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Sunday, August 14, 2011


The current revelation that a significant number of Atlanta teachers and administrators were caught changing student test scores reveals the desperation educators experience when they are held accountable for productivity while given little power to make classroom decisions that would promote maximum academic achievement among students.

Educational experts continue to prepare new teachers to use the same teaching methods which have failed our children for seventy years. Administrators endorse these inadequate methods by basing teacher evaluations on the teachers’ implementation of the same methods of instruction. Cooperative grouping of children and the inquiry and discovery methods of instruction all have positive aspects, but they are not necessarily the most effective methods for introducing new concepts to children or for development of student understanding of fundamental principles.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommended that calculators replace the memorization of basic facts, that students be required to do less pencil and paper assignments, and that math homework be limited. These approaches have failed our students, and the proof is in the rapid decline of student test scores over the last seventy years.

If teachers are going to be held accountable for academic success of students, teachers must be empowered to select the teaching methods which will bring positive results to any specific learning situation. That includes a return to a reasonable amount of homework in core subjects where repetition is essential to memorize basic facts as in math and grammar and where extensive reading is necessary as in literature and history.

Academic success has also been hindered by heterogeneous grouping of children, a result of the Brown vs. the Board of Education law suit in the 1950s. Consequently, each classroom must include students of differing ability levels and diverse backgrounds creating insurmountable problems in many classrooms. This level of diversity in the classroom requires the teacher to find a teaching method which reaches all students equally. This is often impossible.

Continuing to ignore this truth almost guarantees poor academic results. Students who struggle academically need to have new information presented differently than a presentation would be for students who have a strong background, interest, or aptitude for the subject. Yet, teachers are not given the flexibility to group children according to learning style or needs, but they are held solely responsible for the consequences of this impractical situation.

While these problems are not the only ones which limit a teacher’s opportunity to help students excel, they are among the most damaging. This professional educational environment is not unlike holding a teacher accountable for maintaining high academic and behavioral standards even though her mouth has been taped shut and her hands tied behind her back. Such an untenable educational environment is destructive to the educational process, to students, and to our society.

Curriculum materials too often focus on political and social goals rather than mastery of basic skills that are prerequisites for student proficiency in the subject. Even math teachers have been required to spend class time showing videos like THE STORY OF STUFF and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH which do not address age-appropriate math issues relevant to the class curriculum.

Critical thinking skills have been removed from classroom curriculum because their development would require two sides of an issue to be discussed. There has been no time planned for this discussion in the modern classroom so one side of an issue has been imposed time and again upon both students and teachers even though the irrelevance of the socio/political goal to the subject matter is clear. This would not happen if student academic achievement were the primary goal.

An investigator of the Alabama cheating stated, “In sum, a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation permeated the APS system from the highest ranks down. Cheating was allowed to proliferate until, in the words of one former APS principal, ‘it became intertwined in Atlanta Public Schools ... a part of what the culture is all about.’ ” Many educators are trying to use this experience as proof that assessment tools are the culprit, but that is the wrong approach to take.

Children must learn how to take tests because they face tests throughout their lives. ACT and SAT tests are required to enter college, and college exams provide the main criteria for determining a student’s grade. Teachers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, realtors, electricians, and plumbers are all tested to prove their competence and their understanding of the subject matter. Testing is NOT the problem. A culture that refuses to place the academic achievement of students above political and social ideologies is the problem.

The most effective solution to the problem of cheating among teachers and administrators is to empower teachers to use the teaching methods which best meet the needs of their students, to refuse curriculum that does not focus on the subject, to provide curriculums that encourage the mastery of basic skills, and to require students to meet practical academic expectations by consistently showing their work and finishing reasonable amounts of homework. This support for teachers must come from the American public.