According to the Journal of American Medicine in 2000, somewhere between 44,000 and 98,000 people die every year because of problems they developed while under a doctor’s care. The Greek term for ‘doctor-caused’ problems is Iatrogenesis. (By the way, Wikipedia ups the ante, asserting that 225,000 deaths every year have iatrogenic causes, but it includes pharmacists, psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists among the killers.)
I raise this point because it seems to me that the widespread cheating in American schools is the result of the educational equivalent of iatrogenesis. It is educator-caused, the result of threats and intense pressure to raise scores on standardized tests. Take your pick of cities where some principals and teachers have cheated to raise student scores, and I think you will find that the ‘doctor’ at the top put intense pressure on his or her minions to “perform or else.”
The ongoing trial in Atlanta is the poster child, of course.
If Washington, DC, had courageous political leadership and a strong newspaper like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I have no doubt that the DC students whose scores were falsely inflated would be getting an apology and perhaps some remedial compensation, as the Atlanta students will soon receive. My colleagues at Learning Matters and I have carefully documented what I called “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error” there. In other cities (Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore; El Paso, Texas, et cetera), adults have been caught breaking the rules.
(Many others have resisted the pressures and temptations to cheat, and their honesty should be acknowledged. I am personally grateful to the few who have blown the whistle.)
Because, like Mr. Shakespeare, I have “small Latin and less Greek,” someone else will have to construct a word to mean ‘arising from an educator’ to describe what has been happening in our schools. “Edugenesis,” perhaps?
Unlike Iatrogenesis, “Edugenesis” doesn’t literally kill people. However, it has ruined careers and blighted lives.
On a positive note, I sense the tide is turning, and so perhaps a new coinage is no longer necessary. The backlash against excessive testing seems stronger than ever, and many knowledgeable people are recognizing that our system uses standardized tests to evaluate teachers, while other countries use them to assess students (which is what they are designed to do). The AFT’s Randi Weingarten has just turned her back on using VAM (value-added measurement) to assess teachers. Respected superintendents like Josh Starr of Montgomery County, Maryland, have called for a moratorium on high-stakes testing during the transition to the Common Core. The tireless Diane Ravitch, once a lone voice crying in the wilderness about the tyranny of machine-scored testing and the war on teachers, now has 70,000 Twitter followers and countless readers of her blog.
Will the backlash against excessive testing bring down with it the national effort to raise academic standards, collateral damage as it were? These are interesting times, to be sure. And hopeful too……