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A few thoughts on the Atlanta Schools Scandal, and how to re-claim the narrative

July 8, 2011

You’ve probably read about the huge standardized test cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public School System. This story saddens me on so many levels. I’m sad for the many colleagues I have in APS that are phenomenally hard working, incredibly dedicated, and super passionate about teaching, and whose great work is sullied by the actions of those involved with the cheating scandal. I’m angry that we’ve created a system of public education in Georgia that places such pressure and emphasis on standardized testing that principals and teachers might feel compelled to do this. And I’m upset that it’s only when scandal stories like this break that the media takes any real interest in what’s going on in the Atlanta school system beyond the sports highlights.

My colleague, Peyten Dobbs did a much better job reflecting on this than I possibly could have in her post for the3six5 toady (read the whole thing):

Today, Atlantans fume over the CRCT cheating scandal that recently rocked the Atlanta Public School system. There is anger. There is disillusionment. There is worry. My reaction, however, is a bit different. I am curious. What changed so that a good score became worth more than character? What shifts in policy, school leadership, or educational culture led to such an unwanted, albeit unexpected, outcome?

Change is inevitable, change is slow, and all change is catalyzed by the small stuff: a tweak in policy, an idea shared, a phone call neglected. In moments of crisis like the current APS scandal, the temptation may be to act swiftly to right the wrong. But I wonder if it isn’t necessary first to reflect. To identify the changes wrought and discover the roots of those changes, proceeding then with knowledge. Only then may we dare to act, to create, to change.

But I want to reflect on two small things today that gives me hope. The first is edu180atl, which is the project a group of Atlanta teachers and I started last spring to highlight stories of learning in Atlanta every day. If you go back and look at the beta site for this project, you’ll find a whole range of inspiring stories that run counter to the narrative that is beginning to form in the media.

And now that we’ve decided to keep this project going for the 2011-12 school year, I hope that edu180atl can set an example for the Atlanta community and beyond of the incredible learning that is taking place in our city.

My second point of inspiration was a simple act by one of my colleagues here, Fran Poodry, who teaches at a public school and decided to send out a press release she creafted to a number of area newspapers and media outlets (you can find it in the middle of the document). When she did this, I was initially skeptical, wondering both why we would want to publicize what we’re doing to media, and why they might care.

But then a couple of days ago, Fran got this email from the local paper in Middletown, where St. Andrew’s is located:

On 7/6/11 1:57 PM, “Jennifer Hayes” wrote:

Hi Fran.

This does sound like an interesting story. I would be interested in coming by the school either Thurs or Fri to get photos and interview a few of the teachers. Would that be possible?

If so, please let me know when the best time to stop by would be. I would more or less be like a fly on the wall, but I’d like to pull out some of the teachers for a brief interview or talk to them while things are going on, depending on the format.

I would also like to talk with John Burk further, so maybe he can spare a few minutes as well?

Thanks so much,

Today, Jennifer stopped by and spent over an hour with our group, observing our meeting, taking physics, interviewing participants, even learning a bit about the physics of electricity and magnetism. It was an incredibly generous donation of her time to this story, even more so, when you learn that the recession has hit local newspapers like the Middletown Transcript especially hard, and she is now the only reporter for the paper.

I hope that this story, written for the local readers of Middletown, will help to give them a bit more of an understanding of some of the interesting things happening at this one school, bringing together dedicated teachers from many schools, and might help to see that this really is representative of most schools, and most teachers. And for those that read it, I hope that the local connection to the neighborhood school might carry a bit more weight in their mind than the distant narrative of schools and teachers that often gets portrayed in the national media.

And then I wondered what if we all did this? What if the next time Shawn creates a kick ass lesson on using chili peppers, he also put out press release? What if Kate wrote a press release to describe how she’s discovered the secret special right traingle code in US currency?

Could this help the world to see teachers the wonderfully flawed humans—-striving to be inspiring, talented and dedicated to the education of every child–that most of us are?

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 7:29 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the APS situation John! Also, good to hear about some of these developments that are seeds of hope. There are a great deal of confused and hopeful teachers in APS right now. They need strong leadership to move the conversation to student learning and helping prepare students for the world they will inherit.


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