When A Letter-Writing Campaign Goes Terribly Wrong

Sometimes you wonder about what kind of schooling American kids are getting.

Here’s a recent example. The New York Post wrote an article about a high school — the Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers — in which the curriculum appeared to be less than rigorous. The school, miffed by the unflattering article, encouraged students to write letters to the Post to complain about the piece.

Unfortunately for the school, some students did — and their letters confirm that they apparently have only the most dim comprehension of grammar, spelling, and other basics of the English language.

I know there are large, looming issues about public schools, and private schools, and charter schools, and how we can best prepare our young people for the future in a hyper-competitive global economy. It’s incredibly sad, however, that high school students not only would write letters that are so filled with errors, but also that they lack the basic self-awareness to understand that they are bordering on functional illiteracy and are exposing that fact whenever they put pen to paper. We are failing these kids.

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When Teachers Cheat

From Atlanta comes a deeply disturbing story about a massive cheating scandal to achieve higher scores on standardized tests.  In this instance, however, the cheaters weren’t students — they were teachers, principals, and administrators.

In Georgia, as in many other states, student and teacher performance is measured by scores on a standardized test.  In this instance, the test is called the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.  In recent years, Atlanta schools reported increases in scores on the test, winning accolades for the Atlanta school district and its superintendent, who was named “U.S. Superintendent of the Year” in 2009.  Now investigators have unearthed evidence of a massive conspiracy in which teachers, principals, and administrators not only changed answers to achieve better scores, but also worked actively to cover up the cheating.  The report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation names 178 teachers and administrators who participated — 82 of whom have confessed to their misdeeds — in a scandal that took place at 44 different schools.

According to the Christian Science Monitor article linked above, reports of teacher cheating have been increasingly commonplace across America.  Atlanta’s scholastic scandal is just the largest example of a growing problem.  Educational advocates say the reports show that standardized testing is not a panacea, because tying school district funding and individual teacher compensation to higher scores just provides an incentive to cheat.  So, they recommend that school districts implement much more involved auditing of the completed standardized tests.

The Atlanta scandal is a black eye for the many dedicated and selfless teachers in America, and it raises a very basic, troubling question for public school parents across the country:  What kind of people are teaching my kids?