Bill Ayers: “The road to the massive cheating scandal in Atlanta runs right through the White House”

Continuing our recent conversation on the misguided work of education reform advocate Michelle “we can test our way to better schools” Rhee, I thought that I’d share this comment, which was sent out yesterday by our friend Bill Ayers in response to news that 27 former educators in the Atlanta public school system had reported to jail to face racketeering charges stemming from their widespread campaign to falsify students’ standardized tests in order show progress in line with Department of Education expectations.

The road to the massive cheating scandal in Atlanta runs right through the White House.

The former superintendent, Dr. Beverly L. Hall, and her 34 obedient subordinates now face criminal charges, but the central role played by a group of un-indicted and largely unacknowledged co-conspirators, her powerful enablers, is barely noted.

Beyond her “strong relations with the business elite” who reportedly made her “untouchable” in Atlanta, she was a national super-star for more than a decade because her work embodied the shared educational policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. In the testing frenzy that characterized both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top Dr. Hall was a winner, consistently praised over many years by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for raising test scores, hosted at the White House in 2009 as superintendent of the year, and appointed in 2010 by President Obama to the National Board for Education Sciences. When the Atlanta scandal broke in 2011 Secretary Duncan rushed to assure the public that it was “very isolated” and “an easy one to fix.”

That’s not true. According to a recently released study by the independent monitoring group FairTest, cheating is “widespread” and fully documented in 37 states and Washington D.C.

The deeper problem is reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. Teaching toward a simple standardized measure and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” both incentivizes cheating and is a worthless proxy for learning.

I recently interviewed leaders at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools—the school Arne Duncan attended for 12 years and the school where the Obamas, the Duncans, and the Emanuels sent their children — and asked what role test scores played in teacher evaluations there. The answer was none. I pressed the point and was told that in their view test scores have no value in helping to understand or identify good teaching.

-William Ayers

Distinguished Professor of Education (retired)
University of Illinois at Chicago

And here’s a clip from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing press release which Ayers referenced:

(A) new survey reports confirmed cases of test score manipulation in at least 37 states and Washington, D.C. in the past four academic years. The analysis by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) documents more than 50 ways schools improperly inflated their scores during that period.

“Across the U.S., strategies that boost scores without improving learning — including outright cheating, narrow teaching to the test and pushing out low-scoring students — are widespread,” said FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. “These corrupt practices are inevitable consequences of the politically mandated overuse and misuse of high-stakes exams.”

Among the ways FairTest found test scores have been manipulated in communities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York City, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia:

• Encourage teachers to view upcoming test forms before they are administered.
• Exclude likely low-scorers from enrolling in school.
• Drill students on actual upcoming test items.
• Use thumbs-up/thumbs-down signals to indicate right and wrong responses.
• Erase erroneous responses and insert correct ones.
• Report low-scorers as having been absent on testing day.

Schaeffer continued, “The solution to the school test cheating problem is not simply stepped up enforcement. Instead, testing misuses must end because they cheat the public out of accurate data about public school quality at the same time they cheat many students out of a high-quality education.”

The bottom line, as much as it pains the wealthy to hear it, is that decent education cannot be commoditized, and children cannot be taught like they’re cows being fattened-up on factory farm feedlots. The fact of the matter is that teaching to the test, even when cheating isn’t involved, does not create the kind of inquisitive young learners we need to solve the very serious problems that face the world today. Sure, it may be cheaper to pack kids in classrooms of 60, and have poorly paid script readers prepare them for tests between film strips of questionable educational value, but it just doesn’t work. What works, as we well know, is hiring great teachers, putting them in small classrooms, and empowering them to make independent decisions based upon their firsthand knowledge of the kids who have been entrusted to them. Unfortunately, our adversaries are the ones with all the money, and they don’t have any intention of giving up, as evidenced by their funding of Michelle Rhee and others.

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  1. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    The road to the massive cheating scandal in Atlanta runs right through the hearts, minds, and moral values of the individuals who cheat. They can’t point the finger at anyone else. An honest person would not cheat even if someone held a gun to their head and tried to force them. The love of money is the root of all evil.

  2. anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    But, wait, this makes no sense. I thought that Obama answered to Bill Ayers. I’m confused.

  3. Topher
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    As a teacher who has taught in private school and public school, it’s laughable that public schools are still using multiple choice bubble-style standardized assessments. It’s laughable because it’s sad. As a teacher I’m constantly differentiating (making lessons, assessments, activities appeal to a wide range of interests, abilities, and levels). If we as educators, administrators, and parents believe that there should be differentiation (research shows its necessity and benefit to student learning) then we need to come up with an alternative form of state assessment that meets the needs of all students.

    The root, as EOS points out, is that it comes down to money. For the State of Michigan to authentically assess each student individually (consider the governor’s beautifully idealistic slogan: any time, any where, any way, any pace) it will cost them much more money than a one-size-fits-all test. Michigan has yet to reveal its Common Core assessment (even though the teaching of these new standards starts in about 5 months), but the hope is that it does a better job of assessing. The IB assessments are much more authentic – but these require a very large amount of time (For IB English, students are assessed individually in a 10-15 minute one-on-one verbal commentary on a passage from a read text), experts, and money to pay the experts.

    The state just isn’t willing to invest in our students, because it takes time, money, planning, and a some major brains behind such an operation. It’s so much easier to give a multiple choice test, call it reliable data (even though ACT formed an alliance with Michigan and now creates and administers the testing. Apparently we as a state can’t even create our own testing materials.), and then reward/punish schools based on that data.

    If all teachers only assessed their students with multiple choice bubble-type questions in their classrooms, 1) the teachers wouldn’t be considering multiple learners, 2) students would not learn (only learn to memorize facts and pick them out), and 3) those teachers would (ideally) be fired.

    Yet we allow the state to impose this type of testing on our children and students.

  4. Elliott
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    EOS, there were 35 people indicted in Atlanta. That says to me that it’s epidemic. This isn’t about one or two bad people – this is about a system that’s broken.

  5. Knox
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    The rich don’t want to pay to educate the children of the lazy. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. Education, in their eyes, isn’t a right, but a privilege. Secondarily, destroying our public education system also ensures a permanent underclass willing to work for Chinese wages. It’s a “win win”.

  6. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink


    I agree. It’s a culture that has rejected traditional moral values to its detriment.

  7. Elliott
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Try as you might, you can’t use this as an indictment of the public school system, EOS. For profit charter schools as just as guilty, if not moreso.

  8. Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    FWIW, there’s none of this testing to death nonsense at Greenhills either. And Snyder sends his kid there, so….

  9. John Galt
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Few teachers! More guns!

    That’s the solution for our schools, folks.

  10. Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Yes, we were more moral when we were segregating black people from public services.

  11. Mr. X
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Pete, I think that’s what they call a false dichotomy. I would have thought that they’d have taught you that in grad school.

  12. Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’m curious, when is this supposed time that America was more “moral” than now?

    I can’t think of when this could be. It certainly wasn’t in the from 1776 – 1865 when it was legal in some states to buy and sell humans. Nor could it be afterward, when egregious laws still existed limiting the rights of certain classes of people to vote, obtain public services and participate economically. Nor could it be after 1964. It took states like Mississippi nearly a decade to fully integrate schools and unofficial racial and economic segregation still exists today.

    I don’t know. I consider social marginalization to be fundamentally immoral and our past indicates that things have gotten better rather than worse.

    That’s just an example, though.

    I am curious as to when this mythical time was. I have been hearing about it from right wingers all my life.

  13. Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Knox hit the nail on the head. I will also extrapolate some of his argument to the way the NeoCons don’t want access to birth control/abortion. By forcing girls to keep unwanted babies, you are forcing them into limited life choices. Having a baby to take care of will often (not always) force the girls into forgoing education and taking a series of crappy jobs. If they are constantly struggling to feed the kid and keep a roof over their heads, I would imagine they are less likely to agitate for better pay, better working conditions and so on. In other words, this helps contribute to the permanent underclass.

  14. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink


    I think you’ve got it backwards.

    Conservatives encourage unmarried youth to refrain from sexual activity until they are in a stable marriage. This leads to higher levels of education and a higher SES for those involved and a better environment to raise healthy children.

    Liberals, by encouraging youth to engage in sexual activity, and rewarding pregnant teens, foster an environment that dooms the next generation to poverty and dependency.

  15. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    EOS, are you equating access to birth control/sex ed with encouraging sexual activity.

    We fundamentally disagree on that one. I think people are going to have sex. Quite honestly, the only reason I wasn’t having sex was I couldn’t get laid. (I am sure that shocks the lot of you! Ha ha ha ha :)). There are moral people who want to “wait” and I totally respect that but I just don’t think that is true for the majority of the people. Therefore, I advocate access to birth control and abortion.

    Believe it or not, I am actually not in favor of out of wedlock births* and would like to reduce the number however we can. If we can convince people to “wait”, then super but I just don’t see it as realistic.

    *Before anyone starts, this is not a condemnation of anyone. Remember that I practiced legal aid for years and then taught school in a high poverty area and so I saw huge downsides of early, out of wedlock births.

  16. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Youth have historically done a pretty good job of encouraging their own sexual behavior.

  17. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Sorry, that first sentence should have ended with a ?. Five days off of school and my brain is mucking up :)

  18. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    If conservatives are so good at preventing pregnancies and sex, why do southern red states have such high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs?

    This makes no sense to me.

    When I was growing up in the South, kids would often look forward to Baptist church teen getaways, because that’s where you could get sex. I was told by several people that the place to get sex was church.

    I never went to church, so I think that’s why never had sex. It was OK with me. I thought that the people who were having rampant sex at my school(s) were generally complete assholes. They also happened to be nice, upstanding church going types.

    Pregnancies among upstanding white kids were rare. I wonder how many of them had abortions?

  19. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Peter, from personal experience I can say that girls of my “class” (mid to upper mid) had abortions. Not me personally (I’m delighted to say I have never been pregnant, which should be a relief to you all) but many of my friends. My dad had a coworker whose daughter had an abortion and the coworker went all nutjob on her. My dad sat me down and said if I ever needed to do that he would go with me, pay for it, whatever. I didn’t appreciate that gesture as much as I should have.

  20. Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I am positive that there were abortions among middle/upper class white kids in Mississippi. Just no one wanted to talk about it.

    In general, white, church going Mississippians would much rather abort a child than have to go through the shame of having a pregnant teenager.

  21. Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I can say from first hand experience that conservative sexual policies are a total failure in Mississippi and probably cause more harm than good.

  22. Mr. X
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Liberals are “encouraging youth to engage in sexual activity”, EOS. How so? How are they “encouraging” the youth to have sex? Are they lubing them up and getting them drunk?

    How did they liberals convince Palin’s daughter to engage in sex?

    The thing is, some kids have sex. Liberals just acknowledge that reality and plan accordingly. That doesn’t make them pro-sex. That just makes them bright.

  23. Mr. X
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    EOS, do yourself a favor and read up on the results of the “abstinence only” policy at Ohio’s Timkin High.

  24. Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I am liberal and very much anti-sex. I think sex is evil and humans would be better off without it.

    However, it’s a reality that people do stupid things and there’s not much that can be done about it. Giving safety lessons and condoms is just about the best we can offer.

    Kids are really good at ignoring silly moral lessons.

  25. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Well, for starters, the public schools use representatives from Planned Parenthood or their curricula to teach sex education. The largest abortion provider in the nation stands to benefit when condoms break, and with beginners, they do frequently.

    Then, there are teachers like Patti, who may readily convey to their students that the majority of youth are having sex, that sex outside of marriage is fine, and people like Peter who think refraining from sex causes more harm than good. Yet STDs’ are at record levels, and the majority of children are born to young, unwed mothers.

    Abstinence will prevent unwanted pregnancies 100% of the time. You don’t get herpes, or HPV, or AIDS from abstaining.

  26. Mr. X
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    “The largest abortion provider in the nation stands to benefit when condoms break.”

    Where in the fuck do you get this stuff? You really believe that Planned Parenthood is encouraging premarital sex because they want to provide more abortions? You think that’s their business plan? You thing they’re getting rich on abortion? That’s just insane.

  27. John Galt
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Planned Parenthood gives out faulty condoms because it’s good for their bottom line!

  28. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    The 2011-2012 annual report for Planned Parenthood reported a profit of $87.4 million.

  29. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

  30. Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Kids like to have sex.

    Kids at my school laughed at the nonsense that EOS spreads.

  31. Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    You know what EOS? I have been respectful of you, stuck up for you and generally appreciate your thoughts. But what you said above is not only wrong but completely uncalled for. Why on earth would you make those assumptions about me? You have easily said teachers say that without invoking my name.

    The accusation is so ridiculous that I’m not even going to waste my time denying it.

  32. Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I had a student tell me that planned parenthood encourages kids to have sex so they can profit off abortions.

    It’s common among right wingers.

    That they made a profit does not confirm your completely ridiculous allegation.

  33. EOS
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry for offending you Patty as it was not my intention at all. I used you and Peter as examples merely because the two of you posted more on this link than anyone else. It was my interpretation that you both considered teen sex to be an inevitability that could not be prevented by any measure. I wrote that you “may” convey this attitude to your students, as in the possibility existed, not that you did convey this to teens, as I have no idea how your persona on this blog differs from your professional demeaner in the classroom. In retrospect, I should have written “some teachers may” without invoking your name.

  34. Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink


    As for your stupid remark about Planned Parenthood, plenty of dentists make profits, but I don’t see many providing sugar filled toothpaste to their patients.

    You’re a complete moron.

  35. ypsijav
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Pete, everybody knows that kids only want to have sex with each other because Planned Parenthood pays off public school teachers, Hollywood and the music industry to brainwash them into thinking sex is “hip” and “in.” It’s also why PP is so vehemently opposed to homosexuality. Did you know that exclusively gay sex is 100% as effective as abstinence in preventing unplanned pregnancies?

  36. Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    EOS, thank you. I really appreciate it. I’m actually completely different in “work life”. (Believe it or not!) When I was in Detroit, things were more laid back and I could be more “me” but where I am now would not tolerate that. At any rate, I would NEVER espouse personal feelings about sex and such to kids. If they bring it up, I refer them back to their parents because so much can be misconstrued. I think the most I ever said was to some girls in Detroit when I suggested that one can NOT have kids and have a super awesome life (like, oh I don’t know, ME :)). But I am super careful in saying anything to a kid that could be misconstrued. Indeed, a former colleague told a kid about reproductive issues (not a good choice on her point) and she got in huge trouble and pretty much had to retire or else be fired.

    Again, thank you. I do appreciate a lot of what you say simply because it does force me to see a radically different opinion. I normally don’t agree but at least it makes the gears in my brain turn :)

  37. Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Permalink


    I see it now. We need to ban gay sex so we can increase abortions. It’s the only way to save our economy.

  38. ypsijav
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I think the best way to bring down the evil abortion profiteers’ scheme to which EOS has alerted us would be to institute a wide-sweeping campaign to turn everyone under 18 gay. We could eliminate teenage pregnancy altogether. That’s probably part of Obama’s plan.

  39. jcp2
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Why is this such a surprise? Compulsory public education in the United States was never designed to allow each individual to fulfill their personal potential. It was (and is) intended to produce docile and productive citizenry that would ultimately benefit the nation by increasing the human capital available to the economy. One side effect was that as processes became more complex, curiosity and independence were valued relatively higher. However, with improved and cheaper automation, the relative value of human capital has been reduced, and hence, the devolution of public education from covert to overt anti-intellectualism.

  40. Elviscostello
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Ok, I get the teachers being fired. Not happy about idiotic high stakes testing, but screw it. However, how does this country justify prosecuting teachers, and turn around and not prosecute HSBC bankers who knowingly laundered drug cartel and terrorist state money? Honest to God, I am so goddamn sick of the total pile of bullshit that government, banks, and corporations are doing to this land.

  41. Ayers by Proxy
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    As you may know, Arne Duncan will be speaking at the American Educational Research Association meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 30. He will be at the Hilton Union Square speaking from 3:45 to 4:45 PM. His address is entitled “Choosing the Right Battles: Remarks and a Conversation.”

    We have all been engaged in extensive debates and struggles over the direction of so-called school reform under the Race to the Top regime. We have confronted privatizers, district leaders, etc. But it is crucially important that we confront the guy at the top, the US Secretary of Education.

    Some people (“Take back AERA”) have already talked about picketing this event. I am proposing that we make a massive effort to turn out our membership. If the unions (especially Oakland, Berkeley, and SF) could call out their membership; and if we could make a call through Teachers for Social Justice (T4SJ) and National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), we could have a meaningful rally.

    Arne Duncan should have his address challenged by masses of working teachers. The leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has foreshadowed how this privatizing campaign will be confronted and rolled back. Let’s make this happen!

    -Bill Ayers

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