But what really gets the teachers in my school annoyed with charter schools is the fact that they can, to a certain extent, pick what students they get to teach. Sure, some have quotas of English language learners or students with learning disabilities—but public schools end up with a greater number of these students, and then we get penalized for producing lower test scores at the end of the year. It’s also true that charter schools are largely self-selecting, in that it’s an involved, savvy parent-base that plays the charter school lottery to begin with. Someone’s got to teach the kids who have learning disabilities or behavioral problems, who are only just learning English, or whose parents are completely uninvolved—as my parent-teacher conference attendance demonstrates. And we work with these kids every day. But then we get assailed for test scores without regard for the fact that we’re working with a different population than the charter schools, which is really frustrating.
In the social sciences, there is an oft-repeated aphorism called Campbell’s Law, named after Donald Campbell, the psychologist who pioneered the study of human creativity: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In short, incentives corrupt. Daniel Koretz, the Harvard education professor recognized as the country’s leading expert on academic testing, writes in his book Measuring Up that Campbell’s Law is especially applicable to education; there is a preponderance of evidence showing that high-stakes tests lead to a narrowed curriculum, score inflation, and even outright cheating among those tasked with scoring exams.