A recent article by Kate McGee of WAMU, working with the education team at National Public Radio, highlights the perverse incentives hanging over school administrators, and the disastrous outcomes that may result. Titled “What Really Happened at the School Where Every Graduate Got into College,” this article uncovers fraud at a breathtaking scale that should alarm all parents.
The school in question is Ballou High School. It is located in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of Washington, D.C., and has long struggled with low graduation rates.
According to the article, “An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. We reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a district employee shared the private documents. Half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school.”
The article continues, “An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate. In June, 164 students received diplomas.” According to one teacher, “It was smoke and mirrors.” As another teacher explains, from the student’s point of view, “If I knew I could skip the whole semester and still pass, why would I try?” Even the grading policy is in on the ruse, with an artificial floor of 50% credit for work that is never done.
Teachers report feeling intense pressure from the administration to pass students despite chronic absenteeism. They sometimes receive calls from school officials telling them to change a grade without proper justification. Resistance to these dishonest and coercive tactics could be met by poor teaching evaluations, and perhaps dismissal. This is deeply unfair to teachers, especially those who are committed to upholding high academic standards, as well as the ideals of honesty, integrity and character. Worst of all, the students are grievously cheated by this scandal. They receive diplomas without genuine academic achievement; they go on to college and enter the work force without being adequately prepared. Many return to the community as adults and perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Why would the school administration so callously throw its students and teachers under the bus? Simple: by artificially boosting graduation rates, school officials (and some teachers) receive financial bonuses of up to $30,000. What a disgrace!
Read the whole article here: