Cheating by students can be discussed!


Cheating by teachers cannot: On Monday, we mentioned three key facts good mainstream journalists mustn’t discuss.

In the featured editorial of that day’s New York Times, one of those facts got deep-sixed.

In its featured editorial, the Times recommended the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Early on, the paper listed three bad things which can happen if student test scores aren’t used:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/17/12): Traditional teacher evaluations often consist of cursory classroom visits by principals who declare nearly every teacher good, or at least competent, even in failing schools where few if any children meet basic educational standards.

As a result of this system, bad things can happen. High-performing teachers who have an enormous impact on student achievement go unidentified, and they often leave the district. Promising, but struggling, young teachers never get the help they need to master the job. And disastrous teachers who have no feel for the profession continue as long as they wish, hurting young lives along the way.
In our view, one of those scenarios makes good sense. The other two, possibly not.

(Presumably, horrible test scores would be a strong sign that a teacher has turned "disastrous.")

Whatever! In principle, we aren’t opposed to the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. But there is a large problem with this idea—and in a lengthy editorial, the Times never brought it up.

That problem is cheating by teachers! As everybody knows by now, teachers and principals sometimes cheat when they administer high-stakes test. The higher the stakes become, the greater the incentive.

There are ways to address this problem, of course—though solutions may cost money. (The use of proctors, for instance.) But in a lengthy editorial about the use of student test scores, the Times never mentioned this existence of this obvious problem.

Teachers and principals cheat on tests! By now, even journalists know this is true—but mentioning this obvious fact is largely verboten. Quite routinely, mainstream pundits recommend the use of test scores in teacher evaluations without showing the slightest sign that they know this problem exists.

You can't discuss cheating by teachers! In the Times editorial, the silence was especially striking because the editors chose to write this:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Reasonable school officials understand that test scores, while important, do not reflect the sum total of what good teachers provide for their students. In Washington, D.C., where the evaluation system is now in its fourth year, school officials have decided to change the weighting of tests. Originally, value-added scores accounted for 50 percent of teacher evaluations; that has been reduced to 35 percent, with an additional 15 percent consisting of other goals (like the students’ mastery of certain skills) collaboratively arrived at by teacher and principal.
Impressive! Unfortunately, Washington is one of the big school systems where massive cheating has occurred. But so what? The editors blew right past that fact as they recommended putting even more pressure on tests.

Every good journalist knows the rules: You’re not allowed to tell the world about those gains on NAEP scores. And you’re strongly encouraged to avoid all discussion of cheating by teachers. As a result, pseudo-discussions often take place, like this discussion on Monday.

The editors seemed to know—you’re not allowed to discuss teacher cheating. And good lord! Right next to their editorial, this letters column appeared.

Five letters appeared beneath this headline: “What to Do About Student Cheating.”

Students cheat—but teachers do not! No, we’re not making this up.

David Brooks turns the logic around: Last Friday, David Brooks advocated using test scores in teacher evaluations.

Our pundits rarely know much about schools. We thought Brooks’ logic was a bit upside down:
BROOKS (9/14/12): Though the final details are still uncertain, there will also be a serious teacher evaluation process [in Chicago]. The various elements of those evaluations will change for each teacher year by year, but, as teachers progress in their careers, student performance will become more and more important. That’s vital because various studies have shown that evaluations that rely in part on test scores really do identify the best teachers. Teachers who score well on these evaluations really do produce measurable improvements in their students’ performance for years to come. Rigorous teacher evaluations will give reformers a profound measuring tool.
Citing unlinked studies, Brooks said the use of student test scores helps “identify the best teachers.” But when student test scores are used that way, it does increase a teacher’s incentive to cheat.

Brooks didn’t mention this problem. Surely, he knows it exists.

Brooks said the use of test scores can help us find our best teachers. Absent some solution to the cheating problem, student test scores seem better suited to help us find our worst (most “disastrous”) teachers. Presumably, no one cheats to produce bad scores.

If a teacher’s scores are disastrously bad, those horrible scores can almost surely be trusted.


  1. Journalists are people. And when one person in an equation starts becoming portrayed as so sinister he's the devil (the principal, the teacher's union rep., even the mayor) I always ask what is the fact that they're leaving out. How they get so cocky in the first place is a huge blind spot to the whole culture, but it's made much harder when journalists are happy to serve some political end if they feel like it. Publish this to take down that opponent? What a great idea, how can I help? It's embedded right inside their sense of what their job is.

  2. It's incredible how blind the so-called reformers are to the simple fact that introducing "high stakes" into the equation -- compensation or job retention for the teachers themselves -- injects a conflict of interest. Salary schedules in a public employment environment, where compensation is publicly disclosed, takes jealousy off the table, allows the teacher a single focus on doing the job and is best suited to creating high school-wide morale. Private employers for that very reason do everything they can to keep compensation secret and to create a culture where sharing that information is frowned upon. It's the public disclosure of every teacher's salary that makes all the difference.

  3. IMHO there's a good analogy between using test scores to evaluate teachers and using financial results to evaluate businesses or business units. Business (wo)men have a strong incentive to cheat, because they get fired if they don't make the desired profit. However, offsetting this incentive is the punishment if they get caught cheating. A manager who cheats in an internal company report will be fired. If (s)he cheats on an external report, (s)he might go to prison.

    I think the education of our children is at least as important as the Widget Company making a profit. Thus, I'd recomment significant punishment for teachers and others who cheat on student test scores.

    1. Back in '09 The Economist said:

      >>>>>>Under Mr Welch, GE's accounting was so creative it could be hung on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art (although it was all within legal bounds). Frequent use was made of off-balance-sheet vehicles, on a greater scale even than Enron. The firm's huge, opaque financial arm, GE Capital, was used as a top-up fund in case profits in the rest of the business fell below the consistent growth promised by Mr Welch. Over the 80 or so quarters he was in charge, GE's profits grew so consistently they were almost a straight line. Those were the days....

      And there's the rub. Since leaving GE, Mr Welch's reputation has remained strong, whereas GE's has sunk into the mire. Thanks to its plunging share price, its market capitalisation is now barely 20% of what it was when Mr Welch left. There has been growing pressure on Mr Immelt to offload GE Capital, both from shareholders and now, it seems, judging by the proposed reforms of financial regulation announced on June 17th, from the government. Mr Immelt's grip on the top job seems to be weakening.[*]

      All of which raises a big question. Is GE's poor performance since Mr Welch left a reflection of how good a job he did, and how hard he has been to replace? Or is it his legacy?...

      [*CMike -- Turns out not to worry, access to the Fed window and other government favors can shine up any balance sheet.]<<<<<<

    2. "All of which raises a big question. Is GE's poor performance since Mr Welch left a reflection of how good a job he did, and how hard he has been to replace? Or is it his legacy?..."

      >>> oh darling! have you learned nothing from my award winning columns? the analysts weep!

      for our part, we claim no special financial knowledge.

      but youre probably a very decent person and i have no reason to doubt your familiarity with the money changing arts.

      so i will assume you have good reason to limit the answers to two.

      it *has* to be his legacy. as to why, my wayward student, i will not do you the disservice of just giving you the reason. you obviously require a refresher course in my incomparable archives:

      google: irish catholic

    3. lowercaseguys casemanagerSeptember 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

      Somerby would say the dissolution of GE must be Welch's legacy, because Somerby hates Irish Catholic Americans -- which is "proved" by this Google search!!?!?

      My God, you are really *such* a douchebag, lowercaseguy!

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