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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What’s With the Negative Campaign Against Education?

By Peter DeWitt — March 28, 2012 4 min read
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“NOTE: No one, under any circumstances, including the student, may alter the student’s responses on these tests once the student has handed in his or her test materials. Teachers and administrators who engage in inappropriate conduct with respect to administering State examinations may be subject to disciplinary actions in accordance with Sections 3020 and 3020-a of Education Law or to action against their certification pursuant to Part 83 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.” NY State ELA Examination Manual

Something new appeared on the state assessments manual this year. It was in a box on one of the first pages. As if the testing was not daunting enough because it will ultimately count for 20% of a teacher and administrator’s evaluation, there is now a message from the state education department making all educators in New York State feel like cheaters before the test has ever been administered.

Do people really need to read a passage about cheating to know its wrong? Out of all of the school districts in New York State and across the country, is it really necessary to print this in a test booklet? How many schools really have cheated? Yes, there were high profile cases in Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York City. Does every school have to feel threatened every time they open up a test booklet that potentially will be used against them for evaluation purposes in the future?

When schools cannot count on their very own education departments to support them, there is a problem. Fortunately, there are many state education departments that support their schools and work with them to improve their school systems. I have been fortunate enough to visit states like Washington where the education department works with their schools instead of against them. However, there are too many other education departments who don’t support education. The business of going in opposite directions, one that is good for kids and one that is not, needs to stop.

Why do people cheat?
There have been some cases of cheating. How sad is it that schools teach students how to cheat on a state test and then take accolades from the state because they made such a turnaround on the exam? How sad for kids who know that they cheated with the help of their teachers or administrators and then sat through the accolades? How frustrating it must be that they are being forced to accept cheating as a way to make it through. Those are lessons that they take into their future.

Situations like that only perpetuate the myth that schools that once failed can suddenly make drastic changes and succeed on a test. It’s unfortunate that it’s easier to cheat than it is to suggest that the test and system are flawed. Real schools that make real progress do so through hard work and not cheating. However, just because a few were caught cheating does not mean that the rest of the education system is cheating as well.

How Did We Get Here?
How did we come to a place in our society when it is so easy to accept the myth that all teachers are bad and that all administrators sit in their office and look for the next teacher to fire? Recently, I was sitting in my hotel room getting ready to present at a conference and saw a commercial by a prominent education association. Although they said that they did not agree with the use of high stakes testing when it comes to evaluation, they did say they were working hard to retain great teachers and fire bad ones.

Is that message supposed to garner support for the organization or does it just perpetuate the issue that there is a high percentage of bad teachers who need to be fired? Wouldn’t it have been better to create a commercial that does not focus on the negative but instead promotes the fact that there are great teachers in their classrooms who are engaging their students every day?

As I watched television I did not see commercials that focused on firing doctors, lawyers or politicians. How did we come to a place where it is alright to focus on education in such a negative way? This type of negative campaign created by policy makers and politicians should outrage parents and educators. If they are not outraged they surely are not watching because the public school system is under attack, and it has little to do with education and more to do with money.

In the End
At some point the negative campaigning needs to stop and it will only end when more people in the public fight for their public schools. Teachers need to voice their opinions as should their students. Administrators should speak out against much of this injustice instead of sitting back and blindly moving forward.

There are schools that are not doing a good job with their students. Those schools should be given proper resources and help, and if they continue to falter, they should be dealt with in the way that a state sees fit. Keep in mind, that there are many factors within the school and outside of the school that affect how students learn. In addition, there are many schools that are doing a great job with their students and it’s really getting difficult to keep hearing negative comments by people who know very little about the public school system.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.