Systemic Mendacity

By John V. Lombardi

Whether it goes by the name of exaggeration, half-truth, misrepresentation, distortion, or dissembling, lying is endemic in all of education. Lies vary in intent and magnitude — but they tend to escalate under pressures of accountability. Over the past few years, state government efforts to link K-12 school funding and teacher and administrator tenure with student progress have led to widespread data falsifications. In at least half of the states, K-12 teachers and administrators have made test questions available in advance or changed students’ incorrect responses. This form of cheating is predictable: The more that data are used in decision-making — especially fiscal allocations — the more they will be subject to corruption.

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