On the Hard Ethical Choices Facing Teachers Today

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to corruption in American education has been articulated by middle class, really upper-middle class, parents who’ve withdrawn their children from testing.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?

Published in: on June 7, 2015 at 10:35 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Another way to think about resistance is the millions of youngsters who have left district schools to attend charters. Of course, Rothstein does not like that form of resistance.


  2. So the current reform agenda is working, Joe? Make public school so unattractive through public policy that charter schools that are likely to have records no better than the public schools the children are escaping become reasonable alternatives? I am sure that there are some high quality charter schools out there, but not for the “millions.”


  3. Here in Washington DC I have shown using official figures that there is a very tight correlation between SES and passing rates on the DC CAS for both the regular public schools and at the charters — even with the tremendous attrition rates at the supposedly “well-regarded” charter schools. Charter schools do not have a magic wand, and you know that perfectly well, Joe Nathan. I know because I’ve visited a lot of them and I know young teachers who teach in them. Worse: Many charter schools here in DC have been shut down for outrageous theft and scam activities by their founders.
    And I’ve also shown that looking at lengths of waiting lists at all DC public and charter schools that parents are attempting to get their kids out of neighborhood schools with high percentages of At Risk children and into schools with low percentages of such kids (eg 2 Rivers, Yu Ying, BASIS, Washington Latin).
    The current system — which we’ve had for over a decade now under NCLB and under people like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and Joe Nathan, has done nothing to close the wide gulfs in either income or education.


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