I don’t teach for the Atlanta Public Schools. In fact, I am retired and only teach privately now. But when I was teaching I could practically throw a rock to the Atlanta school grounds. That explains, perhaps, why this issue feels personal to me.
Why would teachers cheat? Did it begin as full-fledged cheating, or did it begin innocently enough as erasing stray marks, waking a student who fell asleep during testing, letting the second hand on the clock go around a couple extra times to make up for getting a late start?
Or was it unintentional, spawned by lack of organization, procedures that became too relaxed, and before you realized it, students were sharing calculators and erasers during testing? Was it just too hard to say, “I can’t answer that” when a student didn’t understand the wording of a question on the test?
This is what I thought in the beginning of the APS testing scandal. This is the kind of thinking I went with. Sloppy and disorganized, but certainly not cheating. Not full-fledged cheating.
I was wrong.
It was full-fledged cheating. At last count, law enforcement has named 178 educators, including 38 principals, in 44 schools. Charges of “illegally ordered” destruction of documents, making false statements to authorities, denial of the now infamous “go to hell” memo, all resulting in resignations and firings, rocked this school system to its core.
Do we have here educators whose motives were understandable, but whose tactics were deplorable? Educators teaching children who are struggling the most in our nation, who are not making pre-defined acceptable yearly progress…or even coming close…children whose attendance and home life were poor? Those educators know the children have made progress, but not enough to be considered “acceptable”, not enough to keep a school from being labeled a “bad school”.
Maybe an educator rationalizes to himself, “I know in my heart my students have learned. From where they started to where they are now, they have learned.”
Maybe they continue, “I am not a bad teacher, and my school is not a bad school, because universal benchmarks were not met. They aren’t specific, personalized benchmarks for this school, for this child, mind you, but national, standardized, one size fits all, no child left behind, benchmarks. It’s not fair.”
Frustration sets in. Fear sets in. Embarrassment and shame set in. Need and greed set in as there is a big pot of money at the end of this test score game. So maybe the teacher is sitting in traffic one day and begins to think, “I’m here, I’m in the trenches day in and day out. I know learning is taking place. Universal benchmark testing may not show it, but pre test/post test scores would show it.”
So they pick up a pink eraser, just to erase stray marks and…then continue erasing. “It’s okay. I’m just leveling the playing field,” and the rest is history.
The worst lie you ever tell is the first one. The most destructive drug you ever pick up is the first one. The most devastating cheating is the first time…because after the first time it becomes easier. And easier. And easier. Until a new way of life, a new way of surviving as a teacher today, a new set of ethics has been forged. One full of dishonesty and breached trust.
My heart goes out to these educators, and, at the same time, I want to choke them until they turn blue. They knew better.
Don’t take that first cigarette. Don’t tell that first lie. Don’t play God with ethics. It’s not your place.