Faking It
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Volume III, Number 3, March, 2005

Faking It
Fake News, Fake Reform and Other Fakeries

By Jamie McKenzie
(about author)

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved

Fake News

This administration has spent millions of tax dollars trying to convince us that its policies like NCLB/Helter-Skelter are good for us, paying journalists to endorse policies and encouraging TV stations to run VNRs (government issue Video News Releases) that amount to propaganda dressed up to look like legitimate news reporting.

Fake News has been fully documented by papers such as the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post.

In addition to the press, various watchdog groups have tracked the abuses in great detail:

  • "Media Matters has extensively followed the administration's controversial use of government-produced video "news" reports, payments to conservative pundits, and involvement in "Gannongate." Read more about the administration's use of fake news - and the participation of some media outlets."
  • The Center for Media and Democracy (Publisher of PR Watch) has brought suit against the government for its use of taxpayers' funds to promote policies. http://www.prwatch.org/node/3414

Newsday reported (February 24, 2005) a doubling of expenditures for "persuasion" under the Bush administration:

Along with doubling spending on external PR contracts, the Bush administration has increased PR positions inside government agencies, called public affairs.
http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/ny-uspr204156187feb24,0,5203878.story

Fake Reform

The headline on the front page of the Dallas Morning News on March 22 was devoted to a state testing cheating scandal.

"State to dissolve W-H school board"
Some trustees outraged by decision, which cited teacher TAKS cheating." Tuesday, March 22, 2005 By JOSHUA BENTON of The Dallas Morning News

The Wilmer-Hutchins school board will soon be out of work.

The former superintendent was indicted on the same day.

"Former W-H superintendent indicted." Tuesday, March 22, 2005 By JOSHUA BENTON of The Dallas Morning News.
Former Wilmer-Hutchins Superintendent Charles Matthews was indicted Tuesday for allegedly ordering employees to falsify attendance data.

The indictment, by a Dallas County grand jury, is the second in the last five months for Dr. Matthews, a former state superintendent of the year. His leadership of the troubled district is the target of numerous federal and state criminal investigations and has led the Texas Education Agency to take over district operations.

The story first broke back in December . . .

"Poor schools' TAKS surges raise cheating questions." Thursday, December 30, 2004 By JOSHUA BENTON and HOLLY K. HACKER / The Dallas Morning News:
A Dallas Morning News data analysis has uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the TAKS test in dozens of Texas schools – and suspicious scores in hundreds more.
Case in point: Sanderson Elementary School in Houston scored 2068 in fourth-grade math, in the bottom 2 percent of the state. Given that number, Sanderson would be expected to score 2086 in fifth-grade math. Instead, it scored 2696, 610 points higher than expected and the highest score in the state. By comparison, 70 percent of schools scored within 64 points of their predicted score, and 96 percent scored within 128 points.

The scandal may be even more widespread, but Texas has invested little money in hiring monitors to do audits and guard against fraud, so it is difficult to define the extent of the problem.

As reported in NPR's Morning Edition on March 21, 2005, "Testing Scandal in Texas Schools," there are only three monitors to cover the large state and make sure schools are acting within the law.

The state has been financially rewarding principals and district leaders for improved test scores and attendance while doing little to make sure that reform is genuine.

The appearance of reform and school improvement became more important than real reform and improvement.

The gap between state claims and performance on the NAEP tests (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reported in "The Performance Gap" seems rooted in strategies that seem more cosmetic than real.

Other Fakeries

While there are many earnest and professionally competent educators in Texas, we have witnessed a decade of public relations trumping reality, as dropout statistics magically declined without improvement in attrition rates and test scores improved locally without matching up to national standards. There is a dark side to the Texas "miracle" that reminds one of Enron accounting and calls into question the validity of NCLB/Helter-Skelter.

There are many children in Texas being forced out of school early, fed a starvation diet of math and reading, and held to a grind stone that will dull rather than sharpen their thinking skills.

This is hardly a model of education worthy of export to the rest of the nation.

This cheating scandal should serve as a cautionary tale to remind us of why we have never endorsed the idea of a strong federal voice in setting educational policy. We don't need an educational President or Emperor telling us to do it the way they did it in Texas. Let each state make its own policy decisions and create reform efforts that are grounded in state realities rather than Beltway mandates.

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.