When Teachers Cheat

The Christian Science Monitor published a story today about a scandal in the Atlanta public school system involving teachers who changed test responses for students. According to the article, the governor’s office released an 800-page report describing how 178 teachers and principals altered standardized tests in order to boost test scores. Why would the teachers cheat? They would receive financial bonuses for improved test scores.

The article reports some dreadful behavior on the part of teachers and administrators. The article states:

Among many shocking revelations, the report details “changing parties” where teachers used razor blades to cut security plastic around tests and used lighters to fuse the plastic seams back together after changing scores. It also documented intimidation of teachers by administrators, including one case where a teacher was told to get under a table at a meeting after raising questions.

In the current culture of public education, standardized test scores rule the day. The Atlanta system has the test authorized by the state of Georgia. In my state of Texas, the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) looms over every student each spring. I know teachers who fight the temptation to “teach toward the test,” but everything rides on the results. It’s hard not to gear lesson plans toward what will be asked on the test rather than what the student should learn in fifth grade math. Why waste your time teaching life skills that are applicable from the English classroom when you know they will not appear on the test.

For the teachers and principals in Atlanta, they may learn a harder lesson. Some of their crimes—altering government documents and lying to investigators—may land them in prison for up to 10 years. The school district will likely face serious fallout as well because their inflated scores had brought significant donations from wealthy benefactors and foundations. Now they may have to return some of the money or at least face the fact that such donations are likely never to happen again.

There are two questions we need to ask about this scandal.  First, what does this say about our current educational system? I am a professor. I develop the content of my classes. I decide what my students are required to read. I decide what I will discuss in class. And I decide what will appear on my exams. However, most public school teachers have no such luxury. Instead, they are told to make sure their students perform well on a standardized test developed by administrators in the state capital. These tests become the law of the land. Property values rise and fall based on the recognition of the local schools. Careers are made and lost based on the scores of 6- to 18-year-olds.

I think we all desire a good education for our children. The public school systems scattered across our country are the mechanism by which many families provide that education. However, it appears that some of these school systems are broken. They are entangled in politics and bureaucracy that care less about education and more about government grants. Certainly not all school systems are like this, but many major cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Memphis often find themselves embroiled in controversy and political wrangling.

Second, what are we teaching our children when our teachers cheat? The virtue of integrity seems lost on children today. They look around them and see that you do what it takes to win. Adults lie, cheat, and steal to make it to the top. We hold out hope that somewhere along the way they learn to be virtuous. Many people hope that such lessons come in school. Now we see that 178 “honorable teachers” in Atlanta were not that honorable after all. And Atlanta is not the only city where this is a problem. The teachers who claimed to be teaching the “truth” were living a lie. Success through deception is not success. Our communities suffer when such scandals hit the airwaves. But more importantly, our children suffer because they never learn the value of honesty, hard work, and education.

Reading about this and other scandals reminds me that the world simply acts like the world. We should not be surprised when sinners sin. The cheating scandal in Atlanta is not the problem. Living according to the flesh is the problem. Money, power, and influence can be dangerous temptations. We need to guard our steps .In Proverbs 10:9, we read, “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” These teachers and administrators have found this proverb to be true the hard way. However, we need not sit on the sidelines and point fingers at them lest we find ourselves “perverting our ways” rather than “walking in integrity.”

As believers in Christ, we need to watch our own lives and guard against these temptations through the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition, we need to walk in integrity in all our ways. Have we cheated someone in our business? Have we changed reports to make us look better? I pray that we not be found guilty of the same.

One thought on “When Teachers Cheat

  1. Evan,
    Thanks for this post. It’s a great reminder for those of us with children in public schools of the necessity of staying involved in your child’s education. The primary responsibility for our children’s education and spiritual formation rests on us as parents. We must live accordingly!

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