The 800-page Investigation Report on the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cheating scandal involving 178 named school-based principals, teachers and other staff links the collapse of institutional integrity to “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation.” Although that culture can be found in many private and charter schools, it is a major ingredient in the growing trend of top-down, privately-funded, “turn-around” “reforms” that view teachers, tenure rights and union protections as the causes of educational malaise. Until reform truly engages teachers as part of the solution, we can expect more Atlanta’s in our nation’s public schools.
The Atlanta Investigation Report is an anthology of teacher disempowerment and its consequences. It shows what happens when educational policy makers grant broad areas of authority to celebrity or savior superintendents, and then, self-satisfied with their “reform,” abdicate their oversight responsibilities, so they can bask in the glow of their creation.
The APS investigation mentions two names with connections to DCPS:
– APS General Counsel Veleter Mazyck(former DCPS General Counsel, c. 2000-2004)
– Educational ConsultantDouglas B. Reeves, Ph.D., one of two consultants hired by Supt. Hall
APS General Counsel Veleter Mazyck
Douglas Reeves, PhD
In November 2009, APS Supt. Hall announced that “two top educational experts have agreed to examine ‘outlier’ test scores identified in recent analyses of state standardized test scores.”
One was Dr. Andrew Porter, a psychometrician and Dean of the University Of Pennsylvania Graduate School Of Education.
Douglas Reeves is one of the leading professional development consultants whose “Leadership and Learning Center” conducts workshops all over the country on a wide range of management strategies and instructional practices currently in vogue, such as “high expectations,” “focused curriculum,” “formative assessment,” “credit recovery,” etc.
Reeves agreed to “visit classrooms, talk with teachers and administrators and review data … to determine what factors impact student achievement.”
He is of interest to DCPS teachers, because the current DCPS “Teaching and Learning Framework” and the IMPACT teacher evaluation system both list Reeves’ “Unpacking the Standards” on its list of un-annotated and undated sources (IMPACT guidebook, p. 8). In 2005, DCPS used the “unpacking the standards” process to introduce the new standards, which many teachers viewed as a waste of time, making a relatively simple process unnecessarily confusing.
Given Reeves’ national and, more importantly, DCPS influence, I was curious to read his Atlanta site visit report (Exhibits to Reports, pp. 311-320; 724-733) and compare it to Andrew Porter’s. I was also curious to see how he would meet Superintendent Hall’s charge, “
“Because data alone does (sic) not tell the full story, we will have reports from both the statistical and classroom perspectives. We want to know if the large gains or declines in student testing are a result of factors not considered in recent news reports.”
(Exhibits, p. 310 / 723)
It also struck me as interesting that Supt. Hall was suddenly taking a U-turn away from “Data drives (sic) everything” to subjective “classroom perspectives” factors. Since most teachers in Washington, D.C. are now evaluated on nine subjective criteria in five unannounced 30-minute observations, including some criteria that he promotes, I was curious to see what Douglas Reeves came up with.
Comments on Reeves’ Report to Supt Hall:
As the author of a reported 20 educational books and promoted as an educational expert, Reeve’s 9 pp report is an embarrassing and shockingly unprofessional puff piece.
More than half of his 9 pp report consists of discussion of educational policies, practices and theories without making any reference to Atlanta schools. He claims to have visited 13 APS schools, including 8 in one day!) in three days (the Report says two days and that he spent only 30-45 minutes in each school)! He does not report how long he was in each school: time in/time out
He cites no schools, no grade levels, no classrooms, no learning activities and no instruction or other activities. The only comparative data he cites is a middle school football team that had an undefeated season after winning “only a couple of games in the previous year.”
He claims to have “noticed”:
– “formative assessment – along with other demonstrably effective interventions”
– “two important trends with regard to the issue of test preparation:
– “Teachers and administrators did seek an explicit link between curriculum and assessment”
– “They insured that students were instructed about the content required by the State of Georgia and also knew the format of the tests.”
Comment: He describes no formative assessment that he noticed. That should not be difficult, since he holds workshops on “formative assessments.”
He says he “observed test preparation techniques,” but did “not observe … any behavior or attitudes that suggested inappropriate test preparation or the willingness to cross ethical lines to achieve improved student performance.”
1. This is a diversion. The reported cheating happened during the test administration.
2. He didn’t observe classes, according to the Investigation Report.
3. There is little doubt that the schools he visited prepared for his arrival?
4. How did he manage to visit 8 schools in one day in a strange city? Did APS provide him with a driver? He should have reported this.
He provides no itinerary, cites no grade levels, describes no individual classrooms, no teaching or learning activities and gives no indication of having actually observed or spoken with any teachers. The only performance he cites is a middle school football team that had an undefeated season after winning “only a couple of games in the previous year.”
“[In] the APS schools I visited … there was a consistent – even relentless – theme of high expectations and hard work for both students and adults.”
“In schools I visited, [there was] evidence of student work and other data posted on the walls so that teachers and students could use information about student performance … to improve teaching and learning.”
“Not all of [the schools] use the data in the thoughtful, constructive, informed and specific way that I observed in the schools that I visited.”
Comment: He describes the challenges facing one school: “In one middle school that I visited, vigorous efforts were under way go reverse an unacceptable state of discipline, achievement and morale.” That was one of the two middle schools he visited: Coan MS (31.4% Wrong to Right Erasures) and Harper-Archer MS (24.1% Wrong to Right Erasures).
Did he not wonder how that school could have achieved high scores in its “unacceptable state”?
Then, he takes a leap of logic: “Based on the practices in these schools, it would have been surprising if test scores had not improved significantly.”
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