Cheating by educators on high-stakes standardized tests is on the rise. A blatant reminder appeared on the front page of The New York Times on June 11 ("Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper With Test Scores"). As a result of an investigation prompted by suspicions that educators had erased incorrect responses and substituted correct ones in 191 schools in Georgia in February, 11 teachers and administrators were referred to a state agency with the power to revoke their licenses. The Times followed up this story with an editorial on June 18 that focused on cheating at an elementary school in Baltimore as ...


In 1963, I bought a book not because of its titillating cover but because of its provocative title. When I finished reading The Sheepskin Psychosis by John Keats (Delta Book, 1963), I began to question conventional wisdom about a bachelor's degree. Keats maintained that the public has been "wildly oversold" on its worth. College is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn. Fast forward 47 years to June 12, when the Los Angeles Times ran the lead front-page story belatedly confirming Keats's prescient observations ("Is a college degree still worth it?). It was not the first report ...


It's no longer news that public schools across the country are facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Because the federal government contributes less than 10 percent of funding, public education depends heavily on state and local support in roughly equal proportions. But the recession has shrunk revenues from both sources. As a result, states are engaged in a series of unprecedented reforms to deal with the deficits they face. At the heart of the movement is the belief that despite spending more per student than most developed countries, the U.S. still performs below average on tests ...


Two books on the same subject written for the general public and published simultaneously have unexpected relevance to the issue of education reform. I was reminded of this connection after reading a review in the New York Times of Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz and Wrong by David H. Freedman ("To Err Is Human. And How! And Why."). When confronted by ideas that differ from theirs, people first assume that other people are ignorant, then idiotic, and finally evil. Although Schulz was referring to human beings in general, her observation has specific application to self-styled experts on school reform. It's ...


Marquee-name reformers are engaged in a masterfully orchestrated campaign to convince taxpayers that competition between teachers will play a pivotal role in curing the ills afflicting public schools. They insist that what works in business to pinpoint accountability will work in education. Rather than engage in the familiar rebuttal that schools are not businesses, I'll focus instead on the experiences of Finland and Japan, where collaboration—rather than competition—between teachers has resulted in impressive student performance. I think the evidence speaks for itself. At the very least, it calls into question the assumptions being made. Finland's schools became the...


Next to the persistent achievement gap, the factor most often cited as evidence of the failure of public schools is the appalling dropout rate. It's hard to get an accurate count because many states keep two sets of books. One is designed for Washington D.C. to make themselves look good under the terms of No Child Left Behind, and the other is designed for use at home to make a case for greater support of schools from voters. The best estimate is that 1.3 million students each year drop out of the nation's 11,000 school districts serving ...


It's understandable why teachers feel they need a summer vacation so desperately this year. The spring semester has been marked by an avalanche of educational legislation across the nation that has left them reeling. What is disturbing is not the sheer number of changes as much as their lack of cohesiveness. In an excellent analysis in The Nation, Pedro Noguera warns that policy makers have not thought out clearly what must be done to improve educational quality ("A New Vision of School Reform"). As a result, the Race to the Top and other initiatives constitute fragmented approaches. But the truth ...


The release of new academic standards on June 2 marks the beginning of a new era in public education in this country. Critics contend that the detailed blueprint means the end of local control of schools, but it is a price worth paying. For one thing, the standards do not tell teachers exactly what to teach nor how to teach. Instead, they help teachers organize their lessons by providing clearer guidelines than existed in the past. Because the standards are written in more concrete language than before, teachers should welcome them as an aid in designing their lessons. For another, ...


Educational research is replete with different conclusions by prominent professors on the same controversial issue. The lack of agreement is healthy in academe, but it leaves taxpayers confused at a time when their understanding is vital for developing support for public policies. I was reminded of this by an essay in the Wall Street Journal on May 29 ("A Tale of Two Students"). The writer puts into human terms the importance of inspired teachers in changing the lives of disadvantaged students by focusing on two Hispanic students in Oklahoma City. One attended Santa Fe South High School, a charter school, ...


The successful lawsuit filed by black firefighters against New York City claiming that two entrance exams used in 1999 and 2002 intentionally discriminated against them surfaced once again on May 26 when a federal judge accused the city of obstructionism in redesigning the tainted exams ("Racial Bias in Fire Exams Can Lurk in the Details," July 24, 2009). There is a lesson to be learned from the controversy that applies to standardized test construction in general and to teacher certification in particular. The lesson boils down to the importance of collecting varied kinds of validity evidence in order to determine ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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