font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": The Atlanta Teachers Scandal

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Atlanta Teachers Scandal

In March of 2013, thirty five educators from the Atlanta area were indicted after a two year investigation by the Fulton County district attorney's office. The investigation was started after an Atlanta Journal- Constitution article stated that the recent test scores of the students were improbable, statistically. After hundreds of interviews with teachers, administrators, parents and students the investigators realized that they were looking at a pattern of cheating and of fixing test scores that encompassed at least 44 schools in the area that went back as far as 2005! Wednesday, April 1, after a six month trial (August 2014- February 2015), eleven of the twelve individuals who went on trial, were found guilty of racketeering charges. The twelfth was found not guilty of all charges. 

That is the background of this astounding case and it's a shocker. Yet, here comes the most shocking part of the case; after the verdict was read, the Judge, Jerry Baxter ordered the guilty persons handcuffed and taken into custody until sentencing! He justified this action by saying, "I don't like to send anyone to jail. It's not one of the things that I get a kick out of, but they've made their bed, and they're going to have to lie in it, and it starts today." Only one of the eleven were allowed free until sentencing and that's because she is expecting a baby. These eleven individuals now face up to 20 years in prison. A ridiculous fact, as far as I'm concerned, made possible because of the charges they were indicted on- the RICO statute. RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations act. That's right, the very statute that was designed and instituted for such wonderful people as John Gotti and Carlo Gambino! I don't care that these educators were guilty of ridiculous acts such as cheating (nothing I condone), the RICO act is the most ridiculous charge that they could have used for these people. Nothing that they've done warrants them possibly going to jail for 20 years. Now, we all know that they won't go to jail for that long but to use this statute to convict these teachers and educators is complete overkill! It's just another attempt by an arrogant, self-serving public prosecutor to label himself as "tough on crime".

I'm just dumbfounded over the results of this scandal! Obviously, I DO NOT condone cheating- it does NO ONE ANY GOOD! Yet, I'm NOT surprised that this is happening. For years now, in some areas, teachers' employment has been linked to their students' progress. If students prosper and get good test scores... teachers prosper! If students don't prosper, fail and get terrible test scores... teachers lose their jobs!! WHAT?!?! Is anyone surprised that things finally came to this? Again, I'm not saying this is right, I'm saying that these educators do not deserve to go to jail for a policy that all but forced them into this situation. That's right, I said, "all but forced them into this situation". There is no way that any teacher would have committed these acts if it wasn't because their jobs were in the hands of children, many of which have no intention of learning. I know that's one hell of an indictment on these students but tell me I'm wrong. You can't. The state that so many of the families in our inner cities AND other areas are in makes it extremely hard for children to get the attitude of a good education ingrained into them by their parents. For reason too numerous to state now, families in so many areas have disintegrated and have lost their abilities to influence their children. Yet, education policy makers have seen to it that the livelihoods of teachers are based on how these students do, whether their teachers are good or not. I'm sure there are plenty of terrific teachers who have lost their jobs solely based upon how students, who had no intention of learning, did on their test scores. It's a flawed policy and it needs to be over-hauled! 

I understand that if you try to connect this to America's capitalist thinking (I'm a supporter of capitalism) it sounds like this; If a company has a product that doesn't flourish and prosper ie., sell well, then that company goes out of business. That's simple. But, comparing our teachers to a company which sells a product and subjecting them to the same consequences that company would suffer if their product doesn't sell is ridiculous!! Look, I understand that we have some horrendous teachers out there, we've all had our share of them in our educational experiences. When I was in school, from the late 60s to the early 80s, the teachers were graded by the principals and if they were deemed, "NO GOOD", they were fired. It isn't that hard. Nowadays, they've taken the decision of whether a teacher is fired or not, out of the hands of the principles and put it INTO THE HANDS OF THE STUDENTS! I'm sorry but I don't see how this is fair. I don't see how you can entrust a person's livelihood to a child who DOESN'T WANT TO LEARN. Yes, there are many children who DO NOT want to learn and their teacher's livelihood SHOULD NOT depend upon their inability to comprehend what that means to their future and the future of their teachers. 

Unfortunately, there might be some good that comes out of this case. It's a shame that these educators have had to suffer the wrath of the County of Fulton but maybe policy makers will see that this is a failed policy. I'm sure a small minority of teachers actually worked harder to come up with innovative ideas to get the students who they taught (the ones who could care less about learning) to become more engaged but that's probably the extent of it- a small minority. What seems to be what a lot of teachers did was to teach to the tests. Look, if you make someone else the total arbiter of an individual's livelihood, they are going to do whatever they need to do to please that arbiter. Plain and simple. Scandals like this were bound to happen once a policy of students' test scores became the benchmark for whether a teacher was going to be able to feed their family. If my livelihood depended on this, you bet I'd make sure that these kids were taught what the test was going to ask. This doesn't mean that out and out cheating is acceptable, it just means that it was inevitable! It seems that that's what a lot of other people felt, also. Hopefully, policy makers will start to focus on the fact that putting a teacher's job in the hands of students isn't the way to get better teaching out of these teachers. 

I'm not an educator and I'm not a policymaker, I'm just a citizen worried about the young people in our country. Every year we hear that America's students are falling more and more behind countries like China. This has got to stop! We have the resources and the money to make the necessary changes that need to be changed. We've also got the teachers who have the abilities to make these changes happen and work! Let's allow them to do their jobs!

And that's, "As I understand it now... 'til it changes"
Thanks for reading,
Michael K. Stichauf.