Tag Archives: testing

Teachers and Administrators don’t Enforce Rules:   A Case against School Dress Codes!

 

Teachers who do not consistently enforce school rules are not always bad teachers or irresponsible individuals; sometimes some of the best most dedicated teachers in a school do not follow the rules.  Some teachers, like some school administrators, hate confrontation, and enforcing rules means confrontation with the student, confrontation with parents, possible confrontation with the administration, and often negative vibes from students as well as other teachers.  For some, enforcing rules makes their lives messy, uncool, or even unpopular.  Others don’t enforce the rules because they feel they have more important things to do, and then there are those teachers who do not agree with the rule, so they simply ignore it.

So, why have rules in school?  If so many teachers look the other way rather than enforce the rules, why should schools bother with rules in the first place?  The textbook answer is that rules ensure a safe and orderly learning and teaching environment, but do they really?  It can be argued that rules provide a fighting chance to bring order to the chaos; however, is that what educators really want?  No!  What teachers really want is for kids, parents, and school administrators to leave them alone.  For many teachers, rules are tools of convenience frowned upon as an inconvenience and waste of time that creates negative confrontations.  They see teachers and administrators who dodge the rules as the smart ones.  Maybe, they are right, and if so, maybe, rules are not needed in schools!

However, regardless of what some may think, there must be rules!  Rules are necessary to enable teachers to teach and students to learn.  Unfortunately, like all things, there are good rules and rules that are questionable or make little or no sense.  For example, rules dealing with dress codes most definitely fall into the questionable category.  As a former teacher and school administrator, I believe dress codes are necessary, but it has been my experience few teachers agree with me.  Very few teachers really care what students wear to class.  I say this because very few teachers write up students for dress code violations, and the ones that do are often ridiculed by their colleagues.  So why have rules, especially a dress code?  Why hold a student accountable for a dress code that five out of six teachers in the school day ignore?  What is the school administrator to do when the sixth-period teacher turns a student into the office for coming to class naked when that student attended five previous classes in the buff and not a word was said by previous teachers about exposed wingydings in class?  The only option the administrator has at the end of the day is to give the kid a hat and send him home.  Now, I am slightly exaggerating, but when it comes to dress codes, it is truly almost that bad.  I realize correcting a student for a dress code violation shaves precious seconds off teaching the test, especially when there is not a single question on the state assessment that deals with student nudity, unless, maybe, someone slips in a liberal writing prompt.

Over the years, as a school administrator, I developed and enforced more than my fair share of school rules including rules governing dress codes.  To this day, I have forty year old former students walk by me in the mall and intentionally pull their tucked shirttail from their pants with a wink (tucking shirttails was probably the most despised rule I ever implemented as a principal).  I was a stickler for rules, and maybe too much so, but I believed then, and I believe now if you have a rule it should be enforced.  I also believe using a rule for any reason other than its original intent (i.e., allowing students to break the rule as a reward) is counter-productive and sends a mixed message to students, parents, and the community.

Therein lies my issue with current dress codes in schools.  Instead of teaching a lesson or addressing a safety issue, dress code rules in many schools today have become a part of the school reward system.  If students exhibit good behavior for the month, if there is a big district game, if a student collects the most Popsicle sticks, if a student brings a dollar to school, and the list goes on and on, they are allowed to break the dress code rule on a specified day such as Friday.  For example, they are allowed to wear clothing such as jeans or apparel outside of school colors.  That may sound innocent, but if the rule was important enough to be created, it should be important enough to be enforced consistently five days a week.  If it is okay to excuse students from the dress code on a game day, as a fund raiser reward, or for any other excuse, why have the rule?  It is counterproductive to the intent and purpose of a rule to permit students or adults to break a rule as a reward.  I am not against rewarding students, but don’t reward them by allowing them to break school rules!  Schools always talk about teaching kids to be good citizens; how can teaching them it is okay to break rules be good citizenship?  We have enough rule breakers in our society without training more.  If it is okay to reward students by letting them break a rule, maybe that rule is not relevant and should be done away with for every day of the week and not just on special occasions.   If eliminating the rule for one day is not a problem, the odds are good it would not be a problem if eliminated completely.

When it comes to school rules, it is fairly simple.  If a school is going to have a rule, it should be enforced consistently across the calendar.  If a teacher signs a contract to work for a school district, the teacher should be up to the task of enforcing the rules of the district or look elsewhere for employment, preferably in another profession.  Enforcing rules is not a fun job for administrators or teachers, but it is a necessary job made more difficult when a rule is used contrary to its intent.  If a school ever finds it okay to allow students to break a rule, it is time the school re-evaluated that rule.  If wearing jeans to school is okay on certain days as a reward, then it is ludicrous to ban them on all other days since it is obvious jeans do not pose a threat to a safe and orderly school environment.

If a school rule can be suspended as a whole or in part as a reward, then the rule has little if any bearing on the orderly function of the school and should be eliminated from the student handbook altogether.  The purpose of a school dress code is not to teach kids that rules are made to be broken or to provide a cash cow for local clothing vendors.  The purpose of the code is to enhance school safety and student learning five days a week.  Giving students permission to break a rule periodically sends the message to adults and students alike that the rule has little to do with safety and learning – at least not every day of the school year.  The bottom line is enforcement of rules must go beyond convenience; teachers and administrators should enforce the rules (dress code or any other rule) or dump the rules!

JL

©Jack Linton, February 12, 2017

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Did the Punishment Fit the Crime: Test Fraud in Atlanta

Cheating is never right, so many will applaud the punishment handed out to ten Atlanta administrators and teachers charged with racketeering for cheating on state-administered standardized tests. Three of the ten convicted educators will serve a minimum of seven years each in prison while five will serve a minimum of one to two years each in prison. All ten will face stiff fines and 1,000 to 2,000 hours of community service. Did the punishment fit the crime? Maybe, but it is interesting to note that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the three educators sentenced to seven years in prison may have received a lighter sentence in 87% of the crimes tracked by the Commission. Only murder, kidnapping/hostage taking, sexual abuse, and pornography/prostitution carried longer median sentences than the three Atlanta educators received for cheating on standardized tests. Although testing fraud is serious and should be punished, do these educators really deserve harsher punishment than 87% of hardened criminals?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Jerry Baxter, said, “Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime.” There is little to argue with in the judge’s statement, but as despicable as the actions of these administrators and teachers were, it is hard not to see them as victims also. Administrators and teachers across the United States are under inordinate pressure to meet district and state student achievement targets and failing to do that they often face severe evaluation and/or termination consequences. The Atlanta educators were no different. However, they could have taken the high road and let the chips fall where they may as the vast majority of educators do, but they chose to sell their professionalism and integrity for a shortcut to success – their success, not the children’s. As a result, the children became victims of their fraud, and they became victims of their own stupidity as well as victims of a “CAN’T WIN” testing system for school administrators and teachers.

That these educators should be held accountable for their actions is not in question, but their sentencing does not solve the problem. Their sentencing only substantiates there is a problem. Judge Baxter is right; when the stroke of the cheater’s pen passes kids regardless of their ability to read, write, or do basic math, the kids become victims. However, aren’t they also victims when their parents don’t take responsibility for their education; aren’t they also victims when state lawmakers do not adequately fund education; aren’t they also victims when teachers pass kids to the next grade who lack the skills needed to succeed; aren’t they also victims when principals tell teachers no one fails even when kids do not have the skills needed for the next grade or school; and aren’t they also victims when superintendents make it clear to principals and teachers that their jobs depend on how well kids do on state tests?

If educators are to be held accountable for a child’s education, which they should be, it stands to reason that not only teachers but everyone who has a hand in the child’s education, including parents and state lawmakers should be held just as accountable. Why should school administrators and teachers shoulder all the pressure and blame? After all, if judges are going to uphold children as victims in cases of test fraud and hand out prison sentences normally reserved for hardened criminals, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to parents of children with excessive absences from school or parents of children with habitual behavior problems in the classroom that impedes the teacher’s ability to teach? Also, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to state lawmakers who fail to fully fund resources needed by teachers and children in the classroom? Aren’t children being educationally harmed, cheated, and victimized just as much by the actions or lack of actions by these individuals?

There are no doubts the administrators and teachers in Atlanta deserved to be punished for their fraud, but a more fitting punishment may have been to strip them for life of their license to teach and ban them for life from involvement in education in any capacity whether it be in the public or private sectors. Fines large enough to make it hurt and community service were appropriately part of their sentencing, and the shame and stigma they will carry with them for the rest of their lives may very well be the harshest punishment they will receive. However, Judge Baxter felt more was needed than expulsion from the teaching profession, large fines, and community service. He felt such an egregious conspiracy to fraud by professional men and women who disgraced their profession, themselves, and their families deserved more, and he may have been right. Through his actions, he has sent a message across the nation that such disingenuous neglect of duty will not be tolerated. Maybe, someday neglect of duty will likewise not be tolerated by the courts in the ranks of parents and state lawmakers as well.  After all, when it comes to educating children, educators are not alone, or are they?

JL

©Jack Linton, April 19, 2015