Don’t tell teachers, “whatever it takes,” and then act surprised when they follow that advice to its logical extreme. Don’t tell the principal, “you’ll lose your job and we’ll shut down the school if it doesn’t make AYP,” and then act surprised when the leadership finds ways to cheat.
When politicians set ultimatums like job security, institutional safety and student retention on kill-and-drill tests, cheating will occur. True, the teachers in Atlanta were unethical. In many cases, their students would have performed well on the tests if the teachers had ignored the pizza parties and pies in the face and simply taught with critical thinking and creativity. However, a constructivist approach feels very risky when job security is on the line and the entire school culture is pushing teach-to-the-test packets.
Unless students attend Hogwarts, people can’t expect magical results. Poverty matters. Learning disabilities matter. Language acquisition matters. Yet, if magic is what’s required, teachers will find ways to become master illusionists, coerced into cheating through threats and extortion.
The real cheating is the test itself. It’s large transnational conglomerates who set up “criterion-referenced tests” where each question is re-normed to ensure that fifty percent of the students fail it.
The real cheating is the politician who learns about the tests and declares that 100% of the students will pass every test by 2014.
The real cheating is the media who drools over the words of pseudo-reformers like Rhee and Duncan while ignoring the authentic revolution that is happening among teachers. I haven’t figured out if the real issue is lazy, sensationalized journalism or an ideological bias. Either way, I’ve lost any respect I ever had for The New York Times.
The real cheating is the public who thinks Dancing with the Stars is more important than civic participation and thus outsources their voice to the pundits and politicians who feed them outright lies about education.
And the ones who are cheated through this entire process are the students who endure a fear-fueled standardized education at the cost of real learning.