Student cheating is a phenomenon as old as education itself. As long as there have been standards to meet in the classroom and students who cannot—for whatever reason—meet them, there has been cheating. What has changed in recent years is the amount of cheating that takes place in schools across the country and who is doing the cheating. But before getting into the issue of teachers who cheat on behalf of students as a way to cover up their own incompetence, some background is in order.
There have always been students who could not meet educational standards due to learning disabilities of various sorts, but let me be clear, these are not the students who cheating teachers are “helping” pass standardized tests. When I say “students who cannot meet” standards, understand that “cannot” fails to convey the proper nuance here. A more accurate rendering would be “choose not to” pass standardized tests. The only learning disabilities most public school students suffer from are laziness, poor attendance, tardiness, an entitlement mentality, and bad attitudes. Frankly, many students from inner cities do poorly in school because education is not a priority. They do not see it as their ticket to a better life.
Even students whose IQs are less than average can measure up to the watered down educational standards expected of public school children these days, provided they want to learn and are willing to work at it. What school systems in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Detroit—systems that have experienced teacher cheating scandals—are really facing is a two-fold problem: 1) Students who do not care a whit about education, and 2) Teachers who could not teach the students even if they did care.
During the Atlanta cheating scandal, officials discovered that many of the teachers involved, though qualified on paper, were not qualified in fact. An investigation into the cheating scandal revealed that more than 100 of the teachers accused of cheating on behalf of students had cheated themselves to gain their teaching certificates. An individual who was indicted as a result of the investigation had a booming business going “helping” poorly prepared teacher candidates get their teaching certificates. For $1,500 he would provide a substitute to take the certification exam for teacher candidates who knew they could not pass it on their own.
The scandal in Philadelphia was nothing more than a replication of what had already occurred in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Teachers got together after their students completed standardized tests and changed the answers. Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—the local teacher’s union—blames the cheating scandal on school district officials who focus too heavily on standardized test scores. That is kind of like saying that McDonald’s focuses too heavily on selling hamburgers. But in spite of its inanity, Jordan’s comment reveals a contributing cause of the problem of teachers cheating: unions that make excuses for incompetent teachers rather than helping weed them out and replace them with professional educators who know how to teach.
Teachers are supposed to be role models for their students. I understand the challenges faced by public school teachers in large cities, especially those who teach in inner-city schools. But there are too many examples of teachers in inner-city schools who transform lackadaisical students into high performers to use the inner city as an excuse for incompetence. How are teachers supposed to convince students that their ticket out of the ghetto is to study hard rather than cheat when they cheat themselves?
Admittedly, expecting inner-city students to perform at the same level as students who come from more affluent districts might be unrealistic. But artificially inflating their test scores through cheating is not the answer. Perhaps teacher performance should be measured on the basis of student progress achieved as opposed to absolute results. For example, why not test all public school students at the beginning of each year and then measure the progress they make over the course of the school year? It is just common sense to understand that a teacher who legitimately helps a struggling student improve his reading level by say three grade levels over the course of one school year has done more than a teacher whose students started out at or above grade level and just stayed there. But try to tell this to the teacher’s unions in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, or Washington, D.C.—unions that argue against using student performance at all in measuring the effectiveness of teachers. Instead, they put all of their effort into protecting incompetent teachers who should never have been allowed in the classroom in the first place.