Recently, teachers and principals in the Atlanta public school system admitted to helping students cheat on government mandated tests. Why would they cheat? Laws set up for No Child Left Behind place funding for schools, salaries for teachers and even jobs for teachers on the scores students produce on these tests.
Of course, it was the teachers who made the ultimate decision to cheat, which is immoral and unethical. But it was the laws and tests that pressured them to make those unethical and immoral decisions. Just like a man who is poor and can’t feed his family is more likely to steal than a rich man, a teacher who fears that his job may get cut, his school may get shut down or he won’t get a raise, is more likely to cheat on a test than one who isn’t.
Government mandated tests reduce students to numbers on a piece of paper, and not human beings. Teachers and schools are graded, not on how they teach, but on how well their students perform on tests. Many government mandated tests set unrealistic standards for students, some not allowing students to graduate if they don’t pass them. This only helps to increase the drop out rates and pressures both students and teachers to cheat on tests.
They also force teachers to teach to the tests, rather than to teach using their own strengths and backgrounds, making teaching and learning more of a chore for both students and teachers. Rather than teaching students to become future productive members of society and free thinkers, teachers teach students to be capable test takers.
These laws also fail to take into consideration social and economic factors that lead to students’ test scores. Students from poor neighborhoods and uneducated parents are less likely to perform well on tests than students from wealthy neighborhoods with educated parents. This often leads to urban schools being punished unfairly and not rewarded.
Rather than supporting poor schools that under perform on tests — these schools are threatened with being shut down — and teachers are threatened with being fired and replaced with charter schools.
Hopefully, the recent scandal in Atlanta will not just have us focus on the ethics of our teachers, but at the faults in our educational system. Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind is leaving schools, cities and a generation of children behind.