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Atlanta school cheating: When teachers cheat, what do you tell the kids?

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AP Photo/David Tulis

(Read caption) Defense attorney J. Tom Morgan, left, argues a motion in front of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter during a hearing for several dozen Atlanta Public Schools educators facing charges alleging a conspiracy of cheating on the CRCT standardized tests in Atlanta, May 3, 2013.

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“To know the good, love the good and do the good.” Though Kevin Ryan, founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility at Boston University School of Education summarized it that way, that’s what a host of experts see as the goal in raising children of strong character. And with students back in the classroom this fall, their teachers are right there with them, as role models and guides.

But what happens when educators themselves are the ones flunking the character test? It happens, and in some places it happens big time. In Atlanta’s public school system, for instance, three dozen teachers and officials are due to stand trial for cheating on standardized testing in 44 schools, allegedly providing test answers, and changing answer sheets in an effort to boost test results. Testimony against the first administrator in the case began late last month.

So what can adults do when teachers or other important adults are caught doing something bad? It can be devastating to the children. But does that send an irrefutable message to children that “good” is just an empty word? That excuses can explain away immoral or illegal actions?

It doesn’t have to, says Leslie Matula, founder of Project Wisdom, which provides character education programs in schools. While hugely disappointing, and disillusioning to parents as well as kids, all is not lost, she says. “It’s important to remember that the vast majority of teachers are responsible, caring human beings who teach because they care about children. The demands on classroom teachers have probably never been greater.

“It’s always unfortunate when these things happen," she adds, "whether it’s a large scale scandal or a classroom teacher who 'falls from grace' because of a poor choice, but these situations do create teachable moments … opportunities to talk with young people about the consequences of their choices and the importance of living lives of integrity, lives based on a set of core ethical values. 


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