More bad news from the public schools of Louisiana. Our kids aren’t even learning how to cheat.
Perhaps you thought the idea was that kids should be taught not to cheat. If so, it may be some time since you were in a classroom. The idea that teachers function in loco parentis, and assist the moral development of their charges, seems to be going the way of Latin.
Once upon a time, cheating was regarded as futile in the long run, because students won’t learn anything that way, but it has become quite popular in the era of “high-stakes testing.” Thus, teachers who once recognized a duty to keep kids honest nowadays often conspire to juice up the scores.
No doubt most teachers play it straight, but it seems that every few months another school is found to have cooked the books. The latest to attract the attention of the state inspector general is L.B. Landry-O. Perry Walker High School, which is run by the Algiers Charter School Association.
If the kids hoped to learn the art of cheating while evading detection, the faculty at Landry-Walker has let them down big-time. A subtler approach is required than the school displayed with geometry exams, for instance.
Geometry was not exactly the forte of either Landry or Walker before the schools merged in 2013. At Landry, in particular, theorems were evidently not a popular diversion. Fewer than 1 percent earned an “excellent” rating there. At Walker, 12 percent merited that accolade.
A mere year later, the school was crammed with budding Euclids. Landry-Walker rated 78 percent excellent at geometry, outperforming even the brainy kids at Lusher Charter School. Since math and reading scores had also shot up dramatically at Landry-Walker in 2013, it was obvious that the kids had received an illicit boost. A more reliable measure of the school’s academic performance was the paltry 13 percent that met the modest requirements of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, under which students get their tuition paid at Louisiana colleges. When the state sent monitors in, the suspicious test scores returned to a more realistic level.
It hardly came as a surprise, therefore, when state education officials announced last week that they had called in the inspector general after uncovering “multiple indicators of potential malfeasance” at Landry-Walker.
More than a year ago, Algiers Charter School Association CEO Adrian Morgan acknowledged that cheating may have occurred; test scores were too fishy to be otherwise explained. School Principal Mary Laurie was regarded as adept at turning bad schools around, but these scores were the greatest miracle since water was turned into wine. Morgan got canned last month, and Laurie was suspended this week.
Charter schools may be run by nonprofits, but that doesn’t mean the people who work in them go short. Morgan was making $234,000 a year, for instance. Admittedly, the Algiers association runs one of New Orleans’ largest groups of charter schools, but if Landry-Walker is any guide, it has not saved the public schools yet.
The most effective way for charter schools to demonstrate the superiority claimed on their behalf is to deliver improved scores on tests that the state uses to rate them every year.
The price to pay for unsatisfactory performance on those tests can be a stiff one — the state may close down charters or remove regular schools from local control — so the temptation to fake scores is strong. It has, in several instances, apparently been irresistible.
Sadly, our teachers need to do a lot more work on their cheating skills. A state bureaucrat who might be impressed with a gradual upward trend will always smell a rat when scores go suddenly through the roof. Students involved in the fraud at Landry-Walker didn’t learn until it was too late that being too obvious means you’ll never get away with it.
Perhaps it is just as well that they are not being taught to cheat more effectively. This way they may be less likely to think of themselves as smart operators, a delusion that commonly leads to a federal indictment down the road.
That’s one reason teachers traditionally see their role as producing honest and productive citizens.