Friday, April 05, 2013

Georgia teaching indictment shows dangers of NCLB; more on Teach for America, automated essay-grading

The media has overflowed with stories about the scandal in Georgia of teachers indicted for participating in a cheating scandal, apparently motivated by the idea that their jobs depended on keeping their test scores up. 

 A typical story is here.  There are accusations of racism in the scandal. But it's pretty obvious that the case shows how the requirements of "No Child Left Behind" and "teaching to the test" can backfire badly.  How can students trust teachers as role models after this?

In Georgia, as in many states, most felonies are presented to a secret grand jury, where defendants do not have the right to defend themselves (this happens at trial, but it might happen as a preliminary hearing).  I don't know whether the defendants knew they were being investigated for criminal charges.  In many states, there are some procedures that guarantee that defendants know.  States vary in how well they can protect the public from frivolous prosecution (remember the North Carolina lacrosse cases).  My impression is that Virginia is one of the fairer states.
Earlier, PBS had reported some irregularities in the administration of Washington DC’s former chancellor Michelle Rhee, in its film on Frontline, “The Education of Michelle Rhee”, TV blog. Jan. 9, 2013. 
All of this is interesting to me because, for a while during the previous decade, I did seriously consider becoming a full time mathematics teacher as a “career switch”.  Although I’d love to have worked up to AP calculus, the real need was at the bottom end, where there is a lot of drill. 

Is it a good thing that I skipped all of this?  There are complicated reasons that I did, that I’ve covered before.
One day in April 2011, I saw a young man, presumably well-dressed, on the Washington DC Metro, riding on the Orange Line into Virginia,  looking at some pages of what looked like partial differential equations.  I thought, is that more advanced than is even possible in a high school AP course?  Maybe a proof of a theorem?  Maybe electrical engineering?  He then dropped them on the floor and had to recover them before leaving the train.  Sort of like the opening scene of a spy thriller?  

Update:  April 6

The Washington Post, in an article by Michael Alison Chandler, reports that "Teach for America" is only slowly being embraced by Virginia and probably other states, as a source for reliable new teachers, here

And the New York Times has a curious report by John Markoff on the ability of new computer software to grade essays or "free response" answers, link here. I can remember reports in the Washington Examiner by George Mason English professor and AP high school English teacher Erica Jacobs writing about spending days in an auditorium in Kentucky grading AP essays.   

It would seem that the same concept could be applied to evaluating blogs or even whole books before publication/  

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