This past winter I attended a screening of the excellent documentary, Race to Nowhere, hosted by Hamilton Middle School. The film puts forth a distinct opinion -- that the current thinking on American education has created a pressure cooker environment focused on a very narrow concept of "achievement." The filmmaker Vicki Abeles, a former attorney and concerned mom, presents a compelling case that high school students are so stressed out, depressed and completely disconnected from a love of learning that they will, among other things, easily resort to cheating.
From crib sheets, to copying, to writing answers on body parts, it appears high schoolers will readily adopt a "by any means necessary" approach to obtaining the GPA they think they need to get into Harvard, or whichever university's acceptance they hope to receive.
And even if these kids do get into Harvard, the "succeed at all costs" mentality doesn't necessarily subside. Last spring, while grading a batch of take-home exams, a teaching fellow at the Ivy League university noticed a striking similarity among many students' answers. The course's professor brought the issue before the Harvard College Administrative Board, and found that nearly half of the course's 279 students had collaborated on the "open book, open note, open Internet, etc." final in a way that constituted academic misconduct.
And just this past week the "Crimson" saw four of its National Quiz Bowl titles revoked after it was discovered that the Harvard team members improperly accessed a database of information that could have included parts of questions used in the college competitions.
Now ,I don't mean to be picking just on Harvard (although as a non Ivy League grad, it is kind of fun). Students anywhere, from the elementary grades up through graduate school, will consider cheating if the perceived stakes are high.
But the idea of teachers cheating still seems shocking to me. I am afraid though, in our current high stakes testing culture, we may just see more and more of what happened in Atlanta, Georgia, where, just this past Friday, a grand jury indicted 35 teachers, principals, administrators, and even the former superintendent on charges including racketeering, making false statements, and improperly influencing witness in the four-year-old Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
The allegations date back nearly 10 years, with 178 educators in 44 Atlanta schools found to be cheating by either giving their students answers to standardized tests, as well as changing wrong answers to correct ones.
The tests in questions were the main assessment Georgia was using to determine standing under No Child Left Behind. Those schools with good scores would receive more federal aid, with the opportunity to pay teachers and administrators showing "progress" bonuses.
Whoever initially said, "Cheaters never prosper," hadn't been fully briefed in the Atlanta situation. According to media reports, former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall received more than a half million dollars in "performance" pay between 1999 and 2009. It is money that likely won't be recovered by the district.
But perhaps the very saddest part of the story is that because of their new "higher" test score, many students--such as those at Parks Middle School, the site of some of city's worst violations--lost out on $750,000 in state and federal aid because their school no longer qualified as "in need of improvement."
In the end, it was the kids who were cheated out of supports they deserved. By frightened adults desperate to "achieve."
Cheating always comes at a price. And unfortunately the right people don't always pay it.
So if anyone knows where we can start coming up with answers on to how to lower the "stakes" in education without lowering expectations, please chime in. Because unlike with a take-home test, this is an issue that begs for lots of collaboration.comments powered by Disqus
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Verona resident Melissa Wardy got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.