Atlanta’s citizens are in a state of paralytic shock this week. A year-long investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) into systematic teacher cheating in Atlanta’s public schools has just been released.
Dr. Beverly Hall, that oh-so-highly-acclaimed superintendent with all the national education awards, has gone into early retirement. All those rising test scores from the past decade have been revealed as a disgraceful sham, the result not of actual improved education, but of teachers having “cheating parties” where answer sheets were used to change the answers of failing students so that required benchmarks could have the appearance of being met.
Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, released the GBI report to shocked journalists, shocked city leaders, shocked school-business partners, shocked parents, shocked clergy, and shocked taxpayers. The public shock is so thick and anguished in Atlanta right now that it’s pure wonder all the animals aren’t howling at the moon in aggrieved concert.
It’s highly likely that Atlanta’s recent high school graduates had already faced the shock, which now grips the whole city. Just imagine a young person, who was recently hired or accepted to college on the strength of one of those faked diplomas, receiving the rude awakening of a firing or college flunk-out all because he couldn’t actually read or write.
Thinking of all those lied-to kids and their disillusionment made me cry. It’s hard to imagine adults in responsible positions – teachers, for crying out loud! – so callously hurting the children they were employed to help.
So, I cried for those kids, all the ones who were cheated out of the real education we taxpayers paid for them to have.
Yes, I cried.
But I wasn’t even the least bit shocked. Nope. Not even a smidgen of shock did I feel.
I’ve seen this coming long before No Child Left Behind legislation tried to put a band-aid on the nation’s disgraceful excuse for “education.”
Actually, I got my first clue when I was still a junior in an Atlanta public high school. It was 1968. My 2300-student-plus, suburban high school was integrated that year. The formerly all-white student and teacher body received three — yes, only 3 — newly enrolled black students, and one — yes, only 1 –new black biology teacher. Our new students were just like us in all ways that counted. They dressed like us. They talked like us. They studied like us. Back then, a middle-class American was pretty much interchangeable with every other middle-class American.
But our new black biology teacher was in all ways different from our heretofore all-white teacher brigade. She spoke without regard to the rules of English grammar. She rambled through hours of class time, telling stories from her life rather than teaching. Her tests were either taken from the teacher’s text or were so badly written that no student could even decipher the questions. The complaints about this new teacher flooded the principal’s office. Parents demanded her firing before the school year had even gotten past the first holiday. These parents weren’t racists; they were just responsible citizens demanding qualified teachers.
The teacher stayed. The fix was in. The principal put his “integrated faculty” accolade above his students’ education.
Parents became surrogate biology teachers or hired tutors. Some of us students took novels to class to dull the boredom. Others passed notes. But no one complained once the new code of silence about the uneducated new black teacher was accepted as Orwellian reality.
The death-of-public-education die had been cast.