Sunday, July 17, 2011

When "put up and shut up" isn't a good idea.


I regret to inform you that the ethical values of our country are being flushed down the toilet.


Wait wait wait! Where does this come from, you ask? I just finished reading this news article from the Huffington Post about Atlanta schools. If you have time, I highly recommend you go read that before continuing with this blog. If you'd like to skip that, I'll try my best to pull the key parts of the story for you here (or at least what I'll be talking about).

A new investigation has found that teachers and administrators in Atlanta, GA were changing student responses on standardized tests, allowing students to look up answers on tests, allowing and encouraging "dumb" kids to cheat by peering at "smart" kids' answer booklets, and so on and so forth. Now, students are entering middle schools at a 1st grade reading level (yes, go ahead and throw up, I did) and parents and their new teachers are upset at the horrible game of catch up they're being forced to play! The article goes on to describe the ways in which administrators instructed teachers to cheat, or allow their students to cheat, and in turn how teachers did not / could not speak up against the unethical practices before their very eyes.

As a future teacher, my first response to this was WHAT THE HELL?!

Excuse my French.

As a teacher, I make an active oath to engage my students in the classroom daily. I hold myself, the students, and their parents responsible for any and all learning that takes place under my direction. As a teacher, I proactively set the best example possible for my students, in hopes that they too will be able to not only find an adequate place in the world, but learn the value of enrichment through work and reinforcement of practice. I'm committing myself to the lives of many, knowing that although not all of my future students will achieve the success they want/need, that most of them will, and that all students have the preliminary potential to be successful.

And, as a future teacher, I think that gives me the right to say, WHAT THE HELL, ATLANTA? Don't get me wrong, it's not only Atlanta. Other districts in other cities are undergoing similar investigations this very moment-all suspected of cheating, in one way or another, on standardized tests.

Again, what the hell?

Let's take a look at everything that is wrong with this situation.

1. First and foremost, students are not learning. What is the purpose of going to school? To LEARN. If learning is not taking place, the schools are failing.

2. Teachers and administrators alike are setting a BAD example. What can students take away from this experience? Teachers and administrators are teaching students that it's "ok" to cheat when it will give you something of significant value in return (like the ability to progress to the next grade level). This is NOT how the real world works, folks! Sure, I agree that I see a lot of scandal, and a lot of cheating going on, especially in the political world. However, being honest and true will get you miles ahead in the real world; lying and cheating will only (eventually) get you caught.

3. The blame is being passed on from person to person. Parents and students blame the teachers for allowing the cheating. The teachers are blaming administration, saying they were forced to encourage cheating because they administration demanded it, and the teachers didn't want to lose their jobs. The administration blames the local/national government, for setting such high test score standards and enforcing such harsh repercussions for scores that do not meet state/national standards. The government is blaming...well, the government is blaming pretty much everyone but themselves, saying that teachers wanted students to be held more accountable and parents wanted students guaranteed a "good" education--hence the development of the standardized tests (thank you Bush and NCLB, though testing standards were in place even before then, if you cared to know). Because everyone involved is partially to blame for a problem like this, it makes the problem all the more difficult to resolve.

4. Ethical standards are non-existent here. I don't care what philosophical values you hold, really, but take a look at yourself and ask yourself the following: According to my moral code, when, if ever, is cheating ok? I can almost (note: almost) guarantee you that about 95% of people would agree that, in a situation like this, cheating is most certainly NOT ok. I admit, there have been a few times in my life where I have lied and/or cheated in order to obtain a better result for myself in the end. I cannot remember a time when I did that in my education, however! As both student and teacher, I value content knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking skills greatly and refuse to compromise myself in order to "get ahead" a little bit faster. Again, what kind of example are we setting for kids?

In the theme of keeping things educational, I'd like to share one of my favorite quotes with you, and it goes like this: “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr Seuss.

If we continue robbing our students and children of the opportunity to learn how to read, and read well, ... well, let's just say they won't be "going" anywhere anytime soon. As a lover of humanity in general, I can only say that I hope our government and administration figures out soon that this is NOT the way to bring up young children.

And, because I genuinely dislike purely negative things without any ideas for resolution, here are my ideas for how to resolve problems like these:

1. Put any teacher/administrator that openly admitted to cheating in a psychiatric counseling program. Take this from the wages they would have earned. It needs to be a 6 week (at least) intensive program. This should also include at least the equivalent of 1 professional development course.

2. IMMEDIATELY enact remediation programs for students whose test scores have been altered. Have them take a proficiency test, to gauge their REAL level of competency, and then group them into similarly abled classes. Hire professional teachers/tutors to work with them.

3. The state and national governments need to hold councils to assess and reassess the testing system we have in place currently. Tests such as the ISATs and Iowa Examination of Basic Skills tests need to be analyzed by qualified doctors of education (there are a few good ones here, at Loyola!). Actually, you could even have folks like NCTM (National Council for Teachers of Mathematics) look at each section of the test (there are also councils for reading, science, and so on--I'm just blanking on the acronyms). I'm sure they'd be glad to help get the country back on track.

4. All "reward and incentive" money obtained by districts and administrators/teachers that was received due to inflated and or false test scores needs to be returned to the district, and used to pay for the remediation tutors (mentioned in step 2 above) and to hire new teachers/administrators to replace the folks that cheated/did not undergo the counseling in order to return to their previous job function.

5. Schools need to hold parent/community meetings in order to inform parents of exactly what happened, how far behind their child/ren is/are, and what is being done to rectify the situation. This will involve both administration and parents being the "bigger man"--accepting what is done, apologizing, and trying to move on in the best interest of the children.

6. Students need to understand the depth and breadth of the situation, and how they were cheated out of an equal learning opportunity. Students need to understand that any and all cheating in which they participated is ethically wrong, and that essentially they learned nothing from the process. Students should understand that schools are trying to catch them up to speed, and that if they and the teachers work together, student achievement is still possible.

Last, but not least, to the teachers:

I can assure you that 90% of you became teachers, why? To help other people; because, like me, you have a burning desire and passion to encourage and support as many students as possible, because you see potential in EVERY set of eyes, not just some of them, because you recognize that some students don't receive adequate support at home, and you'd like to ensure that they, at the very least, receive support in school, that you have a high regard for education and knowledge in general, you are a lifelong learner, and you never have turned your back on your education. This is why we become teachers--so now I ask you, WHY did you give up? Why did you not speak up when administration encouraged you to lie and cheat? No job is worth the trouble you're facing now (being fired, losing your license, and so on). So, I beg you, please do NOT put up and shut up. Remember the fiery ambition you had as a recent college grad--and reobtain it! Remember that you are in this for THE KIDS, not for the money or any other reason.

Emiliano Zapata, leading figure in the Mexican revolution, once said, "Prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado." (Losely) Translated, this means, "It is better to die standing than to live a lifetime on your knees." Though he said this almost a century ago, the message still rings true today. As teachers, we are called to "die standing," to sacrifice everything we have in exchange for our students' advancement and success. Allowing administrators to tell you to cheat? Well, that's living a lifetime on your knees, folks. But standing tall, and standing up to injustice? Well, that just might be a morir de pie.

And trust me when I tell you, it'll be worth it. :)

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