Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not Surprised

I live in Atlanta and recently there has been some controversy about cheating on the CRCT. The CRCT is an academic aptitude test that is given to students at the end of each school year. Like most standardized tests it is supposed to help evaluate students’ cognitive ability while challenging them. The problem is, it is also used to evaluate teacher performance and determine funding for schools. This is a deadly combination.

A few years ago, I worked in the Atlanta School System as an executive for Boy Scouts of America. Although my job was not as an educator, it required me to spend a great deal of time in inner city schools. My assignment was in the WEST END of Atlanta, in the poorest cluster of schools, SRT 4. The poverty was sobering, and parental involvement was almost nonexistent. I had students in the 4th grade who did not even know their address; others whose formal residence was a garage or a storage unit. Of course the conditions of the schools were also poor. Outdated libraries. Antiquated computer labs. Old and raggedy books. Dirty classrooms. Dilapidated school buildings. Furthermore, any semblance of an extracurricular activity has been removed from the traditional school day and outsourced to the neighborhood Boys and Girls Clubs that are even filthier than the schools. These organizations are more like glorified babysitting services than they are a safe and productive refuge for young people. Inside, children are shuffled from room to room, told to sit quietly and given a snack. Meanwhile, staff eats or plays on the computer. As long as the children are quiet and not physically dying, all is good. It was uncomfortable for me, and I was only required to be there a few hours out of the day. It’s sad, but I remember never using the restroom or eating anything when I would visit my students. Everything, including the children seemed dirty and riddled with poverty. It oftentimes felt contagious. I'm embarrassed to admit how I felt about my job now, but I think its important to be honest. Especially when such a serious accusation threatens the integrity of the TEACHERS in Atlanta Public Schools.

I was raised by an educator, my cousin has been teaching for almost 20 years and I know firsthand the unrealistic expectations that are placed in the laps of teachers every day. I saw my best friend, also a teacher, have items stolen from her and be physically threatened on a daily basis. Teachers in the inner city or overworked and underpaid. When the children come to school without supplies, the teachers buy them. When young ladies are struggling with personal hygiene issues, the teachers provide products and knowledge. When a student can't attend an extracurricular activity because of transportation, the teachers drive. They have to play the role as educator and parent more often than not. The children are disrespectful and unruly. They have home lives that would bring a grown man to tears. However, even in the midst of all the challenges that both groups have to endure, they are ladled with another one. A standardized test. A test that holds the future of the students, the teachers and the schools in it. A test that requires children to sit for hours on end, without going to the bathroom or stretching or having something to eat. A test that is supposed to measure a teacher’s ability to reach his or her students. The pressure is immense. Just think, if you had taught TO the test the entire year and you still saw your students failing...again. Would you not want to help them? Would you not want them to know some success in life? Beyond that, wouldn't you want to protect yourself from inquisition? If you knew you had done the best you could and the students were still failing. This is a reflection of you. No doubt you would not want to see your career going down the drain because a few students never bothered to listen in class, or because the parents didn’t review the material at home. Sure the students should be held responsible for their education as should the parents, but the teachers and the school bear the brunt of the accountability. And there is a major difference between responsibility and accountability. I am in no way advocating what the teachers may or may not have done. I am merely pointing out that resources are an important part of the learning experience. You can have committed teachers and willing students, but if they are not given the resources they need to be successful, such as books, technology, and parental support, they will have a disproportionate chance of failing. Faring well on the CRCT can mean money to buy resources for the school and students. It can also mean personal bonuses for the overworked teachers in the schools.

So, I can understand how the benefits may have outweighed the costs, in the minds of some people. I am not surprised in the least bit. When you back someone into a corner, they may sit quietly for a while, but eventually they are going to come out fighting. I am not mad at the teachers for fighting for our children...the only way they knew how.

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