It’s So, Joe, Redux

It has been two and a half years since I lamented the sad story of Atlanta’s cheating scandal, so it was a relief to read that the schools’ former superintendent was just indicted for “racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements.” As we wait for justice to be done, let us consider some of the problems that may have led Atlanta, and perhaps other places, to this sorry pass. Not all of them are criminal, but following any, let alone many, of them may bring people to the edge of a very slippery slope.

(I don’t mean to single out Atlanta. I guess that one of the main reasons that city is now in the headlines is not unique wickedness but an unusual dedication to prosecution, including funding the fireballs who probed for years to amass their evidence. One prosecutor claims that his earnestness gained him no friends in Atlanta’s business community, which didn’t want this kind of publicity.)

1. Readers of these postings will know that when social-science “instruments” are used for social decision-making, a “corrupting pressure” is placed on that use, and the very social processes themselves tend to become corrupt. We don’t use knives as screwdrivers, and we don’t bring knives to gunfights (I hope), so why do we use measurements of social processes as arbiters of social decision-making? This misuse should stop.

2. Sometimes no corrupting pressure needs to be exerted because the influential person is already corrupt. If individual corruption alone were the problem, it could be rooted out when found, but people in positions of administrative responsibility not infrequently buck up or tolerate their corrupt colleagues rather than reprove them, leading to a state of institutional corruption. At one school I happily no longer work at, one administrator submitted fabricated statistics to the school’s re-accrediting agency. A second administrator, to whom I reported this fraud, made no response, and the submission was included in the school’s report. This is one example on the fly.

3. The late great Stephen Jay Gould said, “If the evidence looks too good to be true, it probably is.” People in positions of administrative responsibility who lack a moral compass should at least assume that suspicious persons with an IQ in three digits will see through some of the most egregious fraud and be deterred from committing it. These suspicious but salutary persons should remain suspicious until they have received a satisfactory explanation, a confession, or a conviction.

4. People in positions of administrative responsibility within schools and districts sometimes act as if their beau ideal of leadership is King Louis, Marshal Stalin, or Jabba the Hutt. By contrast, the famous management theorist W. Edwards Deming proposed such ideal behavior as a. Drive out fear. b. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets. c. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership. Leadership! What a concept!

5. There is widespread acceptance, or at best little questioning, of the proxy values proposed by education “scientists” to represent actual values, even when these proxy values are absurd and the use of them reveals the bankruptcy of intellect that lies behind their formulation and adoption. These postings are full of examples, but a recent favorite was the distance-evaluation of teachers by MP3 file, the files having been produced and cut by the teachers themselves. Of course the longest-running scandal is that of “value”-“added” “metrics.” The operative intellectual model for these things seems to be consensus by somnolence. Time for a wake-up call!

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