Cheating, testing, and what's wrong with schools

The news is out: Public schools in Atlanta - at the behest of administration and aide of staff -cheated on standardized tests. Probes into other Georgia counties have now begun. What are investigators likely to find? Cheating. And what about when they look into districts in other states? More cheating.

Since the start of No Child Left Behind the perceived solution to our education situation has been clear: competition. Students sucked because there wasn't enough competition. Teachers sucked because there wasn't enough competition. Schools were in a similar situation; they sucked. There just wasn't enough competition. But there could be ... we just needed to tie funding to test performance, give more standardized tests, and increase the number of charter schools. Thank God for competition. In just a few short years every child could be perfect.

Except, it didn't happen.

In fact, at the national level our scores on these standardized tests have gotten worse or remained stagnant. High school students are faced with a curriculum that will either prepare them to analyze Thomas Hardy novels or perform trigonometric functions - but not much else. The situation has simply not improved.

And, of course, people are cheating. That's what happens in a competition. When some athletes ride around the block they probably don't take too many drugs, but when they want to compete and win prestigious races like the Tour de France, with all those endorsements, some dose up. They cheat.

In a competition, there are winners and losers and it's very important to define who has won and who has lost. The guiding principle of education is to ensure that each child has the ability to learn and be successful. At its core, a model that uses competition as its centerpiece will never be successful in education. It will produce rampant cheating and students who cannot properly utilize the information they've been forced to memorize.

Yet at the state and national level we continue our absurd march. A new batch of schools is "competing" for Race to the Top funds and states are passing bills designed to de-fang teachers and their Unions at a blistering pace. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a bill that puts restrictions on teacher tenure. Instead of three years it will now take five. Wording that was already vague was made a little more so. And...

...nothing will change.

Education has fallen apart not because teachers got tenure too soon or because kids didn't get enough tests. If we want "winners" we will first need to address the economic disparity and social ills that got us here.

Until then, we're all "losers".

Adam Whitaker is a teacher in Michigan.