Criminal Priorities

Last week thirty-five teachers in the Atlanta school system were arrested/indicted for cheating… that is, they were accused of changing and inflating students’ scores on the standardized tests that reputedly measure student achievement and thus determine teacher effectiveness… and bonuses. The district superintendent, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy, and making false statements, allegedly in order to obtain $500,000 in performance pay. She could face 45 years in prison, and prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her.  In addition to the 35 charged so far, another 143 were named in an 800 page report.  Of those named, 82 confessed to altering test scores.

 Now… I would be the last person to approve of such behavior, but, as my wife the university professor pointed out, there is a certain inconsistency, as well as tremendous hypocrisy, involved in these prosecutions, from the charges against individual teachers to the amount of the bail-bond set for the retired superintendent.

 Let me get this straight. Teachers and administrators rigged test scores to improve their salaries, and in some cases, merely to keep their jobs, because the teachers with the lowest student scores, regardless of the class composition, risked losing their jobs, and they’re being prosecuted.  That prosecution is absolutely necessary, sadly, as it should be. Over three years ago, however, mortgage bankers, investment bankers, and other financial institutions falsified the risk of trillions of dollars in mortgage securities and sent the country into the second worst economic recession in U.S. history… and not a single investment banker has even been charged.  In the case of the mortgage bankers, millions lost their homes, jobs, and savings, and entire communities were economically devastated, while in the case of the teachers, far more modest damage has occurred… damage limited to one school district in one metropolitan area…

 Well… some might say that teachers should be held to a higher standard.  But… if they should be held to a higher standard, why aren’t they being paid as well as mortgage bankers, who clearly haven’t been held to a high standard?  The average teacher doesn’t make a fraction of what those illustrious individuals who crashed the economy made… and still make.

 There’s no law against making bad economic decisions, others might claim, but there is a law against creating fraudulent test scores for economic gain.   Except… what about the fraudulent grading of bundled mortgage securities and derivatives that made the investment banks billions… money that was lost and never repaid?

 I don’t have much sympathy for the teachers, none, in fact, but I can understand why some of them did what they did.  We have a society that worships money, and little else, and in education, only the test scores and credentials, not the actual learning, seem to matter. Those teachers saw that only money, credentials, and numbers seem to count, as well as the fact that some of the highest executives in the financial industry benefited from defrauding the purchasers of bundled securities and got away with it.  Given that scale of fraud, what does it matter if test scores are fudged a bit?  Why should teachers worry about ethics and that sort of thing, if the government and the American people aren’t going to do anything about massive financial gains from fraud or even care about the lack of ethics exhibited by those financiers?

 Oh… and add to that the current mindset that teachers are absolutely and totally responsible for student learning.  Parents have no responsibility for providing a learning environment at home; communities have no responsibility for the safety of students; and students have no responsibility for trying to learn.  In fact, from what I’ve seen, only a minority of students will accept any responsibility for learning.  Oh… most will give the idea of their responsibility to learn lip service, but that vanishes with the first difficult assignment or the first novel distraction… and it becomes entirely the teacher’s problem.  Well… obviously those teachers in Atlanta decided that, if the system was rigged against them, they’d re-rig it… and they got caught.

 What will be overlooked is the fact that, in some states, almost fifty percent of classroom time will continue to be spent on testing or test preparation… and that’s an even greater corruption of education than upgrading student test scores, unwelcome as such alternations are and should be.  The other question that the Atlanta case raises is why it took so long to come to light.  If all these objective tests are so accurate, then shouldn’t it have been apparent from the start that there were obvious discrepancies between the test scores and academic performance? Oh… I forgot.  No one measures academic performance except by test scores.  Or is it that the tests aren’t that accurate?  Or that no one wants to turn away from the simplistic – and wrong – assumption that tests don’t answer all, or even a larger proportion – of the problems involved in education?

 The even greater problem is that, now, most teachers – and most of them are dedicated, honest, and hard-working – will have to live down another problematical example… and they’ll have to do it knowing that the biggest cheaters in U.S. history got away scot-free… and knowing that no one really seems to care… except to have another reason to blame teachers.

6 thoughts on “Criminal Priorities”

  1. Jim S says:

    “add to that the current mindset that teachers are absolutely and totally responsible for student learning. Parents have no responsibility for providing a learning environment at home; communities have no responsibility for the safety of students; and students have no responsibility for trying to learn.”

    How ridiculous! The ultimate responsibility for learning lies squarely on the student. The teacher must make the material available — but it’s the student’s job to actual take it on board and learn it. Parents and communities may motivate or support — but if the student sees a value in learning, they’ll learn. It always astounds me how someone “can’t learn” math or English or history — but can recite every member of a sports team, with their stats and multi-season performance. I’m also reminded of a tale a high school teacher told of their college days: The professor handed out a syllabus on day 1, and never discussed it again. Meanwhile, a skeleton or drawing of one with all the bones labeled was in the back of the classroom during the entire semester. The final? Name all the bones in the human body. It was listed in the syllabus, if the students had read it. The material was there, for the students who looked. And, yeah — lots failed that final. (By the way, that college class had to have been something like 40 years ago, probably more…)

    1. Steve says:

      When you state the the ultimate responsibility lies with the student I assume you are talking about college students. In K-12 the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents. Absent mental retardation or a severe learning disabililty if a child does not perform adequately then the parents are to blame.

  2. GJ Mugg says:

    I can see why the author felt this way, it seems like prosecutions only happen if they are easy to identify the defendants, and prosecutors can find evidence to support the charges without spending (as the author says in Recluce) too many golds. The problem with prosecuting the bankers is most likely the cost of prosecuting them, the difficulty of finding evidence, and the amount of golds available to the defendants to defend their case…sadly, it’s probably about the golds.

  3. Travis says:

    This has nothing to do with the topic. I just couldn’t get logged into the forum. I loved the imager series about Rhenn. I wish you would write more about him. After Imager’s intrigue, there is nothing else. I’d like to know what happens after the Imager’s Intrigue. Please write more. Again, it was a great series. If you don’t have the time or you wouldn’t like to it’s ok. It was just a suggestion.

    1. I am thinking about writing more Imager Portfolio books, but not until after I finish the Recluce book I’m currently working on… but it won’t be a book about Rhenn if I do.

  4. Alison Hamway says:

    I think the problem is more that we have two separate and unequal standards for criminal prosecutions. One applies to the very wealthy, and the other is for the rest of us. I am not defending the teachers who cheated or lied — but I am saddened that many committed and dedicated teachers have left the profession because they are unable to do their jobs. My friend in another state was a great and inspiring teacher — but the many of kids in her classroom were poor and non-English speaking (migrant farmworker community). They made HUGE strides in learning basic skills, but when you look only at standardized test results they don’t fare well compared to fluent English speakers.

    And why is there no justice for those who damaged our whole economy through reckless and fraudulent loan practices??

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