"...A culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation..."
I had the pleasure of reading an article about the Atlanta Public School Cheating Scandal. I found this particular article a little different though. It was different because it offered a first hand perspective from an educator involved. Click the button on the left to view the article (It is kind of long, but WELL worth the read).
While reading the article, a phrase stood out to me and it a phrase I heard once before. It was that APS had created "...a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation..." I am not condoning cheating or being unethical by any means; but we have to look at that statement and really analyze it for what it is. "A culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation." People like to say Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the school district, created this culture. She had a very big hand in it, but honestly, let's be real. A culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation came from No Child Left Behind and the creators of the legislation.
Again not condoning what educators who participated in the cheating scandal did; however, attention should be placed onto the demographics of the schools. Most of these school dealt with issues many cannot even fathom to begin with. If you read the article, you will hear how Mr. Lewis and his colleagues at Parks Middle School tried to do so much for their students. They bought them groceries, medicine for their parents, and down right took care of the students as if they were their own children. You could see children as students and who were making gains. But ultimately a single performance indicator, in this case the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), is suppose to evaluate how well students are doing?
The article points to No Child Left Behind and the era of that legislation. It rewarded schools that did well and placed tough sanctions onto schools that did not. The creators of No Child Left Behind helped to also create a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation. Maybe their intention or not, there were so many educators who felt pressured to teach to a test in order to meet Adequate Yearly Progress. And while many did not fall to the pressure of cheating or falsify information, this school system did (again not all educators or even schools). As an educator, when students do not something right, we are told and (in many cases) conditioned to question ourselves. "What could we have done differently?" It amazes me is that many policymakers never asked or answered that question to themselves.
That brings me to my next point: When are educators going to say enough is enough with playing games with schools and more importantly children's education? The people who typically create policy have not sat down and worked with students individually to help them learn. They have not been a classroom teacher and knows what it takes for students to succeed. With that being said, it is imperative policymakers either work with classroom teachers or at least having experience with instruction so they know what the possible realities are when creating policy and legislation. NCLB was formed from reform models used in Texas from the 90s an NYU professor noted in the article. She also points out that administrators were gaming the system then by exempting low performing students from taking the state test. As she puts it, "Given what happened in Texas, the cheating in Atlanta should have been easy to anticipate."
In the article, a former dean from the school of education at Arizona State University mentions how under NCLB educators were to "compensate for factors outside their control." He also points out and states, "The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse for doing nothing about poverty." This was a powerful statement to me. Many people including educators have never taught in an urban setting. Teaching in one is very challenging! All students can learn. Mr. Lewis, the teacher from the article, mentions how they were making a difference, you could see the kids growing; however the growth was not as high as the district wanted to see especially in accordance to making AYP. People who have not worked in urban education, especially with students from an urban poverty will never understand the work it takes teachers to get students to master content, especially since for many of them (not all), education is not valued or have significant background knowledge to help master content. For many of the students, mom or dad are on drugs, parents are trying to make ends meet, or parents have such bad experiences with school themselves, they don't want to really work with teachers and schools to help their child. With some of those factors, how do you expect children to rise to their counterparts at more affluent schools? When are we going to tackle the issue of poverty? We have to stop ignoring the problem. The elephant is in the room. It is not a comfortable topic nor an easy fix; but something has to give!
Policies like NCLB look at a single measure for assessing students' learning. But a representative from the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, as known as PAGE, stated that "Our teachers' best qualities- their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals- are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren't measurable." That was very eye opening! As educators, many of us are not judged by those qualities when it comes time for evaluation. The creators of NCLB never looked to seek those qualities in teachers to help see how they were bettering their students' lives.
Ok, I have been on my soapbox for a while now. Yes, those educators who took part in cheating were not right. But when you read why Mr. Lewis and his colleagues did, you cannot help but think, wow, you really cared about those students. You also cannot help, but think, did Beverly Hall create a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation? Yes! But so did policymakers with this legislation by putting hard sanctions on those schools who did not succeed well! The real question needs to be when are we going to stop allowing policy to come into play that is suppose to help children yet does not benefit all? Currently, many school districts have adopted Obama's Race to the Top Grant to help students succeed. But, typically when you race doesn't someone always come out on the last? And for those schools and districts still on the bottom, will another culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation occur?