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The Crucifixion of Atlanta Area Teachers

Updated on April 23, 2015
Travis Spears profile image

Travis resides in Florence, South Carolina with his wife Andrea and son, Austin. He is a Middle-level and Secondary English teacher.

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Their Crime

I wonder how many other school districts are guilty of cheating on standardized tests? Any degree naiveté you sense from this question is intended as sarcasm. 35 Atlanta area teachers, administrators, and testing coordinators were indicted by a Fulton county grand jury of racketeering and corruption. The allegations reached to the highest level as it included former Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Beverley Hall. The group of educators had been knowingly and intentionally cheating on the Georgia Criterion-Reference Competency Test (CRCT) by providing answers to students and even correcting tests themselves.

Judgement is Handed Down

The Academic Death Sentence

This past weekend I listened to a local talk radio show – while visiting Atlanta – where several callers voiced their opposition to the sentencing ruling. The callers’ responses ranged from disagreements about the validity of the charges to the length of time that had been given to the teachers and administrators. Prosecutor’s used Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to include those who directly committed the crimes as well as anyone who directed others to break the law. This law is used to convict organized crime figures that may not have been hands-on in committing a crime but issued the orders to commit them. The prosecution argued that this group of teachers and administrators acted as a criminal enterprise to earn bonuses, promotions, and secure their jobs.

In my first year, I approach the classroom as a sacred place where education happens. This concept isn’t revolutionary, but I realize how the public dismisses the importance of our work is. If a doctor had cut corners in the performance of his job and a patient died, there would have been a public outcry for the doctor’s arrest. There would not have been as many people running to his or her defense.

Horace Mann

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“But education isn’t life or death!”

Isn’t it? Horace Mann said, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Education provides opportunity to those who wouldn’t otherwise have received any. It is the “bootstrap” that we ‘re meant to pull ourselves up by, the means to an end, and our collective salvation from ignorance. These students were victims. Judge Baxter shouted to one of the defendants in this trial, “This is not a victimless crime!” and I completely agree with him.

These teachers and administrators called into question our collective integrity as educators with their actions. Standardized tests across the nation share the common goal of measuring large groups of students’ abilities against a singular standard. When student’s achievement levels are measured, teachers’ abilities are drug under a critical lens. This group of men and women were unwilling to face the challenges that we all face as professional educators.

Children receive the equivalent of a death sentence when they are passed along without mastering a skill. There's a rift between parents and teachers when it comes to accepting fault for any of this problem. Educators focus on their subject. Each of us believes that our subject is exciting and essential, so why wouldn't your child be interested? I entered this profession with a passion for my subject and have acquired the beginnings of a nurturing spirit.

Local news stations fill their evening slates stories of young minority males who chose to walk down the proverbial “wrong path.” I realize that not every success story will include college degrees, huge signing bonuses or #1 songs on iTunes. But, that path will involve some level of hard work. I’ve recognized in these first few months that lots of otherwise academically capable students could perform had they been injected with a degree of work ethic. Work ethic requires that a person give a consistent amount of effort to earn a product. I believe that my most at-risk students struggle because they weren’t given this critical, all-important ingredient early.

Will other states investigate performance anomalies? Will we discover a systemic, widespread problem with standardized testing? What are the real solutions to this problem? Any degree naiveté that you sense from these questions is not intended as sarcasm.

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Do you believe the sentence handed down by Judge Jerry Baxter was fair?

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    • Samantha Sinclair profile image

      Samantha Sinclair 

      3 years ago from North Carolina

      I think it is very sad that these teachers and administrators essentially did not see potential in their students. I am glad there are teachers, like my 2nd grader's, who are in the profession for the right reasons and actually work with their students to help them see they have ability to succeed.

      We have lived in two different school districts in two different states. Our first school even had a principal change after a couple of years. It was clear how much the school leadership affects the teachers and how they handle issues. Whatever the solution is, it certainly needs to start from the top.

      I have seen at our previous school (testing starts next month at the new school) the pressure put on students just for the testing. If the teachers are putting that much pressure on the students, the teachers must be passing it down from the pressure being put on them to succeed. While I understand the need for testing, I think the pressure wouldn't be so great if the schools had confidence in their students and showed the students the admin and teachers had confidence in them.

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