Monday, July 21, 2014

Atlanta Teacher Test "Cheats": Trying to Find Humanity in Bureaucracy

Mad Dog has been thinking more about those teachers at Atlanta's Parks Middle School, who tried to save their school, cynics might say, tried to save their own jobs, by changing wrong answers to right answers after the students had handed in the answer sheets.

Yesterday, Mad Dog compared the teachers to Schindler, who rescued children from death in the concentration camps by cheating the system. The system in that case was so manifestly horrific any undermining of its implacable process seemed heroic--so why not see these Atlanta teachers as heroes?

On the other hand, the system of schools in Atlanta, which attempts to teach math and writing to students who are in no way prepared to learn is not a system designed to destroy the students. It is simply designed to help them in a very limited way.

What the teachers were saying is you can't teach these kids algebra if they are living in shattered homes, hungry, up all night slinging drugs on the corners, escaping abusive parents, dodging bullets on the street and unable to see what you are teaching them has any relevance in their lives. They simply do not have the faith in the adult who stands before them, at the head of the class.

What the teachers tried, at least what some of the teachers tried, was doing the laundry, literally, of their students, tried to build relationships, trust, tried to be surrogate parents, tried to do all the things parent should have been doing.  

The school system, unconsciously was saying, "We don't care about all those warm and fuzzy things. We care only about the test result numbers. We don't care whether or not those kids are abused at home or on the streets. We care only about what happens in the classroom. That is our job. All the other stuff belongs to social services. There is a fracture. I must fix it. If the school cannot function as a learning factory, it should be closed down and the kids sent to a school which does function as a learning factory.

The teachers say, then No Child Left Behind, is an oxymoron--it means that all these children will be left behind. Not in school, because they will, none of them, continue to go to school. 

Of course, there was more venality there--careers were built on phony "success" as test scores soared, when any fool could see there is no way those improved test scores could have been honest. 

At Parks Middle School, a teacher  pointed out a vicious teenager in the hallway, who was a chronic truant, in and out of jail, disruptive in class, dangerous to teachers and students alike. That teenager's test scores were exemplary, really high. "Some kids just test well," the administrator shrugged.  That, or somebody made sure that kid tested well. Hear no evil; see no evil.

None of the administrators whose job it was to measure success or failure wanted to see failure. 

When a system is broke, can you blame the people on the front line from choosing to do the job the way they think the job ought to be done?  

No system tolerates a Jimmy McNulty, but many systems depend on people like him.

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