They shoot teachers, don’t they? – A reflection on cheating in the Atlanta schools


DOBIJAĆ

Sometimes only a word from another language has the ability to capture the real essence of a feeling or idea. These words often don’t have direct translations. I am using the Polish word, dobijać, to describe what I imagine many teachers are feeling these days when faced with the relentless assault on their profession, and in many instances, their character.

Czyz nie dobija sie koni?
(They shoot horses, don't they?)

The word dobijać is an interesting word. It roughly translates to completely finishing off, physically, morally, spiritually. It is commonly used to describe animals that have been badly abused or worked to death. When used with people I think of it as describing a person whose spirit has been completely broken. The poster to the right, by Polish poster  artist Wieslaw Walkuski, is a very good visual depiction of what the word means.

The recent reports of Atlanta School district’s rampant cheating (178 educators, including 38 principals in 44 of 56 Atlanta contributed to cheating on the Georgia state exams, Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 5, 2011) are just one example of what I would describe as a group of dobitych educators. This is truly a sad story, but this is neither the first nor the last time that we will see educators pushed into debased actions by a punitive educational environment, hyper-focused on high-stakes testing.

The saddest part of all of this is that the districts that struggle the most, for all of the reasons that we discuss every day in the educational community, are the ones that are in a no-win cycle. Lack of resources in socially overtaxed communities, lead to lower performance on state exams. Low performance leads to school sanctions which further erode resources. Many educators, facing similar conditions, just give up and leave the profession, or are moved out (From 1 struggling school to another, Boston Globe, July 5, 2011) leading to further erosion of stability in the schools. Instead of giving up, 178 of Atlanta’s educators decided to respond to this cycle of resource erosion by cheating. And the cycle continues.

I am no expert on Atlanta politics or their schools, but I am sure that “the failure of leadership” that Mayor Kasim Reed  and Governor Nathan Deal are attacking, starts with their own failure to take a deeper look at addressing a struggling school system.

An animal that has been completely beaten down will behave erratically as a result of the beating.

What the 178 educators in Atlanta did is inexcusable, but the conditions that created the behavior need to be addressed from the top. Unless the direction US education policy has taken with NCLB and Race to the Top changes through a completely new paradigm, there will be many more Atlantas in our future.

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