Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Those Who Can't Teach

I was watching "Bad Teacher," starring Cameron Diaz and that Timberlake fellow, on Encore yesterday, and then it was time to turn to the morning news.  The lead story on the CBS Morning News was all about bad teachers, down in Atlanta.  The news story was not as funny as the movie, and the movie was hardly funny at all.

Down there in the ATL, it seems that the woman formerly in charge of the school system, Beverly Hall, came up with a novel method of raising students' test scores (and earning herself and others some nice performance bonuses as well.) Instead of actually teaching the kids, she is alleged to have reasoned, why don't we just make it look like we taught the kids?  So read the charges: they altered the answers that the kids turned in on standardized exams.

Here's where it went bad: they got a little greedy.  Instead of just bumping up the scores by a little bit at a time, they made it look like all the kids who went to school one year had moved out the next, all replaced by geniuses and wizards.  One middle school reported that 24% of its students had achieved proficiency in math in 2005, and the scores for the same school reported that 86% of the students were acing math in 2006.

All sorts of stories emerge.  Principals were throwing pizza-and-eraser parties, where teachers would sit with a slice of pepperoni pizza in one hand and an artgum eraser in the other, wiping out wrong answers and then penciling in right ones.  Reports are that one principal wore gloves while re-doing tests, so as not to leave fingerprints.

This is not the right answer to the question "How do we teach the children?"

Authorities in Atlanta are on this like sauce on spaghetti in the lunchroom.  Ms Hall was expected to surrender to police yesterday in answer to her 34-count indictment.  And the prosecutors were recommending that bail in her case be set at $7.5 million.

I don't live in Atlanta; all I know is what I see on the news and read online.  Perhaps Ms Hall didn't do anything wrong.  For all I know, she simply set high standards that people below her found unreachable, so they cheated, rather than fail to meet goals set for them.

But from somewhere in my distant chalk-filled past, I remember a teacher or two berating a student found cheating, saying that they really only were cheating themselves.  Personally, I took only a limited role in my education, showing up as sporadically as possible,  and always found it fun to take a test on material I had never read, heard, or even heard about.  For all my sins in school (see: "Rolled-Up Wrestling Mat With A Kid Inside, Smuggled Into The Girls Locker Room"), I didn't cheat.  Nor did my teachers, who happily gave me Bs and Cs and sent me on to the next class.

But the parents that I saw on the news!  That was the sad part. People who paid their taxes and expected the people who took that tax money to educate the kids in the city found that they had been taken for all their money.  Whatever the reason, be it rank dishonesty or flailing efforts to reach a goal, something is wrong when the teachers cheat the students and their families.

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