“By Any Means Necessary”: A Teacher’s Reflection on the APS Scandal

   So, if you are a resident in the state of Georgia, and certainly a resident in the Metro Atlanta area, you have no doubt heard the news about how 178 teachers, and administrators in a number of Elementary and Middle Schools in Atlanta Public Schools changed the answers on the Georgia CRCT, the state test used to measure student academic progress and teacher accountability.  The Governor, the GBI, and other organizations have since gotten involved to determine what actions should be taken against the teachers involved, and how to evaluate what damage has been done to the students. Now, as a teacher myself, the news of this story saddens and angers me a great deal, but before we as a society villify these teachers for what they did, let’s take a moment to consider the following things.

1. “No Child Left Behind”: The federal mandate that governs schools in the area of certification, curriculum and accountability. Schools that make the mark are applauded, while those who are not are branded as “ineffective” and threatened with “restructuring”, which simply means “we’ll get rid of you and bring in someone else”.  You love teaching, but you know that despite the effort you put in day in and day out with your students, they didn’t come to you on grade level, and they won’t meet the mark on the tests. Your school is at risk of a state takeover, and you have a family to take care of. Desperate times and desperate people do desperate things.

2. The Superintendent : Beverly Hall was named National Superintndent of the Year in 2009 for the school system’s “impressive gains” under her watch (you know, the kind that are just a little too good to be true) and since Atlanta is a Merit Pay/Race to the Top system, she receives a financial incentive when the school system makes AYP. She knows her schools and her students, and what is possible to achieve in a school year. But told her staff to get the scores up “by any means necessary”.  And as the superintendent, she has clout to remove people who don’t comply. Again, backed into  a corner, what do you do?

3. “Snitches get stitches”, just with grown ups: In the schools that were flagged for cheating many of the teachers not involved were told to keep their mouths shut, and those who stepped forward were fired, and blackballed in the system. This is one of the things that angers me more than anything, is that teachers who stepped up and did the right thing were punished while those who didn’t got protection. Is it any surprise then when our children are reluctant to report wrongdoing. They see the “good guys” getting punished and the bad guys not getting into trouble.

4. Other systems are noted for doing other things to manipulate data (attendance, discipline, demographics), APS just got caught.

 Now, while these few points are things I want you to consider, I am IN NO WAY condoning the behavior of the administrators and teachers for what they did, I’m just trying to paint a picture as to what led to it. The fact is, there will be fallout from their decision,

1. They have ruined their careers: Even if no criminal charges are brought against them, the Professional standards commission will no doubt revoke the certificates of all teachers involved, and they’ll never be able to work again in education.

2. The stigma they have placed on their school system and colleagues:  Given all the media attention this has received (the story has now gone national), people will forget that for every teacher flagged for cheating, there will be 10-15 who didn’t, and that Atlanta has some excellent hard-working teachers in their school system. Sadly, they will be scrutinized should they try to find work in another system, and gains made in student achievement will be constantly questioned for their validity. And not only them, fellow teachers will be under the same microscope for a very long time.

3. The true victims: the Children: In the midst of all of this, there are hundreds of children whose education was greatly compromised and were given a great disservice because of this. Children who could have been serviced with Special Education never got the services they needed because based on tests-they didn’t qualify, or placing them in special ed would increase the exceptional student population, putting AYP at risk, or these kids end up in high school barely literate and unable to succeed. So, feeling helpless and frustrated, they quit school, and some end up in the legal system.  That, to me is the biggest tragedy in this.

   I know the new superintendent and school board members are working to fix this mess, and I hope that it happens soon, because the good teachers in Atlanta, and the children they service deserve more.

 

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Above all….Freedom remains

http://youtu.be/mqY3_0RSAXY

The link above is Jon Stewart’s first night back on “The Daily Show” after the September 11th, tragedy, and like many of us he was shaken, speechless, and overwhelmed with emotions about that fateful Tuesday Morning. But through his tears he spoke of how in the days following the 9-11 tragedy he saw the tru spirit of America. People giving of themselves to help a stranger, people crying together, praying together, and looking past our differences and becoming Americans. We became the country Dr. King dreamed of, the country we pledged allegiance to as children, the country olympians shed tears for as the stars and stripes raise and “The Star Spangled Banner” is played. And in seeing that, he knew that the attempt of terrorism to destroy America had failed, and would fail permanently. He ends his comments by saying that for the longest time, the view of his Manhattan apartment was always the World Trade Center. Perhaps the definite symbol of  American ingenuity, and free economic enterprise, the TwinTowers were the crown jewel in the New York skyline. But he goes on to say that while the towers are gone, he was able to see the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan, and what a beautiful thing that was. Because it told him that despite our economy and government being shaken, freedom remains.

   It  goes without saying that 236 years ago when the Founding Fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence asserting themsleves as a nation free from the rule of the British crown that “all men” when read between the lines meant “white protestant male slaveowners with property” and we as a country have spent the rest of the time bringing everyone into the fold and still have a long way to go, the rights and freedoms we have as American citizens are truly a blessing that no one should take for granted. Take me for an example. I am an African-American woman who lives on her own, is single, educated and while Christian, enjoy the company of people from all different bakcgrounds and walks of life. In many nations around the world the fact that I am unmarried and educated would be grounds for me being imprisoned at put to death. Every four years we elect our leader and undergo a seamless transfer of power unheard of in most places. We are able to criticize our government, satirize our leaders, and call them everything but a child of God, because the constitution says it is our right to do so (How long do you think ‘The Daily Show’ would last in Iran? ).  Why?  Because we have freedom

   America  is a nation that has its share of flaws, and it is not above reproach.  But even through its flaws, it is still a beautiful country, and one I am proud to call home. Many members of my community do not share my sentiment. They do not view July 4th as a celebration of independence, but-as one person put it-“the beginning of the nightmare” for my descendants from Africa. And while it is true that the first group of Africans who came to this country were brought here under unspeakable conditions and endured horrors through  slavery no human being should face, they built this nation too. It is also why African-Americans have played a pivotal role in the history of this great nation since its inception. From Crispus Attucks in the Revolutionary War, to the 54th Regimen, to the Tuskegee Airmen, Korea, Vietnam, and our brave soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq today. And not just African-Americans, Native Americans like the Wind talkers in WWII and countless Hispanic soldiers have given their time and life to making the United States a safe free nation. We have our struggles, we have our hills to climb, but through them all. freedom remains.

So, tomorrow on the birthday of this land we call home. Take a minute to really think about what it means to live in America. Suspend your cynicism and jaded view of the government. Ignore the economists reports and the crime statistics. Think about your freedom. Think about a soldier who isn’t watching fireworks with his children tomorrow so that you can have the opportunity to. Think of your family member who served in the millitary and thank him for his sacrifice. Think of the fact that you can grill steak and ribs and-while a few vegans and animal advocates might be upset-you can do that free of punishment. Think of freedom, the cornerstone of this country. Because despite what has come our way in the form of war, economic depression, political scandal, terrorism, and internal dischord; it is freedom that still stands strong. When the haze cleared over the Manhattan skyline, Lady Liberty was visible, her torch shining for all to see. And let her image reminds us tomorrow and everyday that…Freedom Remains.

“No it ain’t the only place on earth. But it’s just the place that I prefer. To love my [husband] and raise my kids. Yeah exactly like my [mama] did. Where the stars and stripes, and the eagle fly”.,, Aaron Tippin

 http://youtu.be/tNqUORIFV4I : “God Bless the USA”: Lee Greenwood.