BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
I first noticed a blog post by the Bigger Pie Forum that published emails showing the Dept. of Education’s interior politics and pressures when it comes to school rankings on May 10 through a tweet. Now that story has been picked up by the Clarion Ledger. It ran this morning.
What it clearly shows is how out of whack things have been as it relates to accountability at the states government run schools, and how the more populous districts have used their considerable power to sway officials at MDE to keep taxpayer money flowing into the coffers.
Bigger Pie reported:
In August 2011, MDE’s former director of its Office of Research and Statistics (ORS) told an MDE contract worker via e-mail that he arbitrarily changed school ratings to make certain schools look more successful than they actually were. Some ratings alternations were made at the request of superintendents.
Former ORS director, Ken Thompson, e-mailed computer programmer Steve Hebbler (who is still under contract with MDE) about finalizing assessment files for the accountability model. Thompson mentioned “appeals” by school administrators who were not happy with their schools’ ratings and wanted them changed.
Judging by Thompson’s emails the pressure must have been intense. In the published emails he said he had become “too tired to fight”.
“I just finished wading through the appeals. We received 33 appeals but it was mostly garbage. I swear I think someone gave out stupid pills this year by the truck load.
“Jackson Public Schools decided they didn’t like the grade-level of 45 students so they want them excluded just because they think they are too old to be in the grade that JPS placed them.
“Hinds County thinks we should apportion proficiency rather than use FAY so they sent pages of students to apportion.
“Tupelo just can’t read and sent pages of students that they claimed weren’t in the SLAIF.
“And the list goes on….
“Some appeals were close enough to valid that I let them have them since it made a difference in the school. Some I let have them just because I’m too tired to fight. There were several errors by schools miscoding test forms that resulted in Pearson restoring the assessments. Arthur is working on getting those results updated. We will have a few MAAECF scoring appeals to change as well. Arthur is going to get those results from Susan in Student Assessment.”
Thompson resigned from MDE in December 2011. He now works as a private educational consultant
Thompson told the Clarion Ledger that “he sometimes gave schools the benefit of the doubt when making decisions because he feels accountability labels in some cases serve as “a ‘gotcha’ system to judge schools.”
The labels put public pressure on schools, Thompson said, and he understands why schools fight for every percentage point.
The Clarion Ledger reporter also decided to call on government school apologist and protector Nancy Loome of The Parents’ Campaign who began circling the wagons for her benefactors at the Superintendents Association.
“When we use assessments and accountability labels to demonize public education, that is a misuse of that system,” she said.
In another email exchange with DeSoto County Schools Accountability and Research Director Ryan Kuykendall, Thompson freely admitted to cooking the books.
“Since your public rate is higher than the rate on your final report, the correct graduation rate was slightly lower than the graduation rate I had originally given you,” Thompson said in an email later that same day. “Consequently, I used the incorrect rate since it was the most advantageous to the district.”
Is there any wonder our education system is in the shape it’s in?
Mrs. Loome has it partially correct. The use of assessments and accountability labels have been misused. But, not to demonize public education. Government school administrators have managed to do that job all on their own.
This effort has been an outright fraud perpetrated by public school administrators against the taxpayers, the students and the parents of Mississippi. Will none of our public officials charged with the job of protecting the public interest call it what it is?
This deserves, at the very least, to be the subject of an investigation.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett
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