BILL MOYERS: Yes, one of my favorite scenes, in Season Four, we get to see the struggling public school system in Baltimore, through the eyes of a former cop who's become a schoolteacher. In this telling scene, he realizes that state testing in the schools is little more than a trick he learned on the police force. It's called "juking the stats." Take a look.
ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL: So for the time being, all teachers will devote class time to teaching language arts sample questions. Now if you turn to page eleven, please, I have some things I want to go over with you.
ROLAND "PREZ" PRYZBYLEWSKI: I don't get it, all this so we score higher on the state tests? If we're teaching the kids the test questions, what is it assessing in them?
TEACHER: Nothing, it assesses us. The test scores go up, they can say the schools are improving. The scores stay down, they can't.
PREZ: Juking the stats.
TEACHER: Excuse me?
PREZ: Making robberies into larcenies, making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and major become colonels. I've been here before.
TEACHER: Wherever you go, there you are.
DAVID SIMON: You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is. And this comes down to Wall Street. I mean, our entire economic structure fell behind the idea that these mortgage-based securities were actually valuable. And they had absolutely no value. They were toxic. And yet, they were being traded and being hurled about, because somebody could make some short-term profit. In the same way that a police commissioner or a deputy commissioner can get promoted, and a major can become a colonel, and an assistant school superintendent can become a school superintendent, if they make it look like the kids are learning, and that they're solving crime. And that was a front row seat for me as a reporter. Getting to figure out how the crime stats actually didn't represent anything, once they got done with them.
I have been a huge fan of the Wire. I miss that it will never be on television again and I am not quite sure if we will ever have another show like it. It may resonate with me personally because of my experience teaching in Baltimore Public Schools in the nineties. I always felt that the above excerpted scene was always a bit simplistic in my mind. It may be a defensive posture on my part, because I have played the part of the "assistant principal" many a time, in many a meeting with teachers imploring them to focus on test structure and language with students. It may also be that I have always felt that the "teaching to the test" line has not always rung true to me. I have always thought that you should, as an educator, want students to do well on anything that is put in front of them, including the state tests.
That all being said, I do agree with much of what Simon says about stats in general. Joe Klein, chancellor of New York schools, Arne Duncan, and other big name leaders in american schools throw around stats a lot these days. Future posts will cover some of the "juking" that is going on, and also a concern about the current focus on merit pay for teachers. And of course, more Wire stuff.