My Part of the World: The Atlanta Public School Indictments Break My Heart

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    I’ll begin by saying I’m heartbroken about the arrest and “perp walk” of 35 Atlanta educators last week, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall.

    This has to be the saddest thing that’s happened to our school system since it was officially “separate but equal.”

    I must also say that the charges of criminal racketeering that have been leveled against these educators is beyond horrible. I do not believe that Supt. Hall was intentionally leading a criminal enterprise of school test cheating for money. This is nonsense.

    I do agree that changing test scores was a total disservice to the children in the Atlanta Public Schools. I also agree that using the results of a single test to determine the fate of a teacher’s or principal’s job makes a mockery of education.

    The combination of the pressure brought on by “no child left behind” with testing being the standard for evaluating student and teacher performance, with the use of money as a reward and firing as a punishment was a witches brew that brought the APS system to its knees.

    Dr. Hall’s salary and pay bonuses were tied directly to student achievement and she used that same standard with her principals and teachers. Not only did they get bonuses for improved student performance on tests, but they also risked losing their jobs if students did not improve their (test) performance.

    Here’s the big problem with this. APS students are not widgets on an assembly line, waiting to be stacked into a thing-a-ma-jig. As if teachers could get ten more dollars for every 10 more students they stacked.

    And here’s another thing. Most of the educators accused of cheating had either quit, retired or lost their teaching licenses after hearings before the Professional Standards Commission, the body designated to oversee such things as bad professional behavior by teachers. Plus, Dr. Hall had quit and left town. This was the appropriate way to handle these cases. Why are we spending tax payers’ money to criminally prosecute people who’ve already been removed from the system?

    And finally, I have long objected to a single standardized test being used to determine the fate of students, much less teachers. This whole sordid business is a wake-up call for modern education. Students need to be taught how to think, analyze and discern, not how to memorize. With technology, students can find any fact at their fingertips. It’s now time for some real reform.

    Teachers can help students most by serving as coaches, advisers and synthesizers of information. They can offer feedback on their thinking and guide them in exploration of new ideas. They can work with their parents to figure out the best path for them to take, using instruments that measure their interests along with their aptitude.

    We’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to provide support for children in poverty who don’t have the financial and other support they need at home to help them learn how to learn. Everyone’s quality of life in the future depends on it.

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