The antecedent to the convictions in the Atlanta School District dates back to years of systemic abuse throughout the public school systems in America. There are few systems throughout America where anyone familiar with the in workings of most public schools is unable to relate to the details which played themselves out over the past six years in Atlanta.
The convictions were surprising, but the details were not. Having been in public education for over twenty-five years, there is little that I have not witnessed, from quickly patched together reports to meet deadlines to principals hiring inadequate staff for core classes. These administrators clearly fit the description of racketeering as their activities were “organized and illegal”. Unfortunately, this is the rule and not the exception.
Most principals are short on foresight, but have myriad ways to try and work out eleventh hour miracles to produce impressive results for school boards and the public. Their convincing rhetoric seems to fool unwary and easily duped school officials. The fact it seems that there is complicity from the highest levels down and there is more emphasis placed on results than in finding authentic methods to foster a real sense of accomplishment among students.
Take for instance discipline. The last couple of schools where I worked had no disciplinary plan in place as had been outlined by the union of the district. The school leader bore responsibility to call together a representative group of teachers throughout the school at the start of the year and develop a yearly outline for discipline which included such specifics as expectations and consequences for adherence to a school policy. Instead, there were no clear policies. The school was run on favoritism and outright bias of some teachers.
I recall my voice had little weight in decisions such as testing. I also witnessed a total disregard of standardized test rules as they applied to time limits, student conversation during test administration, and blatant ignoring of instructions. For some reason, I was always unsuitable to administer tests, and it seemed to be a constant struggle for me to keep up with the established routine.
I am also familiar with the “incredible moment” the Atlanta students experienced as described in an interview with a New Yorker reporter on National Public Radio. Too often students are convinced that they have performed well on a test which momentarily boosts their self esteem. This does little but set them up for failure in their not too distant future. Perhaps that is the most depraved part of the whole Atlanta fiasco. Misleading a child to make her believe that she has accomplished something that she clearly hasn’t sets the stage for confusion and repeated failures down the line. For a child to “hold her head high” for something that she did nothing to deserve is far worse than failing a test.
This is not to suggest that teaching economically disadvantaged children is easy. They often enter school with cumulative deficits ranging from nutritious food to a lack of adequate housing. Too frequently they are lacking in early academic preparation and frequently come from families with generational illiteracy. But cheating is not the solution.
These problems can only be overcome by an adherence to high expectations, consistency in discipline, and instilling a genuine resect in their peers and themselves. A school has to commit to workshops for educators and to exposing children to experiences different from their own limited backgrounds. Invariably, schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged districts need to find ways to offset the problems that these students have inherited. Therefore administrators need to be firm and unwavering in discipline and to keep expectancy high.
If a school failed for six years, it can only blame a lack of applying best practices in education which are have shown to have outstanding results. Any school administrator who believes that test scores magically occur without hard work and dedications has fooled himself. The real crime then comes long before the cheating on the test, but is committed each time an administrator abandons sound judgment and replaces it with self interest and a genuine concern for the children in his charge. Children are our most precious commodity and for their futures to be placed in jeopardy by careless, self-serving administrators is unconscionable.
So that end the end, a failing school is just that, a school that has failed to take the time and effort required to develop policies to ensure a safe learning environment for its students. Only when an administration is dedicated to ensure that there is a consistent disciplinary plan, mutual respect among staff and fosters positive student peer interactions, will schools do not fail. Overall, the No Child Left Behind Act is essential to building strong viable students who will effectively compete in the global landscape.. Anyone who tries to circumvent that process by cheating our children should be considered a criminal and go where society places those who commit crimes.