Friday, May 17, 2013

Affinity cons and the looting phase in education

Affinity cons work in large part because when people see someone with similar background and cultural signifiers, they assume other similarities: common goals, values, approaches.

Movement reformers, particularly those who came in through Teach for America (and that's something you see a lot)  often get sucked in by something similar. They look at someone like Michelle Rhee and the rhetoric and the resume feel familiar. They see something they recognize in the upper-middle class upbringing (including private schools for junior high and high school), the Ivy League education, the TfA stint in a poor urban school. Lots of leaders in education today have that exact same bio and since the vast majority of them genuinely care about kids, they assume Rhee does as well.

Viewed without the affinity bias, however, Rhee's record mainly shows a pattern of intense self promotion, often the expense of students:

She appears to have started her career by greatly overstating test score improvements during her Teach for America days;

As an administrator, she was charged with abusing her authority to political ends:

and covering up a major cheating scandal;

She lent her political capital to anti-labor measures only tangentially related to education (but vital to her allies);

She oversaw the creation of a convoluted metric that assigned the top ranks to schools she and her allies were responsible for (despite those schools' terrible performance on the very metrics Rhee had previously championed);

And she endorsed a Bobby Jindal  initiative which pretty much guaranteed wide-spread fraud.

From Vickie Welborn and Mary Nash-Wood (via Charles Pierce):

Southwood High School junior Randall Gunn is a straight-A student.

So when the school’s principal saw his name come up as registering to retake several courses online, it immediately raised a red flag. Gunn was called into a counselor’s office and told he was enrolled in three Course Choice classes — all of which he already had passed standardized tests with exceptional scores.

“I had no clue what was going on,” Gunn said. “I have no reason to take these classes and still don’t know who signed me up.”

More than 1,100 Caddo and Webster students have signed up to participate in what some say are questionable Course Choice programs. According to parents, students, and Webster and Caddo education officials, FastPath Learning is signing up some students it shouldn’t — in many cases without parent or student knowledge.

A free tablet computer is offered to those who enroll, and some educators believe that’s all the potential enrollees hear. Money to pay for the courses comes from each school district’s state-provided Minimum Foundation Program funding.

Half of the money — courses range from $700 to $1,275 each — must be paid to FastPath and other providers up front. Neither students nor their parents are responsible for the tablet devices if they are lost or stolen. And they can keep them even if they don’t pass the course.

“This all goes back to all of the education reforms that were passed within eight days during last year’s session. This is what you get,” state Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Dubberly, said of the apparent lack of oversight. “I’m not saying the idea was bad, but they are not doing it the way it should be done.”
[Update: the story continues here]


  1. Thanks
    R Paige has a very nice wiki page; someone keeps minimizing the houston scandal part of his bio.
    So part of the affinity scam is burnishing your image..

    1. This does make for an interesting read

    2. Really makes you wonder. Boy, does it ever...