Those that follow the CarmenK12 blog know that I’ve been reviewing much of Larry Cuban’s work on school reform. This morning, I received this article from Cuban’s blog where he analogized corporate earnings reports with school test scores. I am happy he has done that, today, because it helps me hammer home a critical point I have tried to express over that past few years (and just this past week.)
My critical point is that when looking at the top issues that motivate a school district executive, one of the most significant elements is doing those things that help them keep their high paying job (remember there are significant retirement benefits attached to these jobs.) As outlayed in every economics book, text books to Freakonomics, people do what they have ‘incentive’ to do. This is a fundamental principle in behavioral science. And, as Cuban summarizes, corporate CEOs have ‘incentives’ to show earnings just like school district executives have ’incentives’ to show the right trends and results with test scores.
Now, I’m not suggesting these school district executives do not want to keep their jobs for other reasons than the money, because I know many do. But, those reasons are incentives too and they are equally as much tied to the test scores data.
Here are some quotes from Cuban’s post, today, that help me establish my thinking:
…intense pressures upon corporate executives to satisfy investors and upon school leaders to raise test scores distort routine practices and too often leads to chicanery.
Chicanery defined by www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chicanery:
noun \-ˈkān-rē, -ˈkā-nə-\
Definition of CHICANERY
deception by artful subterfuge or sophistry : trickery
a piece of sharp practice (as at law) : trick
Examples of CHICANERY
He wasn’t above using chicanery to win votes. <that candidate only won the election through chicanery>
This is a bold statement, but there is more and more evidence of this across the nation as NCLB advances toward 2014. This next passage summarizes the analogy between the pressure of corporate earnings and the pressure of improving test scores:
What’s the connection between earnings reports and use of standardized test scores to judge school performance? In the past two decades, business-oriented reformers have pressed schools to set standards, be accountable for results, and use test scores as measures of performance. To prod superintendents, renamed CEOs, to produce higher scores, especially in big cities, bonuses go to school chiefs who meet and exceed their targets of improved student achievement. Scores from standardized tests have also become vital in promoting (and flunking) students and awarding (and denying) diplomas, a factor in evaluating teachers and principals, and ranking schools for receiving cash awards or penalties for unsatisfactory performance.
By narrowing school quality to standardized test scores and ratcheting up the consequences for poor results, many superintendents, principals, and teachers have devised short-term strategies to secure the benefits and avoid the costs. They work with those students who could make large gains on the tests rather than work with the lowest performing students. They increase test preparation. They drop electives that subtract time away from those skills and knowledge that will be tested. When scores rise, have students learned more? Hardly. But the adults learn a lot about bending rules to beat the system.
Larry Cuban, thank you for this analogy and explaining why this behavior in schools has become so prevalent. I’m not one to advocate for this behavior or say somebody is wrong for how they run their school district or report data, etc. Afterall, how would a school district executive maintain their job long enough to make a difference in the system if they didn’t ‘play the game’ long enough to keep their job to affect change?
As I’ve often said, I don’t envy today’s school district executives. They have the hardest jobs in America!
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