Two years ago, I was honored to appear as a presenter and panelist at a national forum for school improvement and student achievement at The Ohio State University, along with colleagues Dr. Walter Calinger and distinguished educator, Dr. Richard Wallace. I always referred to the latter as the "smarter doctor Wallace" to avoid anyone confusing us. No one ever has.
We presented detailed information on the rapid behavioral and academic turnaround we had achieved in a major urban school district. This included documentation of the research basis employed, the extremely hard work of teachers and administrators, external validation of the performance and the leadership model for rapid improvement in achievement for all students.
The Education Leadership Institute (ELI) team at the University of Pittsburgh, led by the smarter Dr. Wallace and several distinguished colleagues documented and validated the student performance with their onsite presence over a period of years. Their "before-and-after" comparisons were not only startling and revealing, but confirmed the efficacy of a success model that can be replicated just about anywhere. One of the schools, the Woodland Hills Academy, has subsequently been recognized as one of the top 30 schools in America.
Our hard-won achievements, though, were eclipsed at that same conference by Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and then-recent recipient of the National Superintendent of the Year award, Beverly L. Hall. Based primarily on test score results, she was widely hailed as a model for urban superintendents across the country.
It has now, though, come to light that the former superintendent of Atlanta schools, Ms. Hall, may have been involved in cooking the books. She allegedly knew about allegations of widespread cheating on state standardized tests and either ignored or tried to hide them, according to an 800-page state investigation report obtained by the Associated Press.
In a related report released by the Georgia Governor's office, investigators found evidence of cheating at close to 80 percent of the Atlanta schools where they examined the 2009 administration of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, or CRCT. Teachers and principals at more than four dozen schools are accused of helping students, or changing the answers once students handed in their test sheet.
The report synopsis indicates that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta Public Schools System were involved in cheating. Of the 178, at least 82 confessed to this misconduct with allegations dating as far back as 2001.
The Atlanta scenario is by no means an isolated incident. Many educators have been sanctioned for the same reason across much of the country. Most urban schools have made little or no progress toward meeting the mandates of No Child Left Behind, and the do-or-die deadline is near. It is illustrative, too, of how politically-driven programs from Washington can consume huge amounts of resources and deliver pretty much the opposite of their stated intent.
The latest reaction out of Washington is to authorize the Secretary of Education to grant waivers to low performing districts, primarily urban, ala the more than one thousand waivers issued so far that exempt various companies and organizations from participating in the new national healthcare system. One can only assume that the rationale for granting dispensations from the NCLB law will be the same as for healthcare.
Noble in its original intent to raise the academic achievement floor for all students, No Child Left Behind is fraught with executional shortcomings and has been more of a bludgeon than a help to schools. Most recently, it has become an instrument of political favoritism and coercion directed at states by the Department of Education destined to get even worse with the coming of waivers.
What's even more disappointing is that NCLB has evolved into an expensive boondoggle that tells us little or nothing about the academic performance of our children from state to state and has called into question the very veracity of our best educators. Through no fault of their own, and not unlike dolphins caught in a tuna net, honest and hard-working educators at all levels have been stained by their dishonest peers. Worse still, thousands of young people and their families have been given a false sense of achievement that they neither earned nor possess. The cancer that is NCLB has spread throughout the body of the nation's educational system to the extent that is now well beyond successful treatment.
The most effective course of action at this point is for the United States Congress to simply euthanize the program, end the suffering and put us all out of our misery.
Terry Wallace is a Senior Fellow at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia in Morgantown and a Senior Fellow at the Government Policy Research Center at West Liberty University