The integrity of the education credentialing system came under attack after “an unprecedented teacher cheating scandal where at least 178 teachers and principals in more than half the city’s elementary schools changed test answers in order to make themselves and the district look good” in Atlanta. The problem came to light when statistical analysis showed the test results to be improbable, or in some cases, impossible.
What drove the fraud was the need to continue reaping the rewards for unprecendented improvements suggested by spectacular test scores. And, like a person who lies on his resume to get promoted, bureaucrats in the district kept lying to cover the past lie and keep reaping the rewards. An investigation into what could be the biggest single scandal in American educational history was damning.
The report details a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that pushed teachers to cross ethical lines and cover up their involvement when confronted. Allegations about cheating go as far back as 2005, when the district began receiving national plaudits for what many saw as an amazing turnaround for thousands of poor, mostly African-American students. Superintendent Beverly Hall, who left the district last week, received the 2009 US Superintendent of the Year award in large part because of the district’s improving test scores.
Using razor blades and cigarette lighters to open security packaging and reassemble them the educators produced results to order. The cheating occurred, the report concluded, because “the targets set by the district were unrealistic” and “Dr Hall and her administration emphasized test results to the exclusion of integrity and ethics”. In other words it became an exercise in gaming the system. This continued until the conspirators were undone by their own effrontery.
As newspapers have documented in many other school districts across the country, statistical anomalies began appearing, where student achievement scores spiked in one grade, only to fall dramatically in the next. One USA Today report, for example, found that trend in six states and the District of Columbia. In many cases, anomalies were outside of statistical probability, even possibility, according to testing experts.
“There were a lot of people who thought this was a witch hunt, that Governor Perdue was doing this because he didn’t believe poor African-American children could learn,” says Bert Brantley, Perdue’s former spokesman. “But his point was that it’s the people who were doing the cheating who don’t believe kids can achieve, because they’re not letting them do it on their own, they’re changing answers because they don’t believe it’s possible.”
Although Dr. Beverly Hall denied knowing anything about cheating under her watch, the pressure to get with the program was unrelenting and merciless. Hall replaced 90% of the principals who could not meet the test results. Hall argues that the case against her is entirely circumstantial. It may look bad for her, but she maintains her complete innocence.
In a statement through her attorney today, a vacationing Beverly Hall — reportedly in Hawaii — says she was unaware of widespread cheating in the school system that she oversaw for 12 years.
“Apparently, not one of the 82 persons who allegedly ‘confessed’ to cheating told the investigators that Dr. Hall at any time instructed, encouraged or condoned cheating,” said attorney Richard Deane in a statement. “The report’s conclusion that Dr. Hall actually knew of any such cheating is based entirely on supposition. The further conclusion that Dr. Hall ’should have known’ rests on negative inferences from selective, circumstantial evidence.”
The official report said that Hall and others earned large sums of money on the strength of bonuses paid for what are now known to be spurious results. “Schools that meet 70% of their targets receive bonuses for every employee, from bus drivers to principal. … Dr. Hall stood to gain financially based on whether the district met targets. Over the years, she received tens of thousands of dollars based on the report CRCT results.”
Teachers who somehow refused or were unable to meet targets were subjected to humiliating punishments reminiscent of the Red Guard purges in China. They were made to crawl under tables or engage in shameful and degrading antics before their peers. Those with the temerity to accurately record results were given new forms and told to fill them out again. A Dr. Jackie Boyce refused and for that act of integrity was punished by supervisors. Others with similar reservations were demoted or forced to resign. One official who refused to destroy documents was subjected to a witch-hunt. Dissenters were hunted down and sanctioned. Even when reports began to circulate about anomalies a coverup was launched to conceal the fraud.
The ultimate losers in the whole affair were the students of the school system, who were given a credential instead of an education; or if an education one of dubious worth. Now their credential is a worthless one at that. An entire academic generation has been effectively taught to lie, steal and cheat while submitting to the tyranny of a petty bureaucrat. Thousands of students have been made to waste their time sitting at the feet of scamsters. The report paints the picture of an educational system run not even remotely for the benefit of “the children” but for the remuneration of the educational establishment. It was about a rip-off and a scam, paid for by the future of its victims. As Neo-neocon put it:
This is not just a case of ethically-challenged teachers and an administration that created pressure for them to cheat, and winked at violations. This is a group of of deeply corrupt and even criminal thugs running a school system.
Investigators said “While the district had rampant cheating, community leaders were unaware of the misconduct in the district. She abused the trust they placed in her. Hall became a subject of adoration and made herself the focus rather than the children. Her image became more important than reality.” If a collapse comes, that is probably going to be the epitaph of an entire era. Here lies a civilization where image became more important than reality.