This is from a commencement address by Richard Rothstein at the Bank Street College of Education last month:
I imagine that you, like me, believe that a teacher’s highest ethical obligation is to his students’ welfare. We understand that teachers are criminal if they enhance students’ passing rates by erasing and changing answers in test booklets. Is it equally unethical, should it perhaps even be criminal, for school systems to enhance passing rates by devoting excessive time to test preparation and robbing children of the broad curriculum they need to truly succeed?
When a teacher is enrolled in a corrupt system, where fulfillment of her legal and organizational responsibilities require her to harm her students, when does she owe it to herself and to her students to refuse?
How should teachers balance the good they may do by saving their right to participate in a corrupt system, with their professional and ethical obligations to shun corruption? If a teacher might be fired, or if her school might be closed, if she refused to commit the illegal act of test tampering, should she nonetheless refuse? If a teacher might be fired, or if her school might be closed, if she refused to engage in excessive test prep, should she nonetheless refuse to engage in that practice? If a teacher is expected to get her students to proficiency while no one worries about her students’ stress, or homelessness, or lead poisoning, or abuse, should she rebel?
Recently, the most powerful resistance to corruption in American education has been articulated by middle class, really upper-middle class, parents who’ve withdrawn their children from testing. Few teachers openly encourage this resistance; doing so risks being fired, and the loss of opportunity to nurture children. They might only be replaced by obedient teachers who do less well at nurturing. How should teachers respond?