An internal investigation has found that top officials at the Texas Education Agency improperly steered state work to their friends.
The report from the agency’s inspector general says that the problems lead all the way up to TEA’s deputy commissioner, Robert Scott, the likely choice to succeed Shirley Neeley as education commissioner.
Investigators also found that a consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had an unusual influence over how grant money was divvied up.
“These contracts were not competitively bid,” the report states. “Several associated subcontracts were awarded to individuals with ties to TEA senior staff. Key participants in the contracting process do not agree as to how subcontractors were chosen.”
As we try to imagine the decline of Easter’s civilization, we ask ourselves, “Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?”
I almost wrote about Zambia’s white rhino population when I spent a few weeks there in 2003.
Those who know me are probably aware of my longstanding historical interest in the radical Quebec nationalism of the 1960s. (I think typing that sentence alone will make me forever unmarriageable.) But even I had never heard about this plot in 1965:
Early this year, the Black Liberation Front, a hot-eyed batch of pro-Castro New York Negroes, got in touch with some Quebec separatists, an equally odd outfit fanatically dedicated to Quebec’s secession from Canada. The Black Liberation boys wanted some dynamite; the Canadians were willing to provide it. From their agreement sprang one of the most convoluted conspiracies since Guy Fawkes schemed in 1605 to blow up the English Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
First: Wow, Time really used to write like that? Second: Seriously, black nationalists and Quebecois, uniting to take it to The Man by blowing up the Statue of Liberty? I mean, whoa!
I wish I could find out what happened to the plotters. (How societies choose to reintegrate — or not reintegrate — radical elements is really interesting to me.) I have no idea what happened to Khaleel Sul-tarn Sayyed, Robert Steele Collier, or Walter Augustus Bowe, the three members of the Black Liberation Front.
I don’t know of a Saint more universally loved by fans than Michael Lewis. A guy who never played football in high school or college — then who became a beer-truck driver, the guy who delivered Budweiser to the Superdome — decides to try out for the local NFL team. And not only does he make the team — he ends up setting a single-season mark for return yardage and getting a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Were I the sort of person to pour a 40 on the ground in memory of the fallen, I’d do so now.
I know lots of people are leaving journalism these days, but gosh, this is depressing: Pulitzer Prize winner leaves newspaper to become “executive strategist with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.” That, the link helpfully reminds us, is “the largest water district south of Galt.”
Whatever happened to the grand old ways of leaving newspapers, like cirrhosis or a brawl with a city councilman?
In 1975, a social scientist named Donald Campbell came up with the idea that would eventually be called Campbell’s Law. He wrote like an academic, but you could boil the concept down to this: The higher the stakes, the more likely people are to cheat.
It makes intuitive sense. The Dallas Morning News’ analysis of TAKS scores found that cheating is almost twice as common on the 11th-grade test – which is required for graduation – as on the 10th-grade test.
But experts say that Texas has missed the lesson of Campbell’s Law. Over the past two decades, the state’s tests have become the dominant force in Texas education. But they say the state’s test-security system – the rules and tools officials use to prevent cheating – hasn’t kept up with the increasing importance the TAKS test now has in students’ and educators’ lives.
As a result, they say, the TAKS is given in a far more permissive environment than other high-stakes tests like the SAT, bar exams or graduate-school admissions tests. And much of the cheating on the TAKS could be prevented with a series of reforms based on what those other tests do.
When legislators went home to their districts last month, the temptation must have been strong to proclaim loudly they had killed off the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Anti-testing sentiment in Texas reached new levels over the past year, and legislators had spent the previous months lined up to take whacks at the hated TAKS.
But the measure they ended up passing, Senate Bill 1031, doesn’t quite match that rhetoric.
Starting next spring, Texas schools will have to record whom students sit next to during the TAKS test, according to a set of anti-cheating reforms announced Monday.
The Texas Education Agency also will send inspectors unannounced to schools on test day, track which adults administer the tests to students and create an honor code for test takers.
The moves come one week after a Dallas Morning News investigation found more than 50,000 students with extremely unusual answer patterns on the 2005 and 2006 TAKS test. Experts say those patterns strongly suggest cheating by students or school personnel.
“The findings were definitely troubling and certainly raised suspicions,” TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said Monday.
But the agency will not take the step researchers say would be most effective at deterring cheating: scrambling the order of test questions so students can’t copy off one another.
Last year, 53 sophomores took the math TAKS test at Houston’s Jesse Jackson Academy. Two stood out from the crowd.
They were the only two whose answer sheets don’t show evidence of cheating.
Jackson — a Houston charter school with a long record of trouble with authorities — is home to the most extreme cheating in Texas, according to an in-depth analysis of test scores by The Dallas Morning News.
The cheating spans years, grades and subjects, and it’s on a scale that shocks even veteran hunters of educational fraud. And its existence is the latest black eye for the state’s efforts to regulate its patchwork of charter schools.
“Mind-boggling,” said David Harpp, a Canadian cheating expert who examined the school’s scores. “Total corruption.”
And most perplexing of all: A state investigation into the allegations is about to clear the school of all charges — without examining a single student answer sheet. Instead, a state employee interviewed school staff and asked whether they had cheated.
“This is ludicrous,” Dr. Harpp said. “That’s not an investigation. That’s just looking around.”
If, at any point over the past few months, you have wondered:
— “Wow, Josh doesn’t seem to be writing as many stories as usual.” Or:
— “Huh, Josh doesn’t seem to post to crabwalk as often as before.”
…the answer to your unstated queries are in today’s Dallas Morning News. (And tomorrow’s, and Tuesday’s.) A three-day investigative series penned by my colleague Holly Hacker and I is finally in the paper. The main story:
Tens of thousands of students cheat on the TAKS test every year, including thousands on the high-stakes graduation test, according to an in-depth data analysis by The Dallas Morning News.
The analysis — among the first of its kind on this scale — found cases where 30, 50 or even 90 percent of students had suspicious answer patterns that researchers say indicate collusion, either between students or with school staff. Perpetrators go almost entirely undetected and unpunished by state officials.
The study contradicts the Texas Education Agency’s stance that cheating on the TAKS is extraordinarily rare and that the agency has done a good job of policing it. Many schools with big cheating problems, including some in North Texas, have officially been cleared by recent state investigations — in most cases simply by proclaiming their innocence on a state questionnaire.
And there are roughly 753 sidebars: here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Phew. And that’s just day one!) There’s also a fun online graphic here.
More to come — I think you’ll like tomorrow’s story more than today’s.