Friday, January 24, 2014
Given the recent tumultuous times for the Philadelphia school district, this week’s announcement that 130 city educators have been implicated in a cheating scandal is not earth shattering. The cheating investigation, conducted by state education officials and the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, found a suspicious number of erasures and corrections of wrong to right answers on state standardized math and reading tests taken from 2009 to 2011. The test improprieties are alleged to have occurred at 53 Philadelphia area schools, about 20 percent of the total number of schools in the city. The 130 educators have been accused of providing students with answers, erasing wrong answers or supervising those who did without reporting them.
The Philadelphia school system, the nation’s eighth largest school district, has been under tremendous pressure for much of the year. As Derek has covered in this blog, Philadelphia’s schools were hard-hit by the state’s decision to change its education-funding formula from one based on the local costs of educating the district’s children to one based primarily on enrollment. Twenty-three schools were closed. Coupled with an overall $1 billion cut in the state education budget, Philadelphia schools came up well short of the money needed to operate and had to borrow $50 million to open its remaining schools in September. Principals were reduced to asking parents to pay hundreds of dollars per child to attend public schools. The budget crisis led to a $350 million deficit this school year, which created shortages of school nurses, counselors, security officers, and reduced special education services throughout the district.
Like their counterparts in the Atlanta cheating indictments last year, Philadelphia’s educators are under pressure to show gains in proficiency on high-stakes standardized tests. When those gains do not happen within a year or two, the incentive to cheat is strong. Cheating can mean saving jobs, avoiding being branded as a “failing” school, and winning bonuses and federal incentive funds when the students are deemed to be proficient in reading and math.