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- Problem Identification and Analysis
1.1 Unattainable Goal Setting
The underlying issue behind the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) scandal is highlighted by the over-ambitious goal setting and its failure to abide by the principles of SMART goal setting by superintendent Beverly Hall (2017). While the goals are specific and measurable, they failed to be attainable, realistic and timely; and as such, ultimately led to a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation.
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Williams, McWilliams and Lawrence (2016) assert that for effective attainment of goals in a goal-oriented system, “measurable, short-term goals should be implemented” as well as “regular, frequent… feedback” as this enables both employees and managers to review their systems and compare outcomes to desired results, allowing for change if necessary. Under Hall’s “metrics-driven approach” and constant “demand for more stringent targets” educators struggled to meet their required targets, and therefore, to keep their jobs, they were forced to resort to cheating (Simons & Kindred, 2017, p.6). In the culture of fear and lack of responsibility upheld by upper management, there is a perpetuation of fear that is evident by having a “Mafia atmosphere that employees feared retaliation if they were to speak up.” (Simons & Kindred, 2017, p.13). Through the notion of “No exceptions. No excuses.”, this fear was enforced (Simons & Kindred, 2017, p.11).
Where the focus of the education reforms was to take control of a failing system by, as Child understands, “setting goals, implementing them, and monitoring their attainment”, leads to positive systematic change (2015), wherein actuality the key problem could be seen through the failure of the APS to actualise classroom opportunities in terms of true academic progress, and rather a number of a page, as determined by fearful educators.
2. Generation and Evaluation of a Range of Alternative Solutions
2.1 Unattainable Goal Setting
2.1.1. Require external invigilators to administer tests
One solution to address and solve the APS issue of cheating in tests by teachers is to require the tests to be administered by impartial external invigilators. One of the main failings of the APS system was that the teachers had access to the standardised tests. It was noted by Colbert that “The opportunity to commit fraud was present.” In such a case, where teachers are only as good as their test scores and are fearful for their jobs, they will likely do anything necessary to keep their job. By having external invigilators administer the tests cheating mediums, such as “using voice inflection to prompt students” no longer becomes possible (Simons & Kindred, 2017, p.5). Not only this, but teachers would not be able to point out the correct answers for students, as well as eliminate a plethora of other cheating opportunities by teachers. Having removed the teachers from the position of being able to cheat, this will encourage them to focus their energies on giving students ample learning opportunities and not “obsess over test scores” (Saultz, Murphy and Aronson, 2016).
However, despite all the potential benefits of this solution, it also brings numerous disadvantages. For instance, bringing external invigilators requires financial backing, as the invigilators need to be reimbursed for their time. Furthermore, this system is no guarantee that the invigilators themselves are impartial to the success of those undertaking the test, which would lead to an even greater education scandal.
2.1.2. Institute an independent ethics committee
An additional solution to address the issues faced by the APS regarding the ethical, or rather unethical behaviour of educators is to institute an independent education ethics board. A major problem plaguing the APS is that teachers report directly to their superiors, who may promote cheating. Furthermore, this ethical failure can be attributed to how the APS “failed to prioritize ethics and integrity” (Patrick, et al 2018). This is evident by the fact that even when the proof was brought to upper management they did not act “quickly and decisively to investigate” the situation (Colbert, 2016). Instances such as these led to more widespread cheating over time and encompassed a larger number of educators (Patrick, et al 2018). Through the institution of an independent ethics board, a watchdog will be brought into the APS system and will enable ethically sound teachers to anonymously report claims of cheating to an independent third party “without the fear of retaliation for speaking up” (article). To enhance the influence of this ethics committee, they have the opportunity to provide learning opportunities to “support and enact an infrastructure that promotes optimal school conditions” (Saultz, et al 2016). This supports the assertion that “Employees in strong ethical cultures are also more likely to report violations”. (Williams, et al 2016).
However, there is little evidence to support an independent ethics committee due to their potential lack of influence by the APS and chief superintendent. It is they who would institute this committee and could sabotage the ability of the committee to operate effectively and achieve the goal of eradicating cheating in the education system. Furthermore, even if such a system was implemented, teachers would still live in a culture of fear that they may be found out by fellow educators and have a fear of losing their jobs (Patrick, et al 2018).
2.1.3. Relinquish a single-minded focus on results
Another plausible solution is to relinquish the educational goal of solely focussing on test scores. If the main outcome of education is to educate, the focus should be on providing students with opportunities to learn, not stress about tests. It is understood that focussing on a single goal may “alter employee motivations” (Patrick. et al 2018). Furthermore it the “narrowly focused accountability system” that is a cause of these issues (Saultz, et al 2016). If the APS truly wants to promote a positive educational experience, there is a need for balance between education and performance. This combination leads to more successful educational futures, in particular, if students are engaged in their education.
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In light of this, by having a narrow goal provides clear direction, as well as a guided model for educators to follow. Not having to focus on other goals will lead to greater commitment to the current goal, to teach for test scores.
3.1. Unattainable Goal Setting
The recommendation being reached is to synthesise requiring external invigilators and the establishment of an independent ethics committee. The theory behind this is to re-establish the APS as an ethical institution, whereby ethics are the principles that define right or wrong (Williams et al., 2017). This will put a hard reset on the ethical and moral understandings of the APS and will promote a culture of positivity, inclusivity and a focus on the correct SMART goals.
Whilst adopting this change is no guarantee that the educational culture is changed, the APS has no choice but to thoroughly analyse its policies on ethics. This in-depth analysis will highlight the key issues in the system in a public forum, prompting an immediate change to be made, this fixing the broken system.
Therefore, this report recommends that the APS institute new reforms, policies and strategies of dealing with unethical behaviour through the institution of an independent ethics committee and requirement of external assistance to prevent cheating.
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