Radio silence on Clarence Mumford

The Clarence Mumford case has gotten little traction outside its area. Save for the excellent Joanne Jacobs, probably the best pure education blogger around, none of the usual suspects have tweeted or blogged about it in the week since it happened.

Mumford, a former assistant principal, has been facilitating fraud in the Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi teaching pool for 15 years or more. Teachers and prospective teachers who couldn’t pass the PRAXIS on their own sent him a few thousand dollars each. For that fee, he scheduled a test and created phony driver’s licenses for people who took the test instead.

I understand why the media is reluctant to touch this story, but the eduformer silence is deafening. Here’s devastating, damning evidence of an organized crime ring passing tests in the name of teachers aren’t actually qualified, proving a demand for teachers too weak to pass the credentialing tests, and…..nothing.

Me, I’m thinking race.

None of the articles I’ve seen mention that Mumford is black, although most articles provide the picture. The U.S attorney (also black) who brought charges against Mumford doesn’t provide the names or races of the teachers who gained or kept credentials. I will be extremely surprised if it does not turn out that most if not all of the teachers who bought themselves a test grade are black. (I am also betting that the actual testers are white, but am not as certain. It just seems that if black people were taking the test and guaranteeing passage, the fees would be higher.)

I suspect that everyone not talking about the Clarence Mumford is doing so because they, too, are pretty sure that the teachers paying for test passage are black, even though they’d hasten to holler “racist!” if anyone said this aloud. If I’m wrong, and it turns out that Clarence Mumford has been helping white teachers fake their credential scores, then when that news comes out I anticipate an avalanche of coverage. Everyone will be relieved.

Eduformers pushing for “more competent teachers” (read teachers with higher test scores) are doing their best to pretend away the enormously bad news about the end result if this push were successful. They push the bogus factoid about ed majors’ SAT scores, demand that our teachers be drawn from the top 30% of our college graduates, and do everything they can to promote the notion that teachers are as dumb as stumps.

If their audience were to visualize, without getting needlessly specific, that these low achievement scores were due to the overpopulation of some hapless bong-hitting Millennials who wandered through a state school reading nothing more than the Cheese Doodles packaging when they had the munchies and beer wasn’t sufficiently nutritious, why, that’s purely coincidental. If their audience were then to contrast this know-nothing pile of lazy do-nothings with the freshly-pressed penny bright Ivy League grads and conclude that, by golly, only the Best of the Best should be teachers, who should blame them? Certainly not the eduformers.

And so if this Mumford story were about white teachers, they’d be all over it. Look! Those damn teachers are morons! Burn them! See! Teachers are stupid!

But black teachers? Thud. Silence.

I’ve written on the lurker in the teacher quality debate, but here’s some ETS data. (Cite, and I pulled out images of the relevant points in the gallery below)

The bullets, dressed up with details to drive the point home:

  • The white Millennial bonghitter with a 1.2 GPA who teaches sixth grade science after his parents booted him out of the basement ties the freshly-pressed hardworking black track star with a 3.8 GPA teaching special ed.* ( Cite)

  • The goofball wannabe manicurist who loafed through Podunk U and went into teaching kindergarten after the tenth of her problematic boyfriends dumped her outscores the idealistic black welfare daughter success story on a full scholarship to Harvard who went into teaching sixth grade English to “give back” to her community.* ( Cite)

(*on average, of course)

In so many words: “Improving teacher quality” by increasing test score mandates will result in a dramatic drop in black (and Hispanic) teachers.

Bumping the basement won’t even make a dent in the white teacher population, which is almost certainly meeting or exceeding any realistic score requirement.

And then, the irony: the research base offers little in the way of proof that “improving the teaching pool” (raising required test scores) will improve results.

Best news, from the most optimistic research:

  • “Quite striking” results show that teachers who score 2 or more standard deviations above average in math improved student gains by .068 of a standard deviation relative to average. (2sd is 95%ile).
  • Teachers who scored 2sd below average in math reduced achievement by .062 of a standard deviation.
  • Thus, the teachers from the 95% percentile or higher had a “whopping” improvement of .13 standard deviations over the teachers literally scraping the bottom.
  • No significant difference in reading scores.

And that’s the good news. RAND found “no evidence that [experience, education, scores on licensure examinations] have a substantial effect on student achievement.” (This report also has an excellent overview of the research (including the relatively cheery Clotfelter study above), starting on page 6.)

Meanwhile, there’s this rather unsettling, and recent, finding from Goldhaber’s Race, Gender, and Teacher Licensing:

Same-race matching effects dwarf most any information conveyed through the licensure test signal. We wish to point out that when teaching Black students, Black teachers in the lower end of the teacher test distribution are estimated to have impacts that are approximately the same as White teachers at the upper end of the distribution.

In summary, we find that evidence suggesting the uniform application of licensure standards for all teachers is likely to have differential impacts on the achievement of White and minority students. Specifically, we see that Black and other minority students appear to benefit from being matched with a Black teacher regardless of how well or poorly that teacher performed on the Praxis tests, and these positive effects due to matching with Black teachers are comparable in magnitude to having the highest-performing White teachers in the classroom. Removing the lowest of performers on the exam would necessarily remove some of the teachers that appear to be most effective for this segment of the student population.

…..

Third, when isolating specific teacher-student interactions, we find evidence that Black teachers have more consistent success than White teachers in teaching minority students, and this matching effect is greatest in magnitude for Black teachers at the lower end of the licensure performance distribution.

Despite a decade or more of trying, the link between teacher cognitive ability and student outcome remains tentative at best, and appears to have a floor. Meanwhile, Goldhaber isn’t the first researcher to find that black students seem to do better with black teachers.

And so radio silence on the Mumford story, even though on the surface, it would seem to play right into their case for improving teacher quality. They can’t afford to be seen screaming for the removal of the thousands of African American teachers who would otherwise meet their criteria of “mediocre or worse”, and the mostly white population of eduformers certainly can’t afford to openly acknowledge that their demands for an improved teaching pool means a near decimation of the African American and Hispanic teaching pool–even without the unsettling lack of research to support their teacher quality fantasies. Because the optics, to put it mildly, suck.

Which is why they’re probably all secretly, desperately hoping the teachers are white so they can scream and point fingers. Because it’s fine to call white teachers stupid.

Note: I followed up on this post here:

*******

Update: Hey, after 4 months, the Mumford case gets a bit more attention. I have periodically been checking for updates, and I don’t recall seeing Cedrick Wilson’s name mentioned before. So maybe an ex-NFL lineman makes it a bit more newsworthy.

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