It’s big news that nationally recognized Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 teachers from Atlanta, Georgia have been indicted on charges of altering test scores to give the false impression that the school system is on the rise. Apparently, this is the “tip of the iceberg” of an ongoing pattern of teachers “cheating” and altering test scores. As we learn what has happened, let’s consider how it affects our children. Further, let’s consider the commonalities between what happened in Georgia and the national homework debate.
The news seems to focus on the financial incentives that came to Superintendent Hall at the expense of the children. Perhaps, that explains her behavior, but I doubt that it tells the whole story. In general, people of good virtue, teachers and parents, don’t generally lie unless they’re boxed into a corner and asked to do something they cannot do. This is true for teachers who work under the dictates of No Child Left Behind, The Race to the Top, and the Common Core curriculum. It is also true for parents who are pressured by teachers, who might fail their children, if they don’t get their homework done.
The most fundamental building block of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Even before they go to school, children have learned a lot from their parents. They learn through instruction and they learn by modeling: modeling their parents and then modeling their teachers. If we tell teachers to put their judgments aside and, instead, teach to the tests, this will elevate those tests to a level of importance that far exceeds what those tests were meant to do. In the process some teachers will cheat, and the lesson they teach is that it’s okay to cheat.
If we tell parents that their children will get zeros if they don’t do their homework, and give them failing grades (50%) when they get it half done, we essentially strip those parents of the power to decide, leaving them feeling boxed in. If the child does half the work, the parent may do the rest. So what does the child learn? That parents are helpless and that it’s okay to cheat.
What happened in Atlanta is awful. But what is happening with our systems is also quite bad. We have abandoned the core of education, the personal relationship between the mentor and the mentee, by allowing outside influences to determine what must be done. Teachers need authority in the class. Tests should offer measures that the teacher can look at and use. They should not be the basis on which one decides how and what to teach.
Similarly, parents need recognition as the rightful leaders of their own homes. Teachers can give assignments. Parents must be the ones who ultimately decide what should be done, and what can slide.
If we don’t make these adjustments, we will continue to see desperate educators altering the results, and desperate parents doing homework for their children. So why should we be surprised when children lack values and feels it’s okay to cheat and lie?
For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.