Fool Congress Once — But Can Arne Fool It Twice?

by theschoolprincipal on April 7, 2011

For this post, you need to click the links in order to understand and then actually believe the story below. The researchers in the links, whether they are a peer-reviewed professor, Diane Ravitch, or a 60 Minutes crew, are far more credible than I, a retired principal, can be.

The last decade of school reform in America has been based on a lie — a well-known sham, often referred to as the Texas miracle. Not just a little ole lie, but a deliberate fabrication and a cover-up. (Read Diane Ravitch’s explanation.)

In the 1990’s, Houston Superintendent of Schools, Rod Paige, made principals and administrators accountable for the drop-out rate and for test scores. When those two criteria did not improve at a particular school, Paige fired the school administrator. Scores suddenly shot up at schools all over the district. Some schools made incredible progress with both the drop-out rate and student achievement scores. When George Bush campaigned for President in 2000, he thought he had found “the magic bullet” to reform America’s public schools and touted “the Texas miracle” during his campaign. But, as we shall see, the improvement turned out to be based on lies and fabrication. Houston had not improved its scores or its drop-out rate.

Even though the sham was known in inner circles by 2000, President Bush, once elected,  appointed the very shaman himself, Rod Paige, as U.S. Secretary of Education.

Crafting legislation known as No Child Left Behind, which was  based on “the Texas miracle,” President Bush and Rod Paige proceeded to convince Congress that they knew how to improve America’s schools: accountability — based on student test scores.  So our Congressmen and Senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, professing themselves to be wise, passed NCLB.

But no one bothered at the time to let  Congress in on the secret that President Bush’s magic bullet was not real. The Emperor had no clothes, but neither Rod Paige nor Houston administrators were willing to tell him.

But now it’s  2011. A decade has passed.

Surely, knowing they were fooled once, Congress will not be fooled again and reauthorize legislation that was based on a lie and a cover-up.

By 2004, the truth came out into the light of day. It took an observant assistant principal to put two and two together and expose the facts publicly. And, of course, as these things always seem to go, he was punished for being honest and ethical.

Next chapter in our saga of deceit? USA Today broke a story this week that an investigation is underway to examine the many erasures on the bubble sheets during Rhee’s tenure — as D.C. scores went up, up, up and Michelle and her leadership style got the credit.

The exposé of Michelle Rhee, whom teacherSabrina calls “Rhee, the Reformer,” a phrase, which although it  alliterates satirically, will never resonate as anything but a parody of authentic leadership in the school reform movement. Another sham? Another cover up?  So, what’s Michelle done now? It’s what she may have done during her 3 years as DC head honcho.

You see, back then, Michelle was informed by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing company, that there were an unusual number of erasures on the bubble sheets. She did a cursory investigation and then declared that no cheating had taken place — as she watched scores rise.

When Rhee was first informed this week of the new investigation, one she will not be carrying out herself this time, her reply was, “It isn’t surprising that the enemies of school reform are once again arguing that the earth is flat . . . .” Anyone who doesn’t agree with Michelle is an enemy of school reform? Lordy, lordy!  Is that kind of reasoning an indicator of an educated and disciplined– and rational — mind?

The next thing she did? We have on good authority that she rushed out and hired a public relations consultant. Sounds as if she has something she’s worried about.

Not surprisingly, in Rhee’s next statement two days later, she admitted that her remark had been “stupid” and she maintained that she was pleased that an investigation would take place. Hmmm. Sounds as if the p.r. doctor did a little doctoring.

But, see, here’s the problem. Michelle and Rod Paige were alike in one significant way. Fear was  their magic bullet — and they wielded it very effectively. Except that Michelle extended accountability so that it included teachers:You don’t bring up those scores? Then you’re fired. A good  leader takes human nature into account. A good leader anticipates the unintended consequences before putting change into effect. When we threaten people with the loss of their jobs and their homes, a wise leader, an experienced leader, can tell us what will unfold. And unfold it has.

Has Congress heard of Campbell’s Law, which explains what does and does not motivate people to do what they do? Donald Campbell was a social scientist whose research re social decision making led him to say that “when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”  Not that I condone or excuse cheating by teachers and administrators, but Campbell’s Law helps us to understand human nature and predict how humans may react to new laws, which is a really good thing to know about  if you are in a position to pass legislation.

Both Rod Paige and Michelle Rhee tied  evaluations to test scores, which led to firings. Because the improved test scores were certainly a lie in Paige’s case and likely a lie in Rhee’s case, can’t Congress understand that tying teachers’ and administrators’  job security to high-stakes testing  is insanity. The data used to decide who kept their jobs for another year or who was fired was meaningless. In D.C., teachers and principals who cheated in order to improve test results kept their jobs. Those who didn’t cheat got fired because their students’ scores didn’t improve. The second year test scores began to rise all over the district. I wonder why.

Why can’t Congress finally get it? Congress can ask for accountability, but it is foolish to tie it to test scores. There is no magic bullet when it comes to authentic and meaningful school reform. School reform is a much more complex issue than Congress and the general public realize.

Congress, you know the saying that sort of goes like this:  Fool me once, but you’re not going to fool me twice. If you do, then I’m the fool. (Hey, I’m trying to help you out here. Listen to me. Please.)

Chapter 3. Are you tired of the cheating, lying and cover-up? The truth is a wondrous thing. In today’s New York Times is a story where someone we know is telling the truth. President Obama is saying what he really thinks about  testing. He’s speaking as a father from the heart. What he says rings true to me. He is not equivocating or prevaricating.  Everyone who participated in the SaveOurSchools March in 2011 and working hard to get rid of NCLB, is on board with what the President said about testing. He’s right! We’re right. So get rid of NCLB, which measures accountability by use of high stakes testing!

The problem is that Justin Hamilton, a press officer at the U.S. Department of Education, has spent 3 days trying to spin the President’s words to make them align with Arne Duncan, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the President’ s Blueprint. You can’t spin those words, Justin. They are recorded word for word.Don’t try to tell the President of the United States what he’s really trying to say! Stop the lying and the spinning and the deceit. Get rid of No Child Left Behind and the rest of  the madness, and let’s move on and REALLY start making our schools better.

Okay, Congress, so you don’t believe me or you just don’t care. Well, here’s one thing you will care about. You have to. You have no choice. Do you have any idea of the vast amounts of money it takes to test all of America’s school children in reading, math, and writing not just once a year — but four times a year, Arne’s new vision of the future?  Once or twice a year is bad enough. Four times a year is a nightmare and the cost is exorbitant.

Let’s  talk about the money we  pay testing companies to create, print and score the tests. Let’s first talk about the cost of the tests, which can not be reused. Every test given is a new test, unlike the old days when we stored the standardized tests away until the following year.  So someone at the DOE came up with the idea that the solution is to create tests that students will take on computers. Brilliant idea. Except that schools don’t have enough computer labs — and I’m talking about enough labs to give the tests twice a year during the testing window. However, with Arne wanting to increase the number of times students are tested each year, schools will have to build more labs and buy more computers at a time that they already have budget shortfalls.

Tests, not teachers? Tests are the priority? Money, a very scarce resource right now, will be going to tests when we all know that it’s teachers who make the difference. No wonder Diane Ravitch can’t figure out whether we’re living in an era of stupidity or an era of insanity.

All of the money that has been spent on testing, spent on dismantling public education — and what do we have to show for it?  Nothing. Worse than nothing.

No Child Left Behind is like a house built on shifting sands. It is based on lies and deception. That sow’s ear can never ever be made into that silk purse that Congress wants. Accept it and get rid of NCLB. Throw it out, kit and kaboodle.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . . .

For a cautionary tale about testing, read The American Prospect‘s recounting of testing in Colorado by Dana Goldstein.

So, you still believe that all of this standardized testing is the way to go. Take an inside look at the testing industry itself in this Huffington Post article by Todd Farley.

And the latest about testing from Valerie Strauss, Washington

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Renee Albright
April 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm

This is very vindicating! I really am inspired to go read about the proof that there was a scam. It sits well with me intuitively, but I know that in speaking with others, they will want proof. Any ideas on what I can read to begin my search? Then, additionally, I’m thinking about the well-healed (pun intended) business leaders and anti-union, anti-public education people who are behind ads that push the “reform” agenda. Teachers have neither the time nor the money to fight this fight. So how do we make this known to the mainstream media? How about the average person who isn’t tracking news and is easily swayed by the propaganda? Finally, Ms. Pringle, NEA treasurer, spoke at a rally in Indianapolis which I attended. I believe it was she that said education is the ONLY thing that, when invested in, yields better than 100% returns on the investment. I want to find the source for that, as well.

Let’s just hope that truth wins. Because if truth loses, the kids of this country lose. If they lose, we all lose.


2 theschoolprincipal
April 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm

For proof, start with the link “2000” in the text (which has since disappeared.) The research was done by an Arizona State University professor. And then some people think that 60 Minutes is credible, so there’s the link to that within the text toward the top. You’re right. It’s difficult to change the minds of people who are ideologues and who don’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. Those are not the ones we can educate. However, there are already hundreds of thousands of teachers, parents, students, professors, college students, unions — The People — out there, who do get it. The Sleeping Giant has truly awakened and is mobilizing to take our country back. Look at what happened in Wisconsin yesterday. It’s just starting, but we will prevail. I urge you to go to and register. If you can’t go to the march in DC, that’s okay. You can do as much or as little as you have time for. I can send you a flyer to put on the bulletin board in your faculty lounge and to pass out at faculty meetings or elsewhere and you can forward it to your colleagues at other schools. You can go to the website and leave comments on the Forums or start a thread of your own. We’d love to have your support at any level you’re able to give it. As for Ms. Pringle, if you find the source for that quote, let me know. What she said is absolutely true. Thanks for your comment.


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