating Scandal.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) created the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in 2002 to assess student achievement in the nation’s large urban districts.  Reading results were first reported in 2002 for six districts, and math results were reported in 2003 for 10 districts.

The NAEP provides data from 2002 through 2012 on math and reading and are comparable to NAEP national and state results because the same assessments are used.

In July 2011, the Governor of Georgia released a report of its investigation into the Atlanta Cheating Scandal, charging 178 educators as being involved in the scandal.  According to the report, thousands of school children were harmed by widespread cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

According to the Governor’s report, “a culture of fear and conspiracy of silence infected this school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct.” Although I’ve never condoned the cheating that occurred in the APS, the report falls short by not pursuing what caused the culture of fear to exist in the system, which apparently led to the cheating.  Who, besides the employees of the APS were involved in the so-called conspiracy? What role did the following play in this scandal:Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, the Atlanta School Board, and partners who contributed millions of dollars to the APS to boost academic achievement of Atlanta’s students.

According to the report, the cheating scandal took place in 2009.  By 2010, the scandal had been exposed by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reports on the APS, and we can assume that there was very little, if any cheating on the state’s 2010 – 2013 Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).

During the period leading up to, during, and after the cheating scandal, the NAEP tested students in Atlanta, as part of the Trial Urban District Assessment in mathematics and reading from 2002 to 2012.  Fourth and eighth grade students were tested using the NAEP tests.

Don’t you think that examining the data on the NAEP tests given as part of Trial Urban District Assessment might be helpful in several areas?

  • What is the trend of academic performance of Atlanta students (grades 4 and 8) in mathematics and reading during 2002 – 2012?
  • Are there significant changes (increases, decreases) or no changes in the Atlanta data during this period?
  • Is there evidence that the academic performance of students in the APS was harmed or diminished during and after the scandal?  Do student scores change appreciably after we can be sure that there was little if any cheating going on?  Were students victimized as a result of the testing scandal?

What is the trend of academic performance of Atlanta students (grades 4 and 8) in mathematics and reading during 2002 – 2012?

Figure 1 summarizes Atlanta eighth grade student scores on the NAEP test in mathematics given as part of the Trial Urban District Assessment.  I’ve plotted the average scores of students at the 25th-50th-75th percentiles. The tend at each level is up and there is no evidence here of a decline or slump in scores for 8th grade students.

The Atlanta NAEP scores in 2011 and 2013 did not decline following the 2009 cheating scandal.  This is an important finding in the context of the Atlanta Cheating Scandal.  If students had been harmed academically, then their scored might have dropped after the episode of cheating. For more details that go beyond the graph that I produced here, consult this page in the TUDA 2013 report.

Figure 1 is a graph showing the average score of students at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles. NAEP, TUDA 2013 Report
Figure 1 is a graph showing the average score of students at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles. NAEP, TUDA 2013 Report

What’s interesting in the data are the scores in 2011.  The 2011 eighth grade students were in the sixth grade during the year of the cheating scandal.  If the students were academically victimized because of changes in CRCT scores, then we would hypothesize that their scores would decrease in the 2011 and 2013 years.  But they did not.  In fact, there is an increase in the scores at each percentile level.

Are there significant changes (increases, decreases) or no changes in the Atlanta data during this period?

Figure 2. NAEP Math scores for APS 8th grade students and large city districts.
Figure 2. NAEP Math scores for APS 8th grade students and large city districts.

The scores of Atlanta eighth grade students are plotted and compared to the average scores of other large cities that participated in the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment.  Although Atlanta’s scores are lower than the average for each year, the overall trend is upwards, and the gap is closing.

Again, when we compare the years following 2009, the year of the test erasure scandal, two and four years later, Atlanta students are not only doing better, but they are closing the gap.  Is there evidence here that students were academically harmed by the scandal?

Is there evidence that the academic performance of students in the APS was harmed or diminished after the scandal?  Do student scores change appreciably after we can be sure that there was little if any cheating going on?  Were students victimized as a result of the testing scandal?

The NAEP data is separate and administered differently than the state CRCT tests.  Indeed, the NAEP tests are low-stakes, and according to many researchers,  NAEP scores are more valid and reliable than the high-stakes CRCT if one wants to have an idea about student performance.  CRCT is a high-stakes assessment that is used not only to assess the students, but the results are used to evaluate teacher performance.

There clearly are reasons to wonder if students were harmed by the cheating that took place in 2009 in the APS.  Academically, there is little evidence based on average scores reported in the NAEP study.  However, we have to wonder what was the social-emotional consequence caused not only by the cheating that took place, but also by the standardization and high-stakes testing reform movement that most likely what contributed to the “culture of fear and conspiracy” in the APS.

Stephanie Jones, professor of education at the University of Georgia has written extensively on the social-emotional consequences of the authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing dilemma.  She asks, “What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days?  Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policy-making–that’s what.”

Policy makers, acting on emotion and little to no data, have dehumanized schooling by implementing authoritarian standards in a one-size-fits-all system of education.  We’ve enabled a layer of the educational system (U.S. Department of Education and the state departments of education) to carry out the NCLB act, and high-stakes tests, and use data from these tests to decide the fate of school districts, teachers and students.  One of the outcomes of this policy is the debilitating effects on the mental and physical health of students, teachers and administrators.

If you don’t believe that, here is a quote from Professor Jones’ article:

I’ve witnessed sobbing children in school, tears streaking cheeks. When children hold it together at school, they often fall apart at home. Yelling, slamming doors, wetting the bed, having bad dreams, begging parents not to send them back to school.

More parents than ever feel pressured to medicate their children so they can make it through school days. Others make the gut-wrenching decision to pull their children from public schools to protect their dignity, sanity and souls. Desperate parents choose routes they had never thought they’d consider: home schooling, co-op schooling, or, when they can afford it, private schooling. But most parents suffer in silence, managing constant family conflict.

 Were Atlanta’s Students Harmed by the Test Erasure Scandal?

Based on NAEP data, Atlanta students continued to improve in mathematics, even after cheating was discovered, and eliminated from the district.  Although NAEP does not investigate the social-emotional effects of school, there is evidence that the current emphasis on high-stakes testing does contribute to and has amplified emotional and behavioral disorders among youth.  How can it be a good practice that in one district in Georgia, 70 of 180 days of the school year are devoted to some kind of state or federal testing?  For more data on this, please refer to a discussion of The Paradoxes of High Stakes Testing by Madaus, Russell, and Higgins (2009) in this blog article.

The NAEP large cities study does shed light on the Atlanta Public Schools.  There is evidence that any harm that directed toward students was more psychological than academic.

In spite of the national and international attention that the testing scandal generated, teachers in the Atlanta Public Schools positively impacted their students in mathematics and reading.  There is evidence if you dig deeper into the data that there is a continued need for more resources and more experienced teachers in schools which are populated students living in poverty, and students who are on free or reduced lunch.