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Cheating starts with chase for funds

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

Do you think that Georgia is the only state that faces investigations related to cheating on the CRCT (Criterion Referenced Competency Test)?

Of course, we know that Washington, D.C., will fire 200 teachers because of the cheating scandal after Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, D.C., affirmed the group's commitment to education reform in D.C., explaining that by meeting together they are "creating a team committed to academic excellence" that began at Sousa (Middle School) and must spread throughout the district.

"If it can happen at Sousa, it can happen to any public school in D.C.," Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson agreed. "We have just gotten started." And, in fact, they had. It did spread throughout the district and an investigation for cheating on the CRCT resulted in the firing of 200, more or less, teachers. D.C. is not alone, I am sure.

The problem originates with money! Your money!

There were 10 school districts/states who took your tax dollars in a Grand Scheme that was supposed to, in Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's words, reverse the trend of "dumbing-down" the curriculum. The program is called "Race to the Top." It is the brainchild of the Department of Education and the current administration and it pays out large amounts of money to school districts that show increases in CRCT test scores. The states who received taxpayer-funded grants are:

- Massachusetts: Received up to $250 million because of a 59.6 percent increase in scores;

- New York: Received up to $700 million in grants because of a 56.2 percent increase in scores.

Now, Hawaii is a miracle! They were able to raise their scores by a whopping 97.8 percent Wow! How hard-working are they? They just "earned" $75 million in grants.

Similar amounts are being given to other states and districts, including Florida, Ohio, Maryland, Rhode Island and North Carolina totaling more than $3 billion dollars, where test scores increased an average of 37 percent over the previous year.

Test scores in Georgia were the lowest-increasing by a small 12 percent margin, so expect many more scandals in your future. Hopefully, the school administrators will take responsibility for the atmosphere of "winning at any cost": pushing, pushing, pushing teachers to create higher scores, but not allowing the teachers to use successful teaching methods which may be outside of the prescribed curriculum and methodology.

When there is this kind of monetary incentive involved, widespread greed breaks out all over the country and the greedy will cheat, connive and steal to get that money. Who pays the price? You and I, of course, but the deeper harm is to the very students who need our help. This program must be discontinued. It is a failure, and yet a new program, similar to Race to the Top, is being implemented this fall for early childhood education to the tune of 500 million tax dollars.

In addition to the reforms supported by Race to the Top, the department has made unprecedented resources available through reform programs like the Investing in Innovation Fund, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the School Improvement Grants under Title I.

Through all of these programs, the Department of Education will be distributing almost $10 billion to support reform in states and local communities. This amount alone would balance the federal budget. See my resources at ED.gov.

Sarah Webster of Albany is a part-time artist/illustrator/framer and full-time political watchdog and a former teacher's aide. She has a bachelor of arts in art from Georgia State University and an associate of science in psychology.