A few weeks ago, at the August 15th Board of Education meeting, I submitted a nearly 20 page report documenting problems with the online credit recovery program, e2020. The main reason I felt compelled to do this is that this program has been the major driver behind dramatic graduation rate increases, yet allows students to earn credits without really having to learn. So with the report, I made a public statement, calling for transparency and accountability. At the next BoE meeting, the school system issued a response to my claims. The response was incoherent in places, and filled with misleading hyperbole (the program is “the best in the state, if not the country”), downright deceptive claims (it was “setup to maximize learning”), and even personal attacks (that I was criticizing the program to “cause hurt to others”). The local paper reported both on my initial questions and on the system’s response.
Exercising my blood-bought liberties of free speech and of a free press, I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper. I am grateful that they published it:
I would like to recommend a few questions to the community to ask our school system in response to the claims that were made in defense of their online credit recovery program (e2020). One claim was that e2020 is setup to “maximize learning.” What is the evidence that most students are learning at high levels, if at all, in these courses? Another claim was that the program has contributed to graduation rate increases, but is not the only factor. Exactly what percentage of graduates have been earning these credits in recent years? And if the program really is “the best in the state, if not the nation,” why downplay the significance of its contribution? Instead, why not broadcast loudly and invite the nation to look at how this program helped create a quasi educational miracle in 2015? (Interestingly, I was told by an administrator in private that they were “thinking about scrapping e2020 altogether” – why even consider this? And why are they exploring new vendors?) Finally, the issues I raised were valid enough to be “investigated and acted upon when deemed necessary.” If so then, what were these issues that demanded action, and why would a top notch program warrant such significant changes?
Facts and evidence were conspicuously missing from this public statement. I had submitted to the board a lengthy document of evidence about problems and abuses in e2020, including, but not limited to, very low test scores (6% proficiency on state exams; and a 7-8th grade reading level, on average) in contrast with very high course grades (over 90% of the same sample making As or Bs); specific ways students were regularly using the Internet to cheat on tests; how students were allowed to change incorrect answers before submitting tests; and how some took fast track courses whereby full-year courses were completed in a few weeks or even days so that they could graduate on time.
Instead of trying to discredit critics by attacking motives (how is that relevant to whether students are learning in e2020?), I would hope the leadership would instead refute claims by focusing on the facts and constructing their own fact-based arguments. As one senior administrator told me, “If there is a problem, there is a problem.” What is needed is transparency about the problem so that there can be public accountability for solving it, for our children’s sake.