Cheatin’ on Peach Tree Street

The big edu-news of the week has to be the ever-evolving cheating scandal down in Atlanta.  The allegations had already brought down a superintendent of the year, one who was once rumored to be on the short list for U.S. Secretary of Education.  The report released by the Georgia governor notes cheating in 80 percent of the schools reviewed, with 178 teachers and 38 principals named in the scheme.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the full story here.

Critics are quick to use this scandal to condemn testing and accountability in general, stating that our high-stakes, AYP era made these educators act the way they did.  They had no choice.  With high expectations, they had to use any means necessary to demonstrate student proficiency.  If that meant erasing a number of bubbles in the name of APS’ reputation, then so be it.
And it isn’t like this is the only incident of district-wide cheating we’ve heard of in recent years.  There is the current investigation in Baltimore.  And who can forget the huge expose that USA Today did on potential cheating in Washington, DC.  
There is a difference, though, beyond the scale of the allegations.  In DC and Baltimore, folks were quick to condemn the leadership for taking shortcuts.  And we were quick to remind people that those districts were headed by upstart “reformers” looking to change the way we teach.  So in their quest to demonstrate their model works, of course they would do whatever it took to post student gains, right?
But Atlanta paints a very different picture.  Superintendent Hall is the very model of a status quo superintendent.  Her tenure in Atlanta surpasses just about any current urban superintendent.  She’s part of the old guard, and was regularly put forward as an example that one doesn’t have to blow up the central office and preach reform to generate the sort of student achievement numbers most urban districts only dream about.  So if there is some malfeasance, it must be the devil’s work.  It must be the doing of that dear ol’ mephistopheles known as NCLB/AYP. 
There is never a good reason why a school or district should engage in systematic cheating on assessments.  Even with the best of intentions, such actions only serve to destroy the lives of educators and embarrass the students.  Such actions only undo the good changes and improvements that may be happening in a district.  And such actions only throw more fuel on the fire regarding public perceptions of failing schools and incapable educators.  Instead of everyone winning by some short-term student gains, everyone — particularly the students — loses when details and stories such as these go public.
Yes, we feel better when it is one isolated teacher or school that engages in such behavior, versus an entire district that uses rubber gloves to eliminate fingerprints and allegedly handed out cheat sheet transparencies to make changing answers that much easier.  We don’t want to believe that such actions can be systemic.  Now Atlanta has shown us otherwise.
What comes next?  We are already hearing of potential criminal charges and calls for the denial of pensions and benefits down in Atlanta.  But such does little to help those students who were positioned as part of the Atlanta “miracle” only to find they aren’t quite as proficient as they once believed.  The students are the real victims here, and punishing individual teachers does little to make them whole or to fix the underlying issue.  In what will clearly be “I was just following orders” defense, a few administrators will take the fall, with the rest left to pick up the pieces.
But it begs an important question — what if all of that time and effort was put into actually teaching the students?  What if instead of the “changing parties” educators used the time for additional tutoring or instruction for the students?  
Then again, Atlanta could have always done what so many other states and districts did during the NCLB era — just lower its standards.  It is much easier to just lower the bar, year after year, rather than look for way to enhance performance through answer-changing methods.  I guess lowering the bar is just so 2005.

7 thoughts on “Cheatin’ on Peach Tree Street

  1. I am responding paragraph-by-paragraph:
    P#1: It’s scary that a “superintendent of the year” had a shot at being the US Secretary of Education–and sad, too.

    P#2: Yes, it is right to use the scandal to condemn testing because this shows the symptoms and consequences of the current testing climate. “Scoring High” on an exam does not make a reader want to read or grow a passion for reading.

    P#3: If there is massive cheating in Atlanta and Baltimore, wouldn’t you think it’s going on elswhere?

    P#4: Education is not about kids first, it’s really about EGO’s first: And then again, who are these reformers? What do they know about teaching and learning? Have they taught? How long? Under what circumstances? What was the population?

    P#5: Why can’t we admit, collectively and sanely, that NCLB is not going to re-create the uncreated conscience and consciousness of education?

    P#6: Oh no, we really care about students? True, the testing scandal does not make Public Education look good. But, at the same time, neither does NCLB. We need more capable educators today, however, we’re still having trouble figuring out the best way to train teachers. Isn’t that paradoxical? We, as teachers, cannot train teachers. The schools of education across the US need to revamp their departments to develop the greatest potential in our future educators. I also believe that a lot more responsibility has to be put on kids’ heads–and I’m not talking about test scores and test-anxiety. They can easily be taught the prerequisite fundamental skills for learning and learning how to learn and take those skills and use them in the electro-techno world to their advantage. In sports kids learn the fundamentals of any game they’re involved in (e.g., basketball, they learn dribbling, passing, shooting, etc.) and then put them together in a “real” basketball game. The same idea can be used in education: focus on the fundamentals of learning, give them the tools, and let them go “Into New Worlds” or the core subjects.

    P#7: There are many ways to manipulate tests, test scores, and the materials/passages given on the standardized exams. At the end of a year of testing and test practice, a reader reads because he or she has a passion for reading, because he/she wants to read. Think about it: TEST SCORES MAKE READERS…

    P#8: Oh no, not again, “the students are the real victims here.”

    P#9: Yes, what if “all that time and effort was put into actually teaching the students” instead of test-prepping? Oh my, could it be? Could we have “real” education?

    P#10: Yes, lowering standards is so 2005, but, at the end of a day at school, does a kid pick up a book to read because it is one of the truly wonderful “lonely pleasures” of a world that’s fallen off the edge?

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