Teachers – and everyone else – in the public eye

Headline: Cheating hasn’t hurt Wilmer-Hutchins teachers

Exclusive: Accused W-HISD educators hired in other schools

Source: Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News

This is a hard one. The DMN article comes across as outraged that some of the teachers accused of cheating on the state mandated TAKS test were able to find teaching jobs elsewhere because the state disciplinary board hasn’t yet sanctioned them.

I’m as outraged by the cheating as the newspaper is, but if I understand correctly, the statement that "22 W-HISD teachers were found guilty of cheating" refers to the announcement of the results of an investigation, not the results of a hearing, which the accused teachers are yet to have. Sort of like the cops announcing that they investigation found John Doe to be guilty of a crime before he gets the chance to defend himself in court.

The police wouldn’t use that wording because, in criminal law, we have a "presumed innocent until proven guilty" standard of proof in this country. The cheating issue, however, isn’t a criminal matter; it’s an administrative matter. There’s no law requiring that the DMN accept the statements of the attorney representing several of the teachers that they’re innocent. After all, every attorney says his/her client is innocent.

Still … should the media have "outed" these teachers before they’ve had a chance to present their cases at their hearings, possibly costing them their new jobs and certainly causing them embarrassment and humiliation? I’m not sure.

There are a lot of factors at work here. It troubles me that today’s journalism schools seem to be teaching and anybody and everybody is fair game, and lives can be destroyed because some reporter was looking for a good story on a slow news day. Once upon a time, the news media distinguished between public figures – those who sought out the public eye by running for political office or becoming celebrities, and whose names thus made the reporting of everything that happened to them "news" – and regular old people in regular old jobs going about their daily lives, who usually were afforded some privacy unless they broke the law or did something truly remarkable.

I’m not sure that leaving students alone during a test (the accusations against some of the teachers) can be considered remarkable. Even in the case of the ones who are accused of pointing out students’ wrong answers, this seems like a matter for internal discipline, perhaps firing, but not necessarily something that should be splashed across the newspaper’s front page a year and half after the fact when those teachers may be trying to do better in a new job.

Sure, you can say they work for the public schools and so the public has the right to know. Maybe so. And they may all be guilty as sin; I don’t know. But I do know from both personal experience and observation that in the political atmosphere of a public agency, you don’t necessarily have to do something wrong to be accused. And false accusations can follow you and hurt you for the rest of your life.

I think the sentence that bothered me most was the one that said "It’s possible that the number working is actually larger, since state records reviewed by The News do not track all individuals who work in non-teaching positions, such as reading aides and tutors."  It seems to imply that these people should never have been allowed to get a job of any kind again. Perhaps the reporter would be okay with letting them flip burgers at McDonald’s.

I’m not sure why this story struck me the way it did. I think it’s a complete breach of professional ethics for teachers to help students cheat on a test. I also think the system encourages them to do just that, by judging teachers based so heavily on their students’ performance on tests, instead of their own performance in the classroom.

I guess mostly I agree with the Texas Federation of Teachers president who was quoted as saying that once you’re found guilty, you should be punished, but when you flag someone because of an accusation and that accusation isn’t true, you’ve still ruined someone’s career.

DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
deb@shinder.net  www.debshinder.com

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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