A judge yesterday reduced the sentences of three Atlanta teachers convicted in a cheating scandal. Earlier last month the same judge had sparked outrage for handing down sentences that included the possibility of 20-year prison terms. Now Judge Jerry Baxter has halved the potential incarceration time and reduced the fines, meaning the three educators involved will likely serve no more than three years in prison.
While I admit to a very slight feeling of glee at the thought of really bad teachers going to prison, I’m not aware that these three qualify. If they’d been found to deliberately teach erroneous information, then sure. If they’d been convicted of assaulting their students, absolutely. If compelling evidence were found indicating they’d tortured little furry animals (in our out of school), then I’d be glad to see them put away. But no one accused them of those things. What they did was make a desperate, foolhardy effort to game the system when it comes to standardized test scores. (Oh, the horror!)
Of course, teachers who have chosen to be part of an educational system that requires standardized testing shouldn’t do things like that. Within the framework of that system, it’s wrong, and it’s probably hypocritical, too. Still, these are mere minions, foot-soldiers in an unjust war waged by the deeply unimaginative proponents of one-size-fits-all education. The real culprits are the people who have sought to make standardized testing the backbone of the American educational system, and largely succeeded. Some of these are “visionaries” and “experts” with no classroom experience of their own; others are former teachers who would know better if they’d been good teachers before someone equally incompetent promoted them to administrative posts. And then there are the local, state, and federal officials who either genuinely think that multiple-choice tests are an effective measure of learning or who cynically pretend they do. It occurs to me that it is these folks—the ones who created the monster to begin with—who ought to be in prison.