Why teachers cheat?


A Philadelphia teacher (anonymously posting) has come forward to discuss why some teachers help their students cheat on standardized tests.  This certainly proves two things about the Atlanta cheating scandal:

1.  As anyone has susptected, Atlanta is not in any way an isolated case.

2.  The Atlanta folks got caught because they aren’t too smart.  At least some of the cheating that goes on is virtually impossible to detect by simply analyzing the scantron forms.

The moment you take virtually anyone, and tell them “your job depends on X”, they tend to make “X” happen.  What if “X” can’t or won’t happen?  People tend to find a way.  Everyone who is not a politician or one of their truest believers realizes that in a given population (like the United States) there are going to be certain sub-populations (call them schools) that for a number of reasons won’t do well on a standardized test.  You can change how you teach.  You can make it student centered, teacher centered, you can move teachers around, make classrooms smaller, larger, build new schools … because none of these things get to the societal heart of the problem, it won’ t happen.  Hence, people in just about any profession will cheat.

Before we go further, I am not an apologist here.  I am not going to say this is right.  Teachers, as a group, I think are a pretty fair and honest group, but I also don’t think they are much fairer or more honest than any other group.  Perhaps as a consequence of their choice, people who are really hard core teachers may have a more black-and-white sense of fairness, and might be less likely to cheat, but I don’t think that permeates the entire profession, just as that doesn’t permeate any other profession.  Still, when it comes to cheating, it can’t be tolerated in the profession … if students get the feeling that this is acceptable, then they can allow themselves to believe it is OK.  It is not.

Speaking as a member of the profession, a lot of teachers look at the illogic of what is happening with standardized tests, and feel that our government and fellow citizens have dumped a lot of hatred on us.  I think when you start looking at society as the enemy, it becomes easier to justify in your mind that it is OK to cut corners, because, screw society.

The most disheartening thing, however, is the very last part of the article:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that the emphasis on tests does not encourage cheating. In fact, he sees it as the only way to ensure schools are adequately teaching their students.

As noted above, putting the emphasis on anything that holds a person’s livelihood in the blanace is going to encourage cutting corners.  But that last part “this is the only way” is bullocks!  If this statement from our Secretary of Education is what he said, then I call him out as a liar or ignorant.

All we need to look at is across the pond at the United Kingdom’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (aka Ofsted).  Ofsted is how I would approach judging schools … that is have actual real human beings who know something about education visit the actual schools and actually look around at what students and teachers do on a daily basis.  Then they assess the school.  Each school has different clientele, and each school has different things to work on.  Even the UK saw there were issues with this, and revised it back in 2006.  That’s good!  By the way … you might be saying that this flies in the face of test data being important.  Ofsted in fact uses some test data, but only as a part of the evaluation.  Further … Ofsted looks at ALL schools … not just public schools.  I find it of great irony that many of the people who are screaming and yelling for more and more oversight in public schools would very easily send their kids to pivate schools which have no oversight at all.

Education is a human enterprise, and Bill Gates not withstanding, it should remain as such.  That also means it will be necessarily flawed.  That’s also a part of education:  learning to deal with flawed systems, and how to keep improving them.

This will only happen when it becomes politically supportable to realize that a majority of our broken schools are in areas of higher minority concentration and rural areas, where there are socioeconomic issues that need to be examined, in addition to attitudes about what constitutes education.

I want to conclude by again stating:  I do not condone, nor do I support teacher cheating.  My school, in fact, was placed under an informal investigation by the ETS in regards to some testing irregularities as it applied to one particular students population.  This year, in addition to larger class sizes, and an increase in students whose elementary/middle school education came from beyond our regular feeder schools (which tend to be good), our school was visited by ETS investigators on the day of our testing … observed everything including at least one case where one person pulled out a tape measure to measure hte distance between desks.  Despite this, our school posted a 24.5 average ACT score;  the second highest in our school’s history, and an increase from the previous year.  24.5 is probably in the top 10 in our state among public high schools … and we are still labeled a “failing” school by the federal government.


3 Responses to Why teachers cheat?

  1. Tom says:

    Tests have nothing to do with learning. Tests have to do with memorizing facts.

    People learn and retain information in different ways, and perhaps adapting to that would be a step in the right direction. Those who aren’t as good at memorizing suffer more for it, let’s say if they’re better at writing than in other areas.

    • teganx7 says:

      I know there are tests which measure higher level thinking (I use them). Standardized tests do very little of this. Unfortunately, there are still too many people out there who think “memorizing stuff” = “intelligent”. Being able to recall facts is some form of intelligence, but I think you and I agree that it isn’t the most important. However, try explaining this to politicians, and to older people who learned this way, and think any other way of learning is “bad”.

    • teganx7 says:

      I just realized after reading what I wrote last night, I didn’t really respond properly to that … you are absolutely correct about almost all tests being independent of learning. Some students may already have strong knowledge and pass a test with flying colors, having learned nothing. Others may be misplaced students, and have learned a lot for someone with their capabilities, but score poorly. More importantly: does the test measure learning, teaching, or both. As a teacher, I have very little control over learning. I have quite a bit of control (for the moment) over teaching, though as time progresses, that power is being stripped away around the country more and more. These tests really do give far less information about students and teachers than a lot of people think … I wonder how long it will be before this ends up on the trash heap of “sure fire, can’t miss ways to improve education”. Regretfully, it has already outlived some of my older colleagues’ predictions.

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