Saturday, January 10, 2015

Announcing the Winner of the 4th Annual Curmie Award

The polls are closed, the votes have been tallied, and the Curmiphiles have spoken. By a single vote, you (collectively) have decided that the recipient of the 4th Annual Curmie Award, bestowed each year on the person or persons who most embarrass the profession of education will be (drum roll) Rhame Elementary School in East Rockaway, NY, and its administration.

Voting numbers were down this year—28 ballots totaling 52 votes (voters could vote for as many or as few nominees as they chose), down from 46 and 109, respectively, last year. But, as any pol will tell you, elections are won by those who show up, and more folks chose Rhame than any of its competitors.

The school’s claim to Curmie immortality comes as a result of removing 4th grade teacher Vuola Coyle from the classroom, allegedly because her students did too well on the standardized tests that state legislators and other ignoramuses so adore. You see, if kids learn too much in the 4th grade, it’s harder for the 5th grade teachers to move them ahead another full year, meaning the school loses money for not jumping through the administrative hoops in appropriate lockstep. Every student is the same, after all.

Of course, Ms. Coyle was accused of helping students cheat on the exam—a complaint that was found “not credible” by a state arbitrator, by the way—and we have only her side of the story about whether she was punished for being effective. What isn’t in dispute is the utter fetishization of standardized testing at the school: whether by the administration and therefore Coyle, or by Coyle with the full support of the administration.

Whether it was her idea or the administration’s, Coyle subjected her students—nine- and ten-year-olds, remember—to 60 (yes, 60) practice tests over a four-month period. And here Curmie thought cruel and unusual punishment was unconstitutional. Why did the folks at Rhame win the Curmie? Well, you’d have to ask the people who voted for them, but here’s my best guess: they got votes from across the spectrum of views on standardized testing. Proponents of the Common Core, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, and their accompanying testing mechanisms will have been appalled that a teacher was replaced because her students out-performed their peers.

Those who agree with Curmie that standardized tests, especially those crafted by non-educators for the purpose of corporate profit (i.e., virtually all of them), measure little if anything but the ability to take standardized tests will be appalled at the time spent wasted on practice tests: time that could have been spent actually teaching and learning. What everyone will agree on is that if you’re going to prioritize test scores as a means of evaluating teachers, then good scores ought to be better than bad scores.

The runner-up was Bayside Middle School, who punished a student for doing the right thing: specifically for taking a razor blade away from a classmate who was cutting himself and throwing it away. Adrionna Harris should have called a teacher, according to the administration.

Curmie’s own vote, had he voted, would have gone to 3rd-place finisher the University of North Carolina for a long-term and systematic corruption of the educational process by means of offering “paper courses” with few if any actual requirements and the promise of A’s and B’s in university-level courses for work that shouldn’t have passed at the 6th-grade level. Jack Marshall at Ethics Alarms was kind enough to once again link to the Curmie nominations post; he declared in a comment that “given the length and scope of the offense, you have to vote for UNC. Nothing compares, maybe ever.”

Curmie agrees. But commenters on Jack’s page expressed doubts that what happened at UNC was anything out of the ordinary. The utter corruption of an entire academic department and the obvious collusion of dozens of alleged professionals, not to mention the number and stature of those who should have known about the scheme and are now professing ignorance—including many high-salaried coaches and administrators who are still in place without as much as a chastisement—yeah, that’s a big deal in Curmie’s book. But it was voted into third place, and third place is what it gets.

4th place went to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is a fount of stupid and often unethical ideas. The one in question this time was the patently idiotic declaration that special needs kids just need more testing and they’ll be fine (well, that’s what it amounted to).

5th place was claimed by Bergen Community College in New Jersey for suspending and ordering a psychiatric examination on a faculty member who tweeted a photograph of his young daughter in a “Game of Thrones” t-shirt.

6th place was earned by Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, NY, for shutting down their annual kindergarten show, lest their 5-year-olds stray from the path of college-readiness. Yes, really.

7th place: Wasatch (UT) High School for (badly) photoshopping senior photos of girls to cover up their [whisper] you know… shoulders, managing to be puritanical, censorious, pompous, and sexist all at the same time.

Rounding out the finalists, in 8th place, was Cline Elementary School in Friendswood, TX, a representative of all the schools who ran around screaming the sky was falling during the Ebola pseudo-crisis. Cline prevented a teacher from returning to classes for three weeks because she had recently visited Tanzania (it’s in Africa, after all), roughly 3000 miles from the nearest Ebola outbreak; distance of Friendswood to Dallas, where there actually was a case: about 260 miles, or roughly 9% as far.

I tried to have this year’s finalists represent a range of bad behavior: punishing students for doing the right thing, systematically subverting the educational mission of a university, suspending a faculty member for off-campus behavior that was not only completely innocent but proven to be so before the suspension, using the power of a Cabinet position to advocate positions that are objectively inane… We didn’t have any finalists demonstrating bad behavior by teachers this year: there certainly were some contenders, but I didn’t get a chance to write about a couple of the worst offenders, and there were plenty of administrators apparently zealous to claim the Curmie Award this time around.

And so we raise a glass to the fine folks at Rhame Elementary. Their Curmie comes in the form of a multiple-choice question:
We won the Curmie because:
a. we care far more about funding than about education
b. we think that excellence ought to be punished
c. standardized testing is our deity
d. all of the above
And thus concludes our Curmie presentation event. Enjoy the shrimp toast. Be sure to tip the waitstaff.

1 comment:

Steve Grossman said...

Great work, Curmie! Another great award season!