THE SEARCH: The cheating had gone on for decades!

TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2023

Somehow it went undiscussed: The history of this type of boondoggle goes on and on and on.

After that, it goes on and on some more. Then it goes on and on.

We first learned about it in 1971 or 1972, in our third year as a fifth grade teacher in the Baltimore City Schools. We wrote about it in the Baltimore Sun, several times, in that very decade.

Roughly forty years after we found out, USA Today and the Atlanta Journal Constitution finally caught on! To their very substantial credit, they banged the drum quite loudly.

Briefly, everyone knew! Today, a type of cheerful gullibility may tend to linger on.

"Education experts" had remained clueless, at least in public, over the many long years. Education professors didn't address the issue. Neither did test publishers, some of whom—or so we were reliably told—had been neck-deep in one part of the interwoven network of scandals and scams.

We're speaking about deliberate cheating on standardized tests in the public schools, yielding those "miracle" stories. And yes, we're talking about outright "cheating"—not about milder conduct which might be described as "test prep," or even as "teaching to the test."

We first learned about it over dinner one night long ago. Forty years later, Dana Goldstein, then with Slate, wrote about the scandals which had finally emerged—which had finally been researched and reported—in several major cities. 

Goldstein's piece appeared in Slate on July 21, 2011. Dual headlines included, her report began as shown:

How High-Stakes Testing Led to the Atlanta Cheating Scandal
And the ones in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Houston …

On July 5, Georgia released the results of a state investigation into suspicious test scores in the Atlanta public schools. The state reported that 178 educators in 44 of the district’s 100 schools had facilitated cheating—often with the tacit knowledge and even approval of high-level administrators, including Atlanta’s award-winning former superintendent Beverly Hall, who conveniently parked herself in Hawaii for the investigation’s denouement.

In the wake of this appalling ethical lapse, which resulted in thousands of Atlanta children—largely poor and black—being told they had acquired crucial academic skills they actually lack, the national media and education policy elite have mostly rushed to defend high-stakes testing policies.

Goldstein spoke about outright "cheating," not about "teaching to the test." With respect to the scandal in Atlanta, she spoke of an "appalling ethical lapse."

That was a severe understatement. 

What sorts of things had some teachers and administrators done—and not just in Atlanta? As she continued, Goldstein said that some teachers and administrators had done such things as this:

[T]he Atlanta case isn’t an isolated tragedy. A growing spate of evidence from around the country suggests that the most egregious practices in Atlanta—teachers purposefully seating struggling kids next to high-performing ones to encourage cheating on tests; educators gathering at after-school “erasure parties” to correct multiple-choice answer sheets—are part of a national, and indeed a historic trend, one that is bolstered by No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on pressuring educators to produce spectacular test results.

Yes, you read that correctly! In Atlanta, large numbers of "educators" had gathered at after-school “erasure parties” to correct multiple-choice answer sheets—to erase wrong answers on students' answer sheets, replacing them with the answers which were correct.

Teachers replaced wrong answers with correct answers! Unsurprisingly, test scores soared.

The conduct seems astonishing, especially when it's done in the open, among other teachers at "erasure parties." But no, this type of conduct hadn't surfaced in Atlanta alone. Continuing directly, Goldstein also wrote this:

Case in point: An explosive and underappreciated investigative series in USA Today this March documented 1,610 cases of standardized test-score manipulation in six states and Washington, D.C., between 2009 and 2010. The newspaper would have almost certainly found more cheating, but it zeroed in on only the most suspicious test-score leaps: those that statisticians said were about as likely to be legitimate as it would be to buy a winning Powerball ticket.

In many cases uncovered by USA Today, administrators were hesitant to investigate fishy test results, even when scores rose implausibly rapidly—say, from 5 percent math proficiency to 91 percent proficiency over the course of three years, as occurred in one Gainesville, Fla., elementary school...

In Washington, D.C., a father became suspicious of his daughter’s high math test scores, as the girl couldn’t perform basic arithmetic functions. One of then-chancellor Michelle Rhee’s favorite principals, Wayne Ryan of the Noyes Education Complex, responded by banning that parent from setting foot on campus. All in all, more than half of D.C. elementary schools, including Noyes, showed evidence of adult tampering with students’ standardized test answer sheets under Rhee’s administration, which paid principals and teachers up to $12,000 in annual bonuses for raising test scores. Wayne Ryan has since resigned in disgrace.

Atlanta wasn't alone! USA Today had reported widespread cheating in six additional states, but also in Washington, D.C., where press corps darling Michelle Rhee had built her career on the basis of transparently phony claims about the spectacular test scores she said she'd produced among her students as a Baltimore elementary school teacher.

Rhee's test score claims had never made sense. Now, as she sat at the chancellor's desk in D.C., the problem had gone systemwide.

At any rate, it had finally happened! All of a sudden, but ever so briefly, everybody suddenly knew about this kind of misconduct—a type of misconduct we'd first learned about, and written about, back in the 1970s. 

In Atlanta, the consequences of the misconduct were vast. Wikipedia offers this account of what happened when the law stepped in:

In 2009, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published analyses of Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) results which showed statistically unlikely test scores, including extraordinary gains or losses in a single year. An investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) released in July 2011 indicated that 44 out of 56 schools cheated on the 2009 CRCT. One hundred and seventy-eight educators were implicated in correcting answers entered by students. Of these, 35 educators were indicted and all but 12 took plea deals; the remaining 12 went to trial. 


Prior to the scandal, the [Atlanta Public Schools] had been lauded for making significant gains in standardized test scores...Superintendent Beverly Hall, who served from 1999 to 2010, was named Superintendent of the Year in 2009. The GBI's report said Hall "knew or should have known" about the scandal. Hall's lawyer has denied she had any knowledge of cheating practices. In 2013, she was indicted in relation to her role in the matter...

The trial began on September 29, 2014, presided over by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter. It was the longest criminal trial in Georgia history, lasting eight months. The lead prosecutor was Fani Willis. Before the end of the trial, the superintendent at the center of the scandal, Beverly Hall, died of breast cancer, aged 68.

Eleven of the twelve defendants were convicted on racketeering charges. As recently as last year, seven of the teachers were still appealing their convictions. 

Even at that late date, complaints were still being lodged about these prosecutions. Such complaints alleged excessive zeal on the part of prosecutors, who had brought these cases under the kinds of RICO statutes normally reserved for mobsters.

That said, no one has ever claimed that widespread cheating didn't occur, whether in Atlanta or elsewhere. For one brief shining moment, everyone seemed to know that reports of miraculous test score gains shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value—and that teachers and administrators will sometimes engage in astonishing conduct in order to produce such gains.

At this juncture, we stress two extremely important points:

The cheating didn't occur on the Naep:

None of the cheating in Atlanta had occurred on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep), the highly regarded gold standard of domestic educational testing.

In Atlanta and in D.C., the cheating had taken place on the annual statewide testing programs which were being widely used at that time to evaluate school systems, principals, teachers and schools. 

The federally-run Naep is a very different kind of testing program. Until fairly recently, there had never been any obvious incentive for teachers or principals to cheat on the administration of the Naep. Because of the way the Naep is administered, it would be much more difficult for some educator to do so.

This has no direct connection to the alleged "Mississippi miracle:"

We are not suggesting that some such cheating has been involved in the improved statewide Naep scores in Grade 4 reading in the state of Mississippi.

We make no such suggestion. We know of zero reason—none at all—to say that any such cheating has been involved in those large test score gains, which the Associated Press discussed in this May 17 report

We offer this bit of recent history to raise a broader point:

Over the course of the past fifty years, major news orgs have routinely thrilled to heartwarming claims of miraculous test score gains. 

Everybody loves the story of the little, low-performing school or school system which could! Everybody loves the story of the underperforming school which found a way to produce miraculous gains. 

Everyone loves the (Rhee-style) story of the insanely hard-working individual teacher who produced miraculous gains from her or his struggling class.

Our journalists have always loved those stories. Our experts have kept their traps shut.

Routinely, such stories have turned out to be bogus. But nothing cools the desire to believe in The Low-Income Grade School Which Could.

It seems to us that a similar type of gullibility may be surrounding those "heartening" claims about the AP's "Mississippi miracle." It seems to us that the AP report blew right past a certain reform in Mississippi which may have created a situation in which that pleasing rise in Grade 4 scores may not quite be what it seems.

Again, we know of zero reason to think that anyone in Mississippi has actually done something wrong. But oh, what kind of journalism is this which goes from bad to briefly aware, and then tilts back toward worse?

There's a lot to learn in this recent story about the way our national discourse works. Journalistically, it's a story of the relentless appeal of Preferred Upbeat Storyline. It may also be a story about a never-ending lack of technical prowess and curiosity, in this case among education writers.

Diogenes is said to have searched for one honest man. In Walker Percy's debut novel, The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling explicitly conducts a "search" which was "what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."

Way back in 1971, we were first told about outright cheating on standardized tests in a Baltimore public school. Ever since then, we've conducted an intermittent search.

That search has taught us that it isn't wise to assume that claims of "miracles" will turn out to be well-founded.

There's a lot to learn from this bit of history—a lot to learn about the way our feeble brains have conducted our modern national discourse concerning a wide set of topics. 

In this case, the cheating had been going on forever. Somehow, it had gone undiscussed!

Tomorrow: What we learned from two friends in 1971. 

Also, what we were told by a major testing executive roughly ten years later.


MONDAY, MAY 29, 2023

Does anyone care about black kids? Has a miracle occurred in the public schools of Mississippi?

Has something resembling a miracle taken place there? If so, why don't our major blue tribe news organs ever discuss it?

You may be old enough to remember when we started our current search. We started the search last Monday, in response to this gruesome bit of gab on the May 18 Morning Joe:

SCARBOROUGH (5/18/23): I want to talk really quickly, before we go to break, about reading in Mississippi and Alabama. 

I mean, you know, Mississippi—two states I love, two states I've lived in. Two states when I hear we're 49th in this, 50th in that, I roll my eyes.

Did you read about the "Mississippi miracle" yesterday? That Mississippi's reading scores have shot way up?



SCARBOROUGH: The Alabama miracle? It's so heartening, and maybe offers a road map for other areas in states that may be doing better but where there are pockets of illiteracy, to do better.

So began a "really quick" discussion of a miraculous state of affairs. It was a discussion of an alleged miracle in a pair of Deep South states. 

Everyone pretended they knew about this important miracle. As roughly ninety seconds passed, this "really quick" pseudo-conversation became even more insincere. 

The gab got even more phony! But as you can see, Scarborough was claiming that a miracle has occurred in the public schools of Mississippi and Alabama. Everybody on the set pretended to be thrilled.

Joe's gab was based on an AP report which appeared on May 17. For the record, the report described a "miracle" in only one state, Mississippi, though two other states were praised. 

Has a miracle really occurred in Mississippi's public schools? Headline included, the AP report started like this:

‘Mississippi miracle’: Kids’ reading scores have soared in Deep South states

It’s a cliché that Kymyona Burk heard a little too often: “Thank God for Mississippi.”

As the state’s literacy director, she knew politicians in other states would say it when their reading test scores were down—because at least they weren’t ranked as low as Mississippi. Or Louisiana. Or Alabama.

Lately, the way people talk about those states has started to change. Instead of looking down on the Gulf South, they’re seeing it as a model.

Mississippi went from being ranked the second-worst state in 2013 for fourth-grade reading to 21st in 2022. Louisiana and Alabama, meanwhile, were among only three states to see modest gains in fourth-grade reading during the pandemic, which saw massive learning setbacks in most other states.

The turnaround in these three states has grabbed the attention of educators nationally, showing rapid progress is possible anywhere, even in areas that have struggled for decades with poverty and dismal literacy rates. The states have passed laws adopting similar reforms that emphasize phonics and early screenings for struggling kids.

“In this region, we have decided to go big,” said Burk, now a senior policy fellow at ExcelinEd, a national advocacy group.

These Deep South states were not the first to pass major literacy laws; in fact, much of Mississippi’s legislation was based on a 2002 law in Florida that saw the Sunshine State achieve some of the country’s highest reading scores. The states also still have far to go to make sure every child can read.

But the country has taken notice of what some have called the Mississippi miracle...

Mississippi decided to emphasize phonics. After that, a miracle occurred!

Briefly, let's be fair. The term "miracle" is used here as an example of the familiar human practice known as "Storyline hyperbole."

No one is saying that a literal "miracle" has taken place in Mississippi's schools. They're saying that "rapid progress is possible anywhere" (even in states our blue tribe mocks) if you adopt the phonics / "early screening" policies pioneered by Florida under Governor Jeb Bush.

After Mississippi adopted those policies, it "went from being ranked the second-worst state in 2013 for fourth-grade reading to 21st in 2022."  That's a reference to average scores in Grade 4 reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep), the highly-regarded gold standard of American educational testing.

Plainly, 21st best out of fifty states isn't a miracle. That said, if everything is as it seems, it does seem to constitute an example of "rapid progress."

Let's continue to be fair:

As we showed you last week, data from that Grade 4 reading test do seem to support the claim that significant progress has occurred in Mississippi.

Not to bore you, but after you "disaggregate" scores from that Grade 4 test, this is where Mississippi's black kids currently stand, or at least seem to stand, as compared to their counterparts around the nation:

Average scores, black students, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2022:
Washington state: 209.79
Massachusetts: 207.41
Florida: 206.82
Arizona: 205.19
Mississippi: 204.41
Texas: 203.98
Colorado: 203.88
New Jersey: 203.42
Maryland: 202.49
Georgia: 202.31

U.S. public schools:  198.12 

Last year, those were the ten highest-scoring states on this important measure. Let's get clear on what those data show, or at least seem to show:

According to last year's Grade 4 Naep, Mississippi was the fifth highest-scoring state on this important measure. (For the record, that's fifth best out of the 39 states with a large enough black student population to generate a statistically valid average score.) 

Mississippi's black kids scored fifth best out of 39 states! If everything is at it seems, it seems that something very good has happened in this state, with the possibility that its policies could generate progress elsewhere.

Colloquially, this is a miracle—and yet it goes undiscussed! 

More specifically, the AP report generated about 90 seconds of factually bungled gab on Morning Joe. You've heard nothing about it anywhere else where blue tribe pablum is sold.

Does anyone actually care about the lives and the interests (and the happiness) of black kids? More specifically, does anyone in our own blue tribe care about such kids, except for performative purposes?

For years, we've told you the answer is no. The fact that this topic goes undiscussed is what we've been talking about.

Assuming that everything is as it seems, Mississippi's black fourth graders seem to be on a roll, at least as compared to their peers around the nation.

Nobody seems to care about this! Meanwhile, is everything the way it seems with respect to those recent Naep data?

We have nothing but the highest respect for the efforts Mississippi seems to be making in its public schools. But it seems to us that those data may be a bit misleading—that they may exaggerate the amount of progress being achieved in this state.

Starting tomorrow, we'll tell you why we say that. For today, we'll remind you of this:

Topics like this are never discussed by Rachel or Lawrence, and surely not by Nicolle. Along with the rest of their cable news colleagues, they'd rather jump off the Golden Gate Bridge than bore you with apparent good news about the lives and the interests of a bunch of the nation's black kids.

They play you and play you and play you again. (They may not realize that they're doing that.) That "really quick" gabfest on Morning Joe was an insincere, clownishly bungled case in point.

(Nothing dimly resembling an "Alabama miracle" has taken place.)

In our view, we vastly self-impressed blue tribe denizens badly need to start finding ways to get over ourselves. The Morning Joe gang was in gruesome bad faith in that bit of drive-by drivel. But so are heralded tribunes across the sweep of our self-admiring blue tribe!

As we entertain ourselves chasing Trump, Mississippi's black kids go undiscussed. Today, we leave you with a question:

Given our tribe's vast moral greatness, why do you think that is?

Tomorrow: Something we learned way back when

As always: For all Naep data, start here.

Future Historians Living in Trees explain demise of U.S.!

SATURDAY, MAY 27, 2023

Wallace TV program cited: Centuries ahead of where we are now, Future Historians Living in Trees are already preparing the textbooks, according to sources familiar.

They may be forced to live in trees following the cataclysmic defeat of the West, but the historians in question are highly eminent. 

BREAKING! They're attributing the end of the American experiment to "the democratization of media." More specifically, they're attributing this cataclysmic downfall to the creation and implementation of round-the-clock, profit-based "cable news."

(Full disclosure: Spokespersons for these future scholars communicate through the nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as "dreams.")

Last evening, those spokespersons offered a case in point. They cited a 20-minute "discussion" of the ongoing debt limit crisis on yesterday's Deadline: White House.

At issue was Donald J. Trump's role in the ongoing negotiations. Here's the way the lengthy segment went down:

After MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace introduced three of "our favorite reporters and friends," the pundits conducted themselves in a way which resembled the type of interaction once known as a "discussion."

For twenty minutes, the favorites pretended to conduct a news discussion. Right from the start, the presentation aired above this alarming chyron:


The analysts came right out of their chairs! Has Donld J.  Trump been urging the GOP to do that? Has he been doing that in a way which could be described as BREAKING NEWS?

Granted, Trump had made a deeply worrying set of remarks concerning this matter during his gruesome CNN "town hall" broadcast. We specifically cited those worrying (and childish) remarks in real time. 

But that event had occurred all the way back on May 10. Our question, therefore, was this:

Has Trump been urging the GOP to default in the days and weeks since then? Has he been urging this conduct in a way which can responsibly and accurately be described as BREAKING NEWS?

Has Trump been urging such terrible conduct in the days and weeks since then? We were surprised by the Wallace chyron, because we had read this passage in a front-page report in the New York Times just yesterday morning.

We include the upbeat front-page headline from yesterday' front-page report:

White House and G.O.P. Close In on Deal to Raise Debt Limit and Cut Spending


Former President Donald J. Trump, who has said Republicans should force a default if they do not get what they want in the negotiations, also was weighing in. Mr. McCarthy told reporters he had spoken with Mr. Trump briefly about the negotiations—“it came up just for a second,” the speaker said. “He was talking about, ‘Make sure you get a good agreement.’”

After playing a tee shot on his golf course outside Washington, Mr. Trump approached a reporter for The New York Times, iPhone in hand, and showed a call with Mr. McCarthy.

“It’s going to be an interesting thing—it’s not going to be that easy,” said Mr. Trump, who described his call with the speaker as “a little, quick talk.”

“They’ve spent three years wasting money on nonsense,” he added, saying, “Republicans don’t want to see that, so I understand where they’re at.”

That was the end of the front-page report. With that in mind:

Has Trump been urging the GOP to let the United States default? A pair of high-ranking Times reporters seemed to be unaware of this BREAKING NEWS.

What was Wallace talking about during her twenty-minute segment? Specifically, in what way has Trump been "urging the GOP to let the U.S. default?"

Early on, she cited this recent report in Vanity Fair—a recent report which makes no such claim about Trump. Exactly ten minutes into the scrum, she offered this trademark bit of incompetence-laced misstatement:

WALLACE (5/26/23): Here's Donald Trump. Oh, I'm sorry, I don't have it, because I—



So Trump says, "I say to the Republicans out there, Congress and senators, if they don't give you massive cuts, you're going to have to do a default."


"Do a default?" I don't think that's what anyone says.


"And I don't believe they're going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave because you don't want that to happen."


Again, with his massive platform that he enjoys there, that is perhaps the loudest voice people have heard from him on the default.

So spoke Wallace, reading a statement by Trump. 

Initially, she seemed to think that she'd be playing videotape of a statement by Trump. Instead, she had to read the text of his statement, a statement for which she didn't provide a source or a date.

Even there, Trump was saying that a default was something "you don't want to happen." In the statement Wallace read, he was recommending a hard bargaining stance by the GOP.  

He wasn't explicitly urging default. But then again, also this:

In fact, the statement Wallace read had been made at the May 10 "town hall" event. Everywhere else, it was sixteen days old. Here, it was said to be BREAKING NEWS.

Wallace's chyron was an inaccurate paraphrase of that statement by Trump. But in no sense did that statement by Trump constitute some sort of BREAKING NEWS.

We're sorry, but that just isn't the case. In the course of twenty minutes, none of her favorites said so.

We'll only tell you what Future Historians Living in Trees have apparently already said:

Nicolle Wallace is a policy flyweight and an instinctive dissembler. She should be on the air two hours a day in much the way that Donald J. Trump should be playing center field for the Yankees.

Now for the apparent history of our disastrous era:

According to the history texts those future scholars have reportedly assembled, blue tribe cable had become almost as disingenuous as red tribe cable by June 2023.

So went "the democratization of media" as the American experiment eventually crashed to the ground.

In our own view, Wallace shouldn't be on the air on anything like a "news channel." 

In private life, she may be a good and decent person—we aren't equipped to tell you. But as a journalist, she and her endless list of (compensated) favorites and friends are, in large part, conducting a daily clown show. 

On the whole, her daily program is two hours of blue tribe comfort food. More and more and more and more, it's propaganda-adjacent.

Journalistically, Wallace is largely a clown; on balance, her favorites and friends are enablers. According to future scholars, blue tribe cable got dumber and dumber, but also more and more phony, with each passing day.

We return you to yesterday's Times report. It included no sign that Donald J. Trump has been behaving in the manner described by Wallace and her friends. 

There was no such BREAKING NEWS to report. That chyron was a deception.

Meanwhile, consider this: 

This childish, friends-based TV format began in the 1950s. It got its start with The Mickey Mouse Club, a Disney program aimed at people who were seven or eight years old.

If you want a modern-day version for adults, tune in to Wallace's show.

Yesterday's segment was full of misstatements by Wallace. On the brighter side, to borrow from Warren Zevon, [her] hair was perfect, which makes for "good TV."

To watch the entire twenty minutes, you can start here. This is the way the west was lost, or so say despondent historians.