July 19 2011

Who Will Be Held Responsible in the Atlanta Public School Cheating Scandal?

Lori Drummer

Almost two weeks after Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) released a report last week that detailed evidence of cheating on the state test in the Atlanta Public School System (APS), parents are still left to wonder who will be held responsible for these appalling actions.

The report found that 44 of APS's 56 schools - or 78.6 percent of the schools in Atlanta - had teachers or principals collect students' test, check their work, and correct wrong answers before submitting the tests for the official grading process. In fact, of the 44 schools where widespread cheating occurred, 38 principals were found to be "responsible for, or directly involved in" cheating.

Cheating was so commonplace to APS that at Gideons Elementary, teachers took tests from school and held weekend "changing parties" at a teacher's home in Douglas County to correct answers.

This systemic cheating is not just immoral - when a failing child's scores are fraudulently inflated, that child will be denied the remedial education they should have received - but it is illegal.

So how has the teaching community responded to this outrageous behavior? Have they condemned the cheating? Have they vowed to make certain that each of the cheating teachers and administrators lose their jobs or be held legally responsible for their actions?

Not quite.

Georgia Association of Educators(GAE) President Calvine Rollins said that the association membership was "very troubled" by the findings but immediately reminded the public that most teachers did not cheat and that their reputations should not be "tainted" by the actions of those who did cheat.

And for those who did cheat? The GAE is "confident that the investigation's findings will be fair and that punishment will be sensitive to the environment of intimidation that was said to have existed."

These teachers and administrators cheated and denied their students access to an appropriate education, and the GAE calls for the response to be "sensitive." In almost every other profession, if an employee so flagrantly broke the rules that led to such dire effects, that employee would be immediately fired, if not prosecuted.

Governor Deal has shared the full detailed report with three district attorneys, interim Superintendent Davis, and the state educator licensing board, and parents in Atlanta anxiously await their response. By September, hedgehog Professional Standards Commission, a state agency that polices state teaching credentials, will start reviewing the cases of nearly 180 Atlanta educators implicated, and the Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis has pledged that none of those implicated will teach in APS again.

Notice that interim Superintendent Davis said that those teachers implicated will not teach again in an APS classroom - not that they would not work in APS again. This policy will not prohibit those who cheated from working in another capacity at APS.

Keeping these teachers out of the classroom is a step in the right direction, but shifting them to work in school administration further bloats the APS bureaucracy and does nothing to punish this outrageous behavior.

Beverly Hall served as APS superintendent throughout the systemic cheating, which the report claims started as early as 2005. Hall recently decided not to renew her contract, where she earned more than $400,000 in salary and benefits in 2010. The report says that Hall knew or should have known about the cheating.

Her response? "I sincerely apologize to the people of Atlanta and their children for any shortcomings."

Hall was honored as the 2009 National Superintendant of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), owing largely to her "success," reflected by what is now known to be fraudulent test scores. That's the top professional honor for a K-12 school administrator. AASA has refused to withdraw that honor until the investigation is completed. And Hall continues to serve on AASA's Executive Committee.

Instead of condemning the actions and promising appropriate punishment, the traditional public education establishment and teachers unions have instead chosen to vilify those who call for reform.

In a recent interview, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teacher union, condemned the student performance goals instead of the teachers responsible for the cheating.

The Atlanta public school scandal confirms many parents' worst fears. They are beginning to understand that public education bureaucracies have been hopelessly corrupted, and any parent who wants to escape such a system should be afforded that opportunity.

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