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News/Politics, The ACT Era, The Liberal Complaint

Critically Considering The Atlanta School Cheating Scandal

I will try to keep this from getting complicated, though the perspectives of any court case can get very complicated. I will endeavor to remain true to the mandate of the critical thinker, the pursuit of critical cognition, and the adherence to internalizing multiple perspectives.

Let’s consider the Atlanta cheating scandal and take the time to briefly understand what we can with regard to the people involved, the teachers, the students, the parents, and the administrators. Let’s remain neutral even though we are passionate about children and consider any violation of their sanctity to be a heinous crime.

The scandal itself stems from a need to perform. The Federal government established standards that schools across the nation had to meet. The standards are part of programs called No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. The spirit of what these programs are meant to achieve are not without merit. The intentions are clear. Unfortunately, planning and execution are not often the same thing, especially when they aren’t considered through the prism of critical thinking with exacting specifics. Let us settle on the fact that we (and I mean OUR government) means well.

Over ten years ago APS (Atlanta Public Schools) welcomed a new leader, Superintendent Beverly Hall. Based on what has been reported, under her auspices an environment was created by leaders and administrators that sanctioned changing test scores in order to meet Federal mandates.

Without adding any new dimensions to the argument we must consider this particular activity by itself. Teachers and administrators changed test scores and falsified records that were submitted to the Federal government. These falsifications showed improved performance among APS students. This was illegal. We must consider this without any filters, without any coloring of the facts. We must start with the understanding that the law was broken … bottom line.

If the law was broken, there must be redress. We can start with the understanding that there are people involved who allegedly committed these crimes, and if they are found to be guilty then they absolutely must be punished.

We can move on to consider how some teachers responded in this environment. Apparently there was some coercion. Teachers were put under extreme pressure to perform, to show improved test scores. What was the teacher’s duty in this instance?

I firmly believe that the teachers should have held firm, held their ground and gone down fighting. You don’t cheat no matter what. However, the unfortunate truth is that as a society we aren’t too fond of the righteous in the moment. We let them burn. The whistleblowers suffer. We let time and history hold them up as heroes. Of course, that’s of no use to them when they have to buy bread and pay for utilities in the now.

We can consider perspective and think about the pressures of a teacher who simply wants to do a good job, compounded by administrators who are demanding they push children to perform well on tests. In fact, the focus is now the test, not learning, not educating, no critical thinking. In fact, the pressure becomes if the children don’t pass the test, change their scores.

The pressure increases to say if you don’t change the scores I will ruin your life. A single solitary teacher trying to live and work under such pressure may feel as though the weight of the world is on their shoulders. Tears are definitely part of their everyday experience. They must choose.

At this point we must consider students, parents and anyone else who may be culpable in this disaster. And make no mistake. It is a disaster. When a child is in the 9th grade and they are reading on a 4th grade level because the system has shuffled them through in order to lie and meet a mandate we have created a disaster. Understand such a child is now predestined to become a burden on society, a criminal, or simply someone who lives on the dole, because they have never been held close by their community, never nurtured, never educated appropriately. Now, they may not become a criminal, but the odds are against them.

However, we must still ask more questions. As a parent did you not see that your child was reading on a 4th grade level? Did you not see that they did not exhibit intellectually what the test scores say they achieved? Or, as a parent do you lack the intellectual ability to tell the difference. Now, we must add some dimensions to the problem of APS. We know that in some areas of our city the parents are struggling just as much as the children, and right or wrong they are relying upon APS to raise their children, to nurture them, to make them great … or just keep them because the parents don’t really want them, but that is an issue for another article.

Considering this situation and all it entails draws a glaring light of truth upon the problem; it still as ever requires a village to raise a child. Sometimes, more often than not in our society, the parents still need to be raised as well. None of us can do this alone.

Finally, if we consider the tests themselves we must acknowledge that they embody both good and bad. Testing is good because we need metrics in order to gauge performance. Testing is good because we can use it as a tool of general measurement to adjust methods and thus improve performance, to make us better.

Testing is bad when it’s used to marginalize people. Testing is bad when it’s a gauge for proving inferiority and maintaining social disparity. Testing is bad when it’s used to determine whether an institution survives or whether or not a person keeps their job without the benefit of a valid recourse for correction.

When considered critically it becomes plain that we need testing. We can and should use tests. We should teach to educate and grow and use testing as one barometer of performance, but not the only barometer of performance. It should not be the only tool for the justification of expenditure. We should not teach to take a test or punish based on the test. We should test to grow … and there is a difference. We can test, we can stretch, we can grow. See the old link below from 2008 for real world results, OUTSTANDING results here in metro Atlanta:

http://www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us/gcps-mainweb01.nsf/BB26B8809EDE1E9D8525743B005D8DD4/$file/Berkmar-Colllege-Board-Inspiration-Award-4-30-08.pdf

Was a crime committed? Yes. Were students harmed? Yes. Should people be punished? Yes. Should the punishment fit the crime? Yes. But what does that mean? The APS scandal has become global news. It is being upheld as an example of testing gone wrong, of what not to do. However, as ever we are focusing on the bright lights of the scandal, howling about the inefficiencies of the education system and the failures of everyone involved. We must consider the failures, but we must do so with the critical thinking mind.

Beverly Hall must return some, if not all the money she received as compensation for her perceived successes as the APS Superintendent. She should not spend 40 years in prison. In fact, her bonuses should be funneled into a scholarship fund for APS students. She has been shown to in fact be a poor leader whose excuse is she didn’t know the cheating was occurring. Either she is incredibly ignorant and a woefully incompetent leader, or she is complicit and she knew all along. Both are bad. One must come with some prison time, the other shame and disgrace.

The teachers and administrators in the case must be considered as individuals, as they have a right to have their cases considered without the judgment of media perception. Some are clearly guilty and drove this cheating scandal. They must be punished, for they had been given stewardship of our very futures. This cannot be taken lightly. Some have clearly been coerced through fear and intimidation. They deserve our compassion, and an opportunity to prove themselves in their chosen profession.

In the final summation we must learn from the incident, and be reminded that we are human and very fallible. We can be pushed into wrongdoing. We must also remember that some of us are capable of wrongdoing at the expense of others and for them we must ever be mindful, most especially where our children are concerned. They are the most important part of our lives. They are our future. With that understanding we must adhere to the critical thinker’s mandate and always consider perspective in both the execution of our plans for education, as well as our judgment of our plans’ effectiveness.

The Aspiring Critical Thinker,
D.S. Brown

About D.S. Brown

Aspiring critical thinker, author, motivational speaker, prime motivator.

Discussion

One thought on “Critically Considering The Atlanta School Cheating Scandal

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    Posted by Mr.MarioW | April 26, 2013, 8:16 am

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