Much has been said lately about the cheating scandal surrounding the Atlanta public school system the past few weeks. For those who aren't aware, administrators and teachers at all but 12 of the public schools in Atlanta have been caught changing test answers to make it appear that the schools were doing better under No Child Left Behind than they really were.
The revelations may have broad implications for public education in the city of Atlanta and around the country. But just what could those implications be?
My very good friend David 2 - who lives in suburban Atlanta - takes a look at those implications in this week's BRUTALLY HONEST commentary: http://brutallyhonestcolumn.blogspot.com/2011/07/week-of-07182011.html
As always, your thoughts and opinions are more than welcome, either here or on David's page. I'll be forwarding the responses here to David. Thanks for reading!!
School administrators are, generally, former teachers who couldn't teach. One knows if one has the gear within the first couple of years. No teacher who is really good in the classroom would ever wish to be an administrator (at least that's what I observed during my 30 years of classroom teaching). (Here you may insert raspberry and say, "Maybe you were just fooling yourself.")
What good teachers want is for administrators to get the **** out of the way. If I teach 'em well, thosewho can will pass the test. Don't worry.
Nowadays, though, you can get doctorates in "administration" or even (gasp!) "educational leadership." More and more administrators have very little real academic preparation, and unfortunately, many teachers have been overloaded with education courses rather than content area courses. Education has become more about training for careers than about learning and thinking. I teach at a small state university in Georgia, and every day I deal with students who have not read their assignments, have not even bought the book, have come to class without paper or pens, who never take notes, and who often cheat. In the last, say, seven ears, I have collected about eighty plagiarized papers, most of them copied word for word from the web and the rest simply paraphrased from online sources with no attribution. Some of my colleagues frequently remind me that I am the only one in the department who reports students for cheating, even though university policy requires us to do so. Students then lie to administrators about their cases. One went to my dean and swore that he couldn't have plagiarized in my class because he didn't turn in any papers. The dean called to grill me about it with his paper and a copy of his internet source on the desk in front of her, saying "I know this student. I don't think he would cheat." Explain that paper, then. I suggested to the dean that we needed to get the plagiarism problem under control, and she said "What we need is better teaching." Apparently she thinks I taught the student to copy someone else's work. Every student I have reported has been convicted of academic dishonesty. The punishment, in every single case, has been that they are stuck with the F I already gave them. With no consequences for cheating, why not give it a try? I have gotten papers that still had the url at the top of the page. I once got a paper about the ancient Greek play Antigone that was really about a 20th century French play of the same title, and the student didn't even know he had the wrong play. One student squeaked through my Chaucer class with a C, but later, on a departmental exam, identified the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales IN MIDDLE ENGLISH, arguably the most famous passage in all of English literature, as a 19th century American work. Obviously, he had cheated in my class successfully (damn clever of him to cheat on a C level; most of them go for an A), passing while knowing absolutely nothing.
No one wants to admit the extent of the problem because it messes up the numbers, and administrators blame teachers because education at all levels in America has become all about "accountability." Parents sure as hell don't want to know. If a student fails, it's the teacher's fault, no matter what the student has done or not done. As you might expect, teachers are feeling sort of snakebit. There's no excuse for the kind of organized cheating coming from the Atlanta news, but the pressure to get students through, whether they deserve to pass or not, is enormous.
My 30 years in the classroom revealed the very same, with rare exception. Most of the teachers I knew that went from the classroom to administration were at best marginal teachers - to be fair there were a few that were less that great in the classroom that became very good administrators. I always believed that there should be a two track hiring system. Administrators would be hired if they held a school administration certificate instead of a teacher's certificate. Their training would be directed toward administrative responsibilities - classroom teacher to administration is all to often the Peter Principle at its ugliest
I never changed a grade at the behest of a student, parent, coach or administrator unless I made an error. My evaluation of a student was based not only on a numerical scale but also on the qualities that can't be given numerical value.
One of the reasons I retired a couple of years earlier than planned was the incoming state wide testing program - a grim foreshadowing of NCLB.
The best administrators were the ones that I saw 2 times a month or less. Teacher evaluations by administrators were a joke. One year some guy that taught PE for 8 years and had been an administrator for 2 years was evaluating my teaching of a concept in chemistry that he had no more understanding of than a spotted hog did of quantum mechanics.
Sounds almost like a catch 22.
If you are a good teacher then you have had no time to properly train at administration tasks and good administrators are aloof or have no teaching experience.
Schools need a structural re-assessment, so I'm quite partial to the proposals by Khan:
Have students do the lecture at home and the assignment in class. This even addresses the above issue with cheating as the work is done in class. There are of course problems with this solution but fundamentally it seems like a move in a positive direction.
You asked so I would like to help David with some some constructive criticism on his writing style and a response to the analysis.
First of all I get the impression David is not a practiced author, so it is important that he should take extra care to proofread before publishing. This is especially true when talking about education or casting judgement. To be "brutally honest", after reading his post I got the impression that he is unhappy about his own education more so than this particular news item.
Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about:
These are just little issues that are easily corrected or ignored, more importantly is the quality of his analysis and unfortunately I didn't get anything out of it.
From my point of view a little research would tell you that teachers cheating on tests for pay raises is nothing new. The easiest example that I can site is from the first Freakonomics book and I didn't even have to hit Google. The problem with teachers is obviously the incentive mechanism, if pay raises are based on test scores then education takes a back seat to testing mechanics.
How well a student does in school has as much or more to do with friends, family and culture than the quality of a teacher. Not only that but who says that tests accurately measure how well someone has learned? I can pass nearly any standardized multiple choice test but that doesn't mean I know anything about a topic, it just means I'm good at taking tests.
American schools are actually quite efficient at what they are designed to do: create a productive workforce and an indoctrinated docile population. If you want an education then you have to be proactive about learning and this is something that is frowned upon in the US culture.
There is a Grindhouse documentary that I watched this weekend (quite entertaining) and one of the directors had a great quote that went something like , "Movies are a reaction to the culture [of society]". I tend to agree with this analysis, and it makes sense when I think back to movies with school age kids in them. The smart kids get picked on or made fun of while the athletes get the cute girls, money and reputation or the heroic team wins in the end.
Yes, it really shows in schools when society worships sports stars, actors and singers but most have never even heard a name like Richard Feynman.