In Memphis, a man who was helping an elderly woman into her car was attacked by a group of young people at a gas station across the street from a school. In another part of town a mom worries about gang retaliation at her child’s high school.
Memphis is not alone. No matter what city you look at, you can find frightening stories, about what’s happening to America’s young people and how it is affecting their communities. There are serious problems with our youth everywhere.
High-stakes testing is not the answer to these problems.
Going after teachers for fudging answers on high-stakes tests to save their jobs, even wanting bonuses, is no answer either. It is terribly punitive at best, considering the high-stakes culture of test-taking, and is far off the mark of the real problems facing students and this nation.
In fact, the culture of high-stakes testing is adding to the problems in our public schools and in the country. Tests waste time and resources. More importantly, tests are impersonal. They are merely a tool even when they are done right. They don’t get to the heart of who students are and what they can become if given the right support.
Most tests today don’t provide information that can practically assist teachers in directing better instruction. Teachers don’t get the information back until it is too late. This doesn’t help students!
High-stakes tests are all about comparing schools and blaming them for what they aren’t doing right.
They don’t provide any answers on how those schools can improve. The scores are also more about arbitrarily firing teachers and closing public schools. If this weren’t the case the goals would be much different, and teachers would be included in the decision-making surrounding their jobs.
The Atlanta case played into the continuous drone that an unforgiving public, and the education reformers, seem eager to hear…that teachers are louses…in it for their own good and not for the students’ welfare. Bring in Teach for America.
I only wish the Atlanta teachers would have taken a stand against the tests. They had tenure. They could have spoken out. They could have pointed to problems in Atlanta—problems of poverty that test scores won’t fix.
They could have said, look, you can wave a Harvard college pennant in front of a poor kid’s face from the time they are three, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically get a privileged life when they graduate high school—even if they graduate with honors—even if their test scores are high. The problems are greater than this!
Or they could have said a country that preaches college and careers for all and denies both to its children is a country in crisis. How many of these students will face crippling debt even if they get to college? Will they get employment if they graduate? Will they get a career with a living wage?
Instead these teachers were followers, compliant in what they were told, but willing to break the rules when no one was looking. If only they’d had the courage to say no to these harmful tests!
But teachers have lost any semblance of decision-making power when it comes to how schools are run. They must do as they are told, and they must get everyone to get high scores on the tests no matter how arbitrary those tests might be.
The judge called the students in this case “victims.” Well they are victims of too much testing too. Was he not aware of the many parents and teachers who are tired of testing? Students are victims of the corporate plan to shut down their schools.
It seems to me, as it does so many others, that the punishment here also doesn’t fit the crime. These are African American teachers who made a mistake. We need teachers of color in our schools. Surely a probationary period where they return to their classrooms, do community service and discuss their mistakes would be much more beneficial than having them sit in prison. There are too many sides to this story than just the teachers and cheating.
Also, I have no idea the struggles these teachers might have faced—the fear of losing one’s job. It is hard for me to judge.
In the meantime, while school administrators, politicians and businesspeople, many who never taught a kid in their life, belittle teachers and mull over test data and school reform their style, troubled students who don’t do well on the tests, who are not engaged in the kind of pablum they dish out, look for other ways to get attention.