Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Snitches get lines and have to stay behind after school
April 1, 2013 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Until Jackie Parks, Georgia state investigator Richard Hyde had never tried to flip an elementary school teacher. Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde.
posted by Sebmojo (40 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't believe journalists would question the unmistakeable benefits of free-market incentives to change complex systems.

Also, this story is insane.
posted by GuyZero at 1:41 PM on April 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


On one hand, I'm kind of blown away by how systematic and entrenched the cheating was (it wasn't a few stray teachers). On the hand, given the system and how backwards NCLB is, I'd be surprised if this is the only place this is happening.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:42 PM on April 1, 2013


Hrm, so if you tell people what they must do to keep their jobs, then they will find a way to do those things that let them keep their jobs.

Of course, privately owned and managed schools would be immune to this sort of gaming the system. Only union thugs and lazy disgruntled government workers would stoop to that sort of thing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:45 PM on April 1, 2013 [40 favorites]


Is test score data like this available online in raw form for any states? The kinds of schemes being described should be statistically detectable with a bit of clever application, particularly if indexed at a low level, and I'd love to catch some lying motherfuckers.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:52 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can't believe journalists would question the unmistakeable benefits of free-market incentives to change complex systems.

Today's math lesson in counting brought to you by Mars, Inc., makers of fine food products like M+Ms: "M+Ms: You can count on the fun!"

That was a bit snarky, I guess, but at least corrupt public school teachers are the exception and not the rule. Applying free-market incentives to education, the corruption is priced into the business model, right from the start.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:58 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dr. Hall was known to rule by fear. She gave principals three years to meet their testing goals. Few did; in her decade as superintendent, she replaced 90 percent of the principals.

Teachers and principals whose students had high test scores received tenure and thousands of dollars in performance bonuses. Otherwise, as one teacher explained, it was “low score out the door.”


I know we looove our bad apples and our scapegoats but this is pretty much the system everywhere in the US, is it not? I don't think prosecuting one individual is going to do anything to fix our broken system.
posted by bleep at 2:01 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Applying free-market incentives to education, the corruption is priced into the business model, right from the start.

Well, conservatives are constantly screaming that schools should be run like a business...
posted by Thorzdad at 2:02 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is test score data like this available online in raw form for any states? The kinds of schemes being described should be statistically detectable with a bit of clever application and I'd love to catch some lying motherfuckers.

One thing mentioned in the article is that the Atlanta results showed much higher levels of answers being erased and changed to the correct ones. That would be very interesting data to collect and make public for state standardized tests.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:06 PM on April 1, 2013


Same as it ever was.
posted by empath at 2:08 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"One thing mentioned in the article is that the Atlanta results showed much higher levels of answers being erased and changed to the correct ones. That would be very interesting data to collect and make public for state standardized tests."

Even without that though, mean improvement having the very closely uniform distribution adding one to every students score would create should take a hell of a lot of explaining.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:11 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sounds like a story arc that got cut from season 4 of The Wire.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:12 PM on April 1, 2013 [24 favorites]


Typo in the post: should be Mr. Hyde rather than Mr. Parks in the hyperlink.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:41 PM on April 1, 2013


Well, conservatives are constantly screaming that schools should be run like a business...

Funny thing is, conservatives also go on about the importance of the family, parental responsibility, how schools are just leftist indoctrination centers etc. Which makes me wonder when we can start blaming low test scores on parents as well as teachers.
posted by Jimbob at 2:44 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Typo in the post: should be Mr. Hyde rather than Mr. Parks in the hyperlink.

Fixed.
posted by cortex at 2:56 PM on April 1, 2013


His first year at Parks, 2005, 86 percent of eighth graders scored proficient in math compared with 24 percent the year before; 78 percent passed the state reading test versus 35 percent the previous year.
Ya, that was none too subtle.
posted by Mitheral at 2:57 PM on April 1, 2013


"Dr. Hall was known to rule by fear. She gave principals three years to meet their testing goals. Few did; in her decade as superintendent, she replaced 90 percent of the principals.

Teachers and principals whose students had high test scores received tenure and thousands of dolla's in performance bonuses. Otherwise, as one teacher explained, it was 'low score out the door.'"

I know we looove our bad apples and our scapegoats but this is pretty much the system everywhere in the US, is it not? I don't think prosecuting one individual is going to do anything to fix our broken system.


We could try something like this around here: everybody with at least 1000 contributions would have to be in the upper 90% in terms of favorites to contributions ratio by April 1 of every year or 'see you later, common tater' (in which case it would be 'oh well, it was nice while it lasted' for me).
posted by jamjam at 2:58 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


We could try something like this around here: everybody with at least 1000 contributions would have to be in the upper 90% in terms of favorites to contributions ratio by April 1 of every year or 'see you later, common tater' (in which case it would be 'oh well, it was nice while it lasted' for me).

But that's not what the national program is, as screwy and horribly planned as it is. It would function more like top users would get more points or money or prestige or whatever for posts that have larger amounts of favorites or comments and the users that posted unpopular content would not get very much, possibly banned if a submoderator in a subfilter deemed their performance poor enough. Gaming with sockpuppets wouldn't be rife since it would be policed but the bad apples do mean bad information or boring content would occasionally rise to the top.

It's basically a corporate performance based assessment for schools because that's the best that our free market system has to offer. Until someone comes up with a better fix that doesn't involve sweeping changes on the societal level (which, according to our libertarian history, is a government action that is only appropriate during wartime), there's not a lot the government is willing to do in the face of an economic crunch. At least not if both sides of our politics are fervent free market capitalists and Ayn Rand is used again as cultural currency.

PS. He made a mean potato latke, followed his wife from job to job, and made sure his kids made it to school on time. During his 35 years as a Georgia state investigator, Richard Hyde has persuaded all sorts of criminals — corrupt judges, drug dealers, money launderers, racketeers — to turn state’s evidence, but until Jackie Parks, he had never tried to flip an elementary school teacher.
posted by dubusadus at 3:12 PM on April 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


The district spent $100,000 a year for a security detail to drive her around the city.

"Dear Superintendent,

We have received your request for a $100,000 per year security/chauffeur detail.

First of all, obviously you're fired. Secondly, I just have to ask what made you think this was even remotely a reasonable request? Certainly you're aware of our state's budgetary concerns regarding education, are you not?

We're going to go ahead and assume this request was done in jest, but the firing still stands, of course."
posted by ShutterBun at 3:49 PM on April 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Today's math lesson in counting brought to you by Mars, Inc., makers of fine food products like M+Ms: "M+Ms: You can count on the fun!"

Gulp! I taught at a place that has some of the Mars Family as alums; they are very generous. So when we covered the χ2 test for uniform distribution, I made darn sure to buy genuine Mars M&Ms for sampling the color distribution. I've become a pawn of Big Candy!
posted by benito.strauss at 3:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


To assess schools and solve most problems in education, have independent outsiders survey the student body, teachers, and parents through a variety of methods and obtain answers to the following questions: Testing students' knowledge as we are currently doing does nothing but create incentives that will worsen their learning environments. What if we instead assessed students' learning environments, and held administrators accountable for that grade? I think kids would learn a lot more, and be better off in most every measurable way.

If you give any plant the right environment, it will blossom. But if it's got too much shade, or too much sun, or the wrong kind of soil, it will be a constant and expensive struggle to keep it alive, much less healthy. Right now most public schools are downright hostile environments to the kinds of people we think we want as a society.

They do work pretty well as machines to generate dispirited, impovrished, frightened, uneducated, disenfranchised, and obedient underclasses, though. What an oversight!
posted by jsturgill at 4:00 PM on April 1, 2013 [59 favorites]


and here we have the crux of the matter.
posted by jepler at 4:46 PM on April 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Why do you hate America, jsturgill?
posted by Rykey at 5:05 PM on April 1, 2013


The other crux is that in many cities, the bulk of the tax base has fled to the suburbs over the last 30-40 years. You can't keep raising taxes on the people that are left. I'm in favor of decoupling school funding from the school districts' tax base, although that probably has some unintended consequences I haven't thought through.
posted by desjardins at 5:06 PM on April 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


desjardins: But but that wouldn't punish people for not being rich!
posted by Canageek at 5:23 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


This sounds like a story arc that got cut from season 4 of The Wire.

If David Simon had stuck to reporting for a little longer, it probably would have been.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:30 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]



and here we have the crux of the matter.
posted by jepler at 4:46 PM on April 1 [+] [!]


So I think beyond that, the real crux of the matter is that we're skeptical of any form of money allocation other than, well, the dominant one, the one that describes itself as being based in abstract individual liberties, individual choice, and markets where free individuals come together to freely express their desires through the medium of money. I'm not sure what it is, but that, at least, is what it claims to be.

So, for example, if businesspersons effect transfers of value from other people to themselves through underpaying their workers and overcharging their customers, that's natural and good — in fact, it's something like farming — you build your business through cultivating, growing, and harvesting income streams. However, if citizens want to band together to tax themselves to get or maintain services they consider vital, that is utterly insane and totally unnatural — most often it's presented as being either theft or something like it.

Basically, the reason why I'm going on this more-abstract-than-it-needs-to-be tangent is that I don't think, deep down, that it's about taxes. Instead, it's about who is or is not authorized to make decisions about resource use. Businesspeople acting in the interests of their business, or even just in their own interests, are authorized to do so, and so it's normal. Meanwhile, despite our history of pretensions to democracy, the rest of us are most definitely not authorized to make those decisions. Even in the event that we manage to make those decisions anyway, the results will always be faintly scandalous and seem faintly illegitimate — witness our deep-down skepticism of social security, medicare, medicaid, WIC, public education, libraries, universities, publicly-funded scientific research for non-military purposes, unemployment insurance... and the list goes on.

I postulate that this is because, deep down, America considers non-hierarchical democratically derived power as illegitimate compared to power held by a moneyed aristocracy. If a boss wants your money, it's fine, but if the people do, it's theft.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:34 PM on April 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't get why people don't understand that spending tax money on education is in their best interests. If you are a selfish person, you should spend more money on schools. You need educated kids to become doctors that can fix you and business owners who can hire you. Who is going to cure cancer? Probably not the high school dropout. If we don't educate kids properly, they won't be able to get good jobs, and if they don't get good jobs, they don't pay as much in taxes, and if we lose our tax base, our city will become a crappier place to live. It's not just affecting poor people at that point - your house is worth less, the roads you drive to work are full of potholes, they don't pick up the garbage as often, etc.

If I could allocate my tax dollars to ONE THING, it would be education. Think of the children! They're the ones who you're going to depend on some day. They're the ones who are going to be running things - have you seen Idiocracy? Is that what you want?
posted by desjardins at 5:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, so the decision-makers are betting that it will actually be more pleasant for them to live in guarded compounds in a country full of miserable people than it would be for them to live as wealthy members of a non-miserable society. And they may be right; on the one hand, security in a poor country costs money, but on the other hand, service labor of all types comes cheap when money is hyper-concentrated.

Educating more people well produces more competition at the elite universities, and maybe even more competition for the elite jobs, and, beyond that, maybe even more competition for the role of moneyed aristocrat itself. As such, an educated populace seems like an absolute bad, at least from the perspective of the people authorized to make decisions in our society. From that perspective, the only way to salvage anything of value from the public education system America's been saddled with is by inserting corporate middlemen and taking the money out directly, Bain-style — hence the popularity of charter schools among the-powers-that-be.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:06 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get why people don't understand that spending tax money on education is in their best interests.

Honestly, I think it's because 1) Many people can't recognize the benefits of an educated society when they see them (they're invisible until they're absent), and 2) Many people were not themselves spectacularly educated, and therefore do not value education as a public good.
posted by Rykey at 6:09 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Herein lies another GW legacy. Shit begets shit. Good job, assholes. And FWIW, yea, lets go ahead and blame the victims who committed crimes to circumvent the criminal legislation designed to put them out of work and make it impossible to do their jobs legally, properly and as most educators do...with love, vision and hope for their students.

I'm a little quirky and kinda Aspy, but dammit since the Reagan days I've known that this was a country doomed to self cannibalization. Eating itself from the inside out.

Destroying the middle class, the working class, education and health care...Trickle down has really been pouring UP!

Fuck this. Whether it's education healthcare or labor...it has to stop.

This is not the "America" that I was born into or signed up to defend in the military. We, all of us, work hard to make this place what it is and DESERVE BETTER!!!!1!!
posted by snsranch at 6:32 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Trickle-down makes total sense, if you keep in mind that the "down" that liquids like water and money flow toward are the places that already have a lot of that liquid already. This is why most of the water on earth is in the oceans, instead of up on mountaintops, and likewise why most of the money is held by the wealthy-by-birth.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:44 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm following this thread with interest, because I live in Atlanta. The last ten or twelve comments are starting to touch on the spending/tax base. Here is how it works in Georgia: the majority of K-12 funding comes from state taxes. Those funds are distributed to the 180 or so school districts around the state through a fairly complex legislative formula called QBE (Quality Basic Education). Local government is required to contribute some funding, called the Local Fair Share, which is done through a millage rate on property taxes. Many districts choose to overfund their fair share, typically through a special local option sales tax (SPLOST). So every district is a little different. The average for the state + local fair share in Georgia is about $9K per pupil; the national average is about $10K per pupil.

With multiple funding sources, and a long budget cycle, it can be hard to figure out exactly what is being spent by a specific school system in Georgia; parents, educators, and legislators all seem to claim a different number. The National Center for Education Statistics calculates that Atlanta Public Schools spent about $17,595 per student in 2010-11. That they would spend more than the average is not surprising, metro Atlanta is a more expensive place to live than the rest of Georgia. Comparing that with other school systems in metro Atlanta, a few districts spent more, most spent less. None of those school districts are going to be meaningful to you unless you live here, so let me use another city as a proxy: Boston, Massachusetts. During that same period, the public schools in the City of Boston spent about $19,841 per student. A little surprising that the numbers are that close, as Boston is a much more expensive place to live than Atlanta.

People in Atlanta are furious about this. What I'm not hearing anyone say is, "wow, if only we'd spent more money on Atlanta Public Schools..."
posted by kovacs at 9:27 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


SimCity does a great job of demonstrating both the cost and benefits of education.

But damn, those SimTeachers are always going on strike! Where are my hired goons when I need them?
posted by ShutterBun at 10:04 PM on April 1, 2013


It's basically a corporate performance based assessment for schools because that's the best that our free market system has to offer.

Really confused by the general consensus in this thread that it's the system's fault and no big deal. As to standardized testing being the best our system has to offer, what do they do in the perfect Other Countries where they're not concerned with filthy lucre? No tests? Then why are we always freaking out about falling behind other countries?
posted by yerfatma at 5:26 AM on April 2, 2013


the system's fault and no big deal

I seriously doubt anybody in this thread thinks this is no big deal. The argument here is that it's a huge problem that's enormously complicated, made worse by entrenched institutional forces like the pervasiveness of the free market or our apparent cultural kowtowing to the gentry.

perfect Other Countries where they're not concerned with filthy lucre

I'm don't think that's what we're talking about. There's not a lot of commenters here who are concerned with world rankings (of which the US is still in the top 20ish). Blind patriotism in the form of 'USA #1' hasn't exactly been MetaFilter's modus operandi, at least as far as I'm aware.

I think it's a lot more about those entrenched institutional issues that have been long criticized but are yet left unaddressed (No Child Left Behind being one of them). For a lot of people, I imagine it's sort of like watching someone repeatedly smash their head against an invisible wall that they know is there. The problem would be convincing them to stop because, at the same time, they're also smashing your head, too.

People in Atlanta are furious about this. What I'm not hearing anyone say is, "wow, if only we'd spent more money on Atlanta Public Schools..."

I've only lived in Atlanta for a short time but it's becoming evident that this city has some of the worst socioeconomic stratification I've ever seen. Downtown Decatur is a haven for yuppies with well-lit coffee shops and kitschy 'world' stores and artisanal everything. Half a mile south of that is a retail wasteland with a lot of closed down businesses and decaying strip malls with what seems like a predominantly black population.

White, middle-class counties refused to have the MARTA run through their neighborhoods and now 3/4ths of the riders are black and a quarter are white and the AJC and Creative Loafing comments are all about how scary it is to ride (which it isn't; then again, I'm not white and I've had some experience with being a minority). And, sure, this has always been the issue but it seems like the public schools scandal should have been a lot less surprising in light of how obvious this divide is. It's almost like most of Atlanta is still reeling from all the 'exotic' Latino and Asian restaurants that are on Buford Highway.
posted by dubusadus at 8:26 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I live in Atlanta too. I also was a teacher in a school where nearly everyone got free lunch.

The public school system is broken. Watch The Wire for what you're dealing with regarding the students. (That was pretty much EXACTLY my experience teaching.)

Let's look at how we view school. I know that in the 18th century it made sense to have a summer vacation, so that the kids could help out on the farm. What exactly is the reason for summer vacation in the 21st century?

Let's look at what's being taught in school. How much of the cirriculum actually translates to skills that are valued in the real world?

Let's look at school buildings. How many of them are unsafe? How many are overcrowded? How many have carcinogenic substances in them (I had Asbestos in my classroom.) How many aren't wired for 20th century technology, let alone 21st century technology (example: not enough plugs to accomodate more than 1 computer in the classroom.)

How many kids per teacher are there in a classroom? I had 36 in mine. I was told, "Don't worry, they won't all come on the same day."

Private schools won't fix it, Charter schools won't fix it, more discipline won't fix it.

We actually need to burn down the buildings and start over. Everything our school system does is wrong. What's right? Lots of opinions about that, but we're graduating folks who can't read and comprehend things. We're graduating people who can't solve logical problems. We're graduating people who can't write straightforward business English. I have a friend who teaches in a University and he's astounded by the poor reading, writing and study skills his students exhibit.

I had to administer FCAT. This was Florida's standardized test. We actually remediated and taught the test for 6 weeks every year. I went through I don't know how many practice problems. Friends, the test was so poorly designed, that I couldn't answer the questions. I am not stupid, I am not uneducated, I DO read for comprehension, the test was just that bad.

We used to say, "Measuring stuff never got it to grow." That's true. Also, what exactly is being measured? The ability to pass a standardized test? What does that get you in the real world?

The teachers doing this probably honestly thought they were doing the kids a favor, helping them progress to the next grade. I know a lot of the staff and faculty at my school used to think that way.

Like I said, it's broken.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Let's look at what's being taught in school. How much of the cirriculum actually translates to skills that are valued in the real world

That seems like an argument for getting rid of art, music, history, etc and teaching nothing but math and english. I'm not sure the point of an education outside of a trade school is to translate into skills of the sort you mean. It is to become educated.
posted by Justinian at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the greatest tragedies arising out of this—aside from, you know, a generation of school children being cheated out of a meaningful education—is how much it has emboldened the soi-disant "school choice" proponents in Georgia.

The one opinion I differ from a lot of people in is that I don't believe we have an education crisis. I don't think we have a poverty crisis or a crime crisis. It's a jobs crisis. I say it all the time, but you can't expect people to have the kind of stable homes and lives that allow children to concentrate on school unless they have stable jobs. The sooner we can vanquish the Social Darwinist, Theory "X", and frankly overtly racist culture governing working for a living in Georgia, the sooner we can start to make progress on the things people under the Gold Dome say they care about.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:08 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That seems like an argument for getting rid of art, music, history, etc and teaching nothing but math and english. I'm not sure the point of an education outside of a trade school is to translate into skills of the sort you mean. It is to become educated.

Absolutely NOT. A good Liberal Arts education teaches you to THINK! More reading, more art, music, history! History so that you can understand Cause and Effect!

HOWEVER after a couple of years in high school, someone needs to decide what they want to study. Either they plan on going to college, in which case higher mathematics, etc is indicated. If they don't have plans or grades or capacity for further education, then yes, a trade school would be the correct path.

As it stands right now, we are graduating people who are not prepared for university nor are they prepared to work.

Lots of social reasons why trade school is seen as a terrible alternative, which it shouldn't be, but the whole fallacy of "everyone goes to college" is creating this neither fish nor fowl high school graduate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:21 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Serious schadenfreude here on several levels. It's been a 2 year circus.

It's something of a cliche around here that a certain type of people buy "just outside the city of Decatur" to avoid our property taxes. That means city of Atlanta for many of them. I really have to control the urge to punch them in the throat when they complain that they "have to send their kids to private school because the City of Atlanta schools are so bad". You don't hear that from City residents; our schools (like our PD, FD, public works (except the traffic engineers)) are very good.
posted by kjs3 at 6:13 AM on April 3, 2013


« Older Indifferent cats in amateur porn....  |  Every Day We Are Dying and Out... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments