Rachel Aviv’s account of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal in a recent New Yorker is one of the most heartrending stories about education you’re likely to read.
Yes, teachers cheated. They gained access to test questions. They even changed students’ answers. At least 178 educators at 58 schools were caught up in the behavior.
But in Aviv’s telling, teachers weren’t motivated by greed, nor were they especially dishonest. In a culture where test scores were everything, they feared losing their jobs. And they worried about their students: the impact of being judged failures, and what would happen if their schools were closed.
The article centers on Damany Lewis, a math teacher at Parks Middle School with a strong sense of compassion for his students. Lewis says he initially resisted principal Christopher Waller’s suggestion that the school cheat to meet district-imposed test score targets. But he eventually joined a group of teachers who changed students’ answers on standardized tests from wrong to right.
If the close-knit school didn’t succeed, the principal said, it would be shut down and students sent to schools outside their neighborhood. Lewis says that “it was my sole obligation to never let that happen.” Continue reading