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Friday, May 28, 2010

Illegal Immigration, Angry Teachers & Grade Inflation

To the national debate over how to respond to illegal immigration, an angry Southern California ESOL high school teacher responded with the following. She was reacting specifically to student protests against the new Arizona immigration enforcement law. It was e-mailed to school teachers all over the country and my wife, a great elementary school teacher for over 40 years, received it. Most of her colleagues are sympathetic:

“I am in charge of the English-as-a-second-language department at a large southern California high school which is designated a Title 1 school, meaning that its students average lower socioeconomic and income levels.

Most of the schools you are hearing about, South Gate High, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park , etc., where these students are protesting, are also Title 1 schools.

Title 1 schools are on the free breakfast and free lunch program. When I say free breakfast, I'm not talking a glass of milk and roll -- but a full breakfast and cereal bar with fruits and juices that would make a Marriott proud. The waste of this food is monumental, with trays and trays of it being dumped in the trash uneaten.

I estimate that well over 50% of these students are obese or at least moderately overweight. About 75% or more DO have cell phones. The school also provides day care centers for the unwed teenage pregnant girls (some as young as 13) so they can attend class without the inconvenience of having to arrange for babysitters or having family watch their kids.

I was ordered to spend $700,000 on my department or risk losing funding for the upcoming year even though there was little need for anything; my budget was already substantial. I ended up buying new computers for the computer learning center, half of which, one month later, have been carved with graffiti by the appreciative students who obviously feel humbled and grateful to have a free education in America ...

I have had to intervene several times for young and substitute teachers whose classes consist of many illegal immigrant students, here in the country less then 3 months, who raised so much hell with the female teachers, calling them "Putas"(whores) and throwing things, that the teachers were in tears.

Free medical, free education, free food, free day care, etc., etc, etc. Is it any wonder they feel entitled to not only be in this country but to demand rights, privileges, and entitlements?

To those who want to point out how much these illegal immigrants contribute to our society because they LIKE their gardener and housekeeper and they like to pay less for tomatoes: spend some time in the real world of illegal immigration and see the TRUE costs.

Higher insurance, medical facilities closing, higher medical costs, more crime, lower standards of education in our schools, overcrowding, new diseases. For me, I'll pay more for tomatoes.

Americans, we need to wake up.

It does, however, have everything to do with culture: It involves an American third-world culture that does not value education, that accepts children getting pregnant and dropping out of school by 15 and that refuses to assimilate, and an American culture that has become so weak and worried about "political correctness" that we don't have the will to do anything about it.

If this makes your blood boil, as it did mine, forward this to everyone you know.

CHEAP LABOR? Isn't that what the whole immigration issue is about?

Business doesn't want to pay a decent wage. Consumers don't want expensive produce. Government will tell you Americans don't want the jobs.

But the bottom line is cheap labor. The phrase "cheap labor" is a myth, a farce, and a lie. There is no such thing as "cheap labor."

Take, for example, an illegal alien with a wife and five children. He takes a job for $5.00 or 6.00/hour. At that wage, with six dependents, he pays no income tax, yet at the end of the year, if he files an Income Tax Return, he gets an "earned income credit" of up to $3,200 free.

He qualifies for Section 8 housing and subsidized rent. He qualifies for food stamps. He qualifies for free (no deductible, no co-pay) health care. His children get free breakfasts and lunches at school. He requires bilingual teachers and books. He qualifies for relief from high energy bills.

If they are, or become, aged, blind, or disabled, they qualify for SSI. If qualified for SSI they can qualify for Medicaid. All of this is at (our) taxpayer's expense.

He doesn't worry about car insurance, life insurance, or homeowners insurance.

Taxpayers provide Spanish language signs, bulletins, and printed material.

He and his family receive the equivalent of $20.00 to $30.00/hour in benefits.

Working Americans are lucky to have $5.00 or $6..00/hour left after paying their bills and his.

Cheap labor? YEAH RIGHT!


Please pass this on to as many as possible. Immigration legislation is to be considered in 2010. This is important to working Americans, our economy and our American culture and heritage.”

Do you think that schools of the type described by this irate Southern California high school ESOL teacher contribute to the national epidemic of grade inflation and declining educational standards? What would the consequences be if those children who are far behind grade level, and whose families might set a low priority on education relative to other more pressing priorities in their lives, were to fail to be promoted to the next grade? Do you think our financially strapped school districts might be drained beyond the breaking point? And, what of the No-Child-Left-Behind program? I’m just asking.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grade Inflation. Cui Bono?

Cui bono- who benefits when an oral examination committee passes an education administration doctoral candidate on a really lousy dissertation? For the details of the story, see my most recent installment to this blog: On Foxes Guarding Henhouses, Part II (5/17/10). So, when a sin was committed in the temple of knowledge, who benefited and who was damaged?

Who benefited?

1. The doctoral candidate. He was already a superintendent of schools in the region served by Lehigh University. Now he had his Ed.D., would henceforth be addressed as “Doctor”, would probably have gotten a bump in salary, and might have hung on for another few years as a superintendent in his school district.

2. The education administration professors who served on the doctoral candidate’s dissertation committee. These professors make a living from consulting with, and providing in-service workshops for, school districts in the university’s region. In many cases, the fees earned from these services exceed their salaries. The collaboration on the doctoral student/superintendent’s dissertation strengthened relationships and probably left the newly minted doctor of education with a sense of gratitude to those committee members who supported his candidacy. The superintendent, of course, has a great deal of power in the awarding of consulting and in-service training contracts as quid pro quo.

3. Me. As mentioned in my recent blog installment, I needed to win the support of tenured faculty if I were to get their votes for tenure, a few years down the road. By voting to FAIL, I would have seriously alienated these senior faculty members.

4. The Dean of the School of Education and the Lehigh University administration. Most of the time, when a doctoral student gets his or her Ed.D. and goes back to regional school districts as a principal or superintendent, he or she is a living advertisement for others to apply, enroll, pay tuition, and speak well of the School of Education and The University. They also often become well-paid alumni who will send their checks to annual fund raising campaigns.

5. Architects and construction companies. School districts often have big budgets and superintendents exert strong influence on how the money is spent. As an example, much of the dissertation research that was done back in the 1970s in Lehigh’s School of Education was on the efficacy of what was known as either open concept education or schools without walls. In hindsight, this was one of the many fads that have come and gone in the field of education. Of course, many of the badly designed education dissertations in that era seemed to give support to the efficacy of schools without walls. This led directly to the modification of school buildings, especially the tearing down of walls in existing buildings and the building of new schools with no walls or moveable walls. What a nightmare for taxpayers, especially since the walls had to be restored when the next ridiculous education fad swept the nation. For my neighbor the architect, however, business really boomed, thanks to the bad dissertation research that appeared to support new designs in school buildings. The same money-making phenomenon occurred for such vendors as textbook publishers.

Who was damaged?

1. Me. I hate violating my own morals and ethics for personal gain. I feel guilty about my contribution to inflated grades and lowering standards in education. Besides, I never did get tenure because I moved on to new career adventures before it ever came to a vote.

2. Education in America. When the leaders of public and private education are mainly influenced by political and financial considerations to inflate grades, pass bad dissertations, and award unearned degrees they are entirely on thr wrong track. By failing to reward honest effort, focused study, attained knowledge, and excellent performance, they have created a monster of a problem! Superintendents and principals exert major influence on the culture of their schools, and children will usually assimilate the values of the culture. Is there any doubt about why we have an epidemic of inflated grades, declining academic skills, and social promotion to the next grade among America’s school children and university students? The supposed guardians of the schools are often foxes guarding our henhouses.

3. The United States of America. As students acquire less knowledge in our schools and universities, we are all diminished as we become less able to compete for the best jobs in the world economy, less able to recognize the best schools and then send our children to them, less aware of the important issues of the day, and less able to be effective voters, jury members, and consumers. We are further diminished as our society has increasing percentages of public assistance recipients, prison inmates, homeless people, and medically uninsured.

It appears, at this time, that the short-term benefits to individuals are more powerful forces than the long term consequences to American education and the country itself. Focused and forceful leadership is needed to reverse the self-destructive downward spiral we are in. Such leadership could best be provided by a presidential administration and the presidents of major universities, but they, too, are heavily influenced by short-term economic and political pressures. It would take, at the very least, bold and charismatic leadership that is unafraid to lose a job or lose the next election.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Foxes Guarding Henhouses- Part 2

School district superintendents might be the most insidious foxes of all. Now, I know that you can’t prove a point with an anecdote, but sometimes a story is all you really need to get the point. This one has haunted me for a long time, so please bear with me. In the 1970s, I was a tenure-track assistant professor in the School (now College) of Education at Lehigh University which hosted only graduate programs- we had no undergraduate courses or students. Please understand that I don’t have a background in the field of education as my field is actually counseling psychology. My main responsibilities included teaching a variety of graduate counseling and psychology courses, coordinating the master’s program in Community Counseling, and serving on doctoral dissertation committees.

I don’t know if there were rankings of university graduate programs in education back then, but in 2010, U.S. News & World Report ranked Lehigh’s College of Education 41st out of 278 graduate schools of education. I mention this ranking to suggest that while it may not be one of the most elite graduate schools of education, Lehigh is considered pretty good among its peers today, and I think this was also true back in the 1970s. So, if the story I’m about to relate occurred at Lehigh, I’m quite sure that similar stories have occurred in many other graduate schools of education.

On a few occasions, I was asked to serve on the oral defense of dissertation committee for education administration students who were about to complete the requirements for their Ed.D., the doctoral degree often earned in the field of education. Those grad students who sought the Ed.D. in ed admin were often already working as principals or superintendents or aspiring to such positions. In case you are not familiar with how these doctoral dissertation committees work, we usually had a committee of three professors who approved the doctoral student's proposed research and then supervised its progress. After the student’s work was completed and written, two more faculty were added to the committee, and this larger group of old and new members conducted the student’s oral examination in defense of his or her dissertation. I was one of the two professors who were added to each of the few ed admin dissertation committees on which I served. In each case, the original three committee members were tenured professors in education, two of them from education administration. I anticipated that in a few years I would be considered for tenure, and these professors would be in a position to speak and vote for or against me. So you can see that there were some serious personal ramifications to my performance on these oral examination committees.

What I am about to describe occurred, more or less, with each of the few ed admin oral exam examination committees on which I served, but I'm describing one experience in particular. Even though the doctoral candidate was supposed to deliver his final dissertation draft to me at least one week in advance of the oral exam, I actually received it the night before. The student came to my home and handed over his final dissertation draft at 9:00 PM. This left me practically no time to read the 300-page document and formulate my questions prior to the oral exam scheduled for the next morning at 9:00 AM. Not wanting to disturb the scheduled exam time, and not wanting to upset the senior faculty members on the exam committee, I pulled an all-nighter to prepare.

The dissertation was of the lowest quality. The writing was unprofessional and there were numerous typos and spelling errors. These problems could be easily remedied, but the most serious problem was irreparable. The dissertation research involved a comparison of educational methods to determine which was most effective. This type of research is usually done as a scientific experiment comparing the treatments to each other and to a no-treatment or placebo control group. Proper definition of treatments, measurements of variables, and statistical analyses are essential. This would be true whether the research were medical, psychological, pharmaceutical, or educational. In this particular dissertation, there were so many methodological, procedural, sampling, and statistical mistakes that the research was just plain bad. If I were to give it a grade, it would be an “F”. In fact, each member of the examining committee was required to sign his name under one of two headings: PASS or FAIL.

In the oral exam, I questioned the doctoral candidate about his research design. Please understand that when I challenged him, I was, de facto, challenging his committee members, especially his advisor, who approved the proposal and ostensibly worked with the student every step of the way. If I were an original committee member I would have been embarrassed by the shabby work produced under my supervision. In the oral exam, I wanted to sign under FAIL, but the other committee members all were unequivocally signing under PASS. Let me say, there was no doubt that this dissertation study was a real stinker- absolutely no doubt! It was the rule that the doctoral candidate had to receive unanimous passes to be awarded his Ed.D., and if just one of us signed under FAIL, he would not be awarded his degree- and that was final. The committee chairman, realizing that I was about to fail his candidate, asked for a one week hiatus to give the student an opportunity to make corrections. It was obvious to me that the spelling, typos, and the weak writing could be corrected, but the research was rotten to the core and could not be salvaged without starting from scratch and investing another year or two on the project. Under the pressure of the group, I agreed to the hiatus, giving me one week to contemplate the matter.

So what was really going on in that conference room where that oral exam was held? The process and group dynamics were complex and intense, and four things weighed heavily on me. First, there was the group pressure. Four other men, all older, more experienced, and higher ranking than me all voted to pass the candidate. I had to question myself about the possibly that I was being too harsh in my evaluation of the dissertation and the candidate’s oral defense. Second, three of the others on the committee were tenured professors in the School of Education, and if I earned their disapproval in the intimate confines of that conference room, I might later receive their disapproval when the time would come for them to vote on my tenure. Third, a doctoral candidate and human being who had invested several years, many dollars (although probably paid by the school district that employed him as its superintendent), and much effort (although not enough effort in my opinion), would have his reward snatched away from him at the very last instant. And fourth, this was a real test of my courage of conviction. If the work were substandard, would I stick to my position despite all of the pressures?

One week later, the doctoral candidate appeared before the committee, having made only minimal changes, none substantive. Yet, in the blink of an eye and the stroke of my pen, I changed from guardian to fox. I also became a grade inflater when I molded FAIL into PASS. My motive for violating my own moral and ethical standards was simply career ambition. I now realize that whenever I have lowered standards and inflated grades since that fateful day, my motive has always been pretty much the same.

Why were the full professors of education, who already had tenure, so ready to sign under PASS, even though the dissertation was so poor? Stay tuned.

On Foxes Guarding Henhouses- Part 1

Inside the henhouse are our students from el-hi through undergraduate college and graduate school—young, impressionable and full of potential. How life will turn out for each student will be determined by genetics, family, culture, and the environment of the henhouses. Interestingly, increasing numbers of parents are protecting their children from the henhouses by opting for home schooling. In 2003, 2.2% of American school children were home schooled. For the full account see:

In our capitalist democracy, the guardians of our schools and universities include parents, teachers, professors, school and university administrators, school board members, governors, congressmen, the secretary of education, and the president. To function as effective guardians, they need to share the value of learning and knowledge in helping people become responsible contributors to society.

The foxes lurk among the guardians of the henhouses, having forgotten or never known, what the actual purpose of education is. Many of the foxes value the attainment of diplomas and degrees, but have forgotten that these diplomas and degrees are only symbols of attained knowledge. If degrees are awarded to those who pay taxes and/or tuition and attend class without learning anything, then education has not taken place and the diplomas are hollow symbols. Many of the foxes and others in our society seem to ignore this fact, sharing the delusion that hollow diplomas have value. Just last week, my local newspaper reported that of the 16,703 teachers employed last year by the Broward County (Florida) School District (255,000 students), only 11 teachers received unsatisfactory job performance evaluations, where teachers are rated by principals as either satisfactory, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory. Among tenured teachers (those with more than three years in the district), only 2 of the approximately 16,000 teachers were terminated for unsatisfactory job performance since September of 2007. To read the entire excellent article, see,0,4881935.story

Outrageous! How is it possible that only 11 of 16,703 teachers (.07%) were evaluated as unsatisfactory? Do you think that the district’s school board, superintendent, and principals might be foxes masquerading as guardians of the henhouse? The political and economic intricacies ($1.9 billion annual budget) of this bloated, poor-performing, monstrosity of a school district must be beyond belief.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sin in the Temple of Knowledge

In the Temple of Knowledge, the greatest sins are those associated with stealing or distorting facts, data, and knowledge. For students, plagiarism and cheating are the most common sins. For professors, teaching inaccurate or outdated information, fudging research data, and the distortion of grades are examples of the most serious transgressions. When professors inflate grades, they are providing dishonest ratings of how well students have demonstrated what they have learned. This undermines the foundation of colleges and universities as places where knowledge is discovered and disseminated. For administrators, failure to communicate standards of appropriate conduct and turning a deaf ear to reported transgressions are major sins which serve to avoid conflict, law suits, or loss of revenue. If the administrators fail to set and enforce appropriate rules of conduct, the academic environment readily deteriorates to one of amorality.

How did we get to the point where dishonesty in grading has become so commonplace? Like most complex phenomena, grade inflation has many intertwined causes. A prime source appears to be our colleges of education where the professors are often blatant models of dishonesty in grading. Most of our elementary through high school (el-hi) teachers get their training, for better or for worse, at these colleges. So do most of our education administrators, i.e. principals and superintendents. Almost everybody who has attended four years of college knows that the easiest major in the institution is often education. This is supported by several authors including Martin L. Gross who, in his book The Conspiracy of Ignorance (1999, HarperCollins), went into detail about the low SAT and GRE scores of education students and the extraordinarily easy courses offered in colleges of education. James Joyner in (3/31/10) observed that: “The average GPA at the top twenty public research universities for 2009 was a whopping 3.13…..In education departments, though, the GPA was 3.72…..And, remember, these were the least promising entering freshmen.” According to Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College and author of the 4-year study, Educating School Teachers (2005), “Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world…..unruly and chaotic.” He noted that universities rely on education departments and colleges of education as cash cows and that the quality of teacher education has been compromised by setting low admissions standards which inevitably increase both enrollments and revenues.

With grade inflation and readily available advanced degrees through distance learning and other convenient formats, it has become more common than ever for educators to earn masters and doctoral degrees. It is not surprising that the low standards in the field of education carry over into graduate study. In his blog Carpe Diem, economics professor Martin J. Perry reproduced a chart showing the average GRE scores in 28 fields of study in American universities ( (11/3/08). For the three GRE tests, Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical, physics grad school applicants had an average total score of 1899, ranking them first among 28 fields of study. Education grad school applicants had an average total score of 1514, ranking them 27th among the 28 fields of study. The only lower group of grad school applicants was public administration with an average total GRE score of 1460.

No doubt, there is plenty of blame to spread around, but I’d like to focus on our el-hi educators as one group that seems to set the stage for the sin of grade inflation in their own schools and higher education as well. In my next post, I’d like to share a personal story about how education administrators have gone astray with the apparent tacit approval of their professors/mentors in the graduate schools of education where they earned their degrees.