Thu, Sep

The Real Cheating Scandal of Our Public Schools


EDUCATION - Falsifying the test results of children is an indefensible act -- especially when such fraud may be covering up real deficiencies that could plague those children and ultimately limit their educational and professional options --

but what happened in Atlanta is neither a surprise nor, I strongly suspect, a unique event in the current climate of testing fanaticism and fear-based accountability.

And it is by no means the worst example of how our system is cheating children.

More serious are all the wasted instructional hours -- millions of them if we add them up for each student -- including all the squandered time associated with the testing itself. More serious are other mandates that obstruct real education and the ability of teachers to excite students about learning, overcrowded classrooms,

Red tape that not only wastes time but lets students know that whether they learn is subordinate to record keeping and other bureaucratic requirements.

And probably nothing cheats students more than lame instruction. And when one of us is just really not meeting the needs of our students and then puts on good front for an evaluating administrator -- or any other visitor to our classroom -- is that dog and pony show so different, morally, from falsifying the answers on a standardized test?

I remember when I was a pretty lame teacher. Young(er) and full of ideals and energy and love for the students but not enough training or experience to do justice to them. A few months in, I found myself proctoring what were then the annual standardized tests -- and back then in our district a minimum score was a requirement for graduation.

So the biggest test, it turned out, was the one that confronted me when, a few minutes into the test, students started asking me for help.

Suddenly, these young men and women who had disdained my instruction -- just wanted to meet some pitifully minimal standard and receive their five credits so they could satisfy probation officers and foster parents and maybe one day get a diploma and get the hell out of there -- now they wanted me to teach them something.

It was painful to have to say no.

And I understood in those moments the extent to which those children had been cheated.

Not just by an indifferent school system but by poverty and drugs and defacto segregation and gang violence and racial politics and, of course, their own inertia and apathy that had them sleepwalking through their education -- and all the teachers and administrators who'd given in to that intellectual paralysis and lowered standards accordingly.

It takes awhile for some of us to become effective educators but it need not take any time for us to commit ourselves to fighting against the moral failure that hurts our students in so many ways: the imperative that we must treat all the students like criminals because some of them are and regard students as products in a factory and teachers as interchangeable parts along an assembly line and regards the classroom as a stepping stone to career advancement, rewarding educators with higher pay and prestige as soon as they are no longer working directly with students.

It is those moral failures that are the ultimate cheating scandal -- and always have been -- structural inadequacies along with vanity and ambition that get in the way of providing the service for which this entire system was designed.

If you aren't fighting against all that then -- forgive me for being impolite about this -- you're a cheater too.

(Larry Strauss is a veteran high school English teacher, a basketball coach and a novelist. This article was posted first at HuffingtonPost.com)        -cw

Tags: Atlanta cheating, public schools, gang violence, racial politics

Vol 9 Issue 58
Pub: July 22, 2011