[See UPDATE below.]
When I first saw the headline “Investigation Finds ‘Widespread Cheating’ in Atlanta Schools” I almost didn’t click on it, so ho-hum and ordinary that fact seemed to be. Cheating has probably always existed in schools, usually of a rather petty and impulsive sort such as copying from a nearby student, although sometimes it’s more premeditated and widespread. And I have little doubt it’s increased in recent years.
But it turns out that this particular situation is different from the student cheating of time immemorial, because it’s the teachers and administrators who were doing the cheating, not the students. Now, that’s news, a “man bites dog” story, and a terrible one at that:
The report found that teachers, principals and administrators were both helping students on the state’s standardized test, the Criterion-Reference Competency Test, and correcting incorrect answers after students had turned the tests in. Eighty-two educators confessed to the allegations detailed in the report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
Calling it a “dark day” for Atlanta Public Schools, Mayor Kasim Reed said the yearlong investigation “confirms our worst fears … There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system. Further, there is no question that a complete failure of leadership in the Atlanta Public School system hurt thousands of children who were promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards.”
Not only that, but the Atlanta cheating scandal occurred under the watch of a superintendent who had been much-lauded and honored for her success at boosting academic achievement in that beleaguered school system. But the results were bogus:
The investigation tarnishes the record of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named national Superintendent of the Year in 2009, due in large part to reported gains in the district. The 800-page report shows some educators reported cheating in their schools, but Hall and other school officials ignored the claims, and in some cases, punished those who came forward. Hall stepped down at the end of her contract on June 30.
“National Superintendent of the Year”—it has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?
Hall is not alone, either. Earlier, a similar thing happened in Washington, DC. Both districts feature especially challenging populations, with high percentages of black students with families mired in poverty and disruption of many sorts.
This report of cheating is just another example of breakdown in our society, not that we needed another example. The dire economic and cultural wasteland in which the students find themselves is the culmination of many decades of problems, some of them the legacy of discrimination but in recent years many of them the legacy of the welfare state. What excuse do the teachers and administrators have?
Investigators appear to be blaming the cheating (at least in part) on high standards:
…[I]nvestigators cited the following as the key reasons that cheating flourished in Atlanta: “The district set unrealistic test-score goals, or “targets,” a culture of pressure and retaliation spread throughout the district, and Hall emphasized test results and public praise at the expense of ethics.”
A fish rots from the head, and I have no trouble believing that if it was widely known that Hall winked at such violations and encouraged results at the expense of all else, it would have encouraged the spread of cheating in order to boost the stats. But that couldn’t have happened unless many teachers were already morally compromised.
Should this be surprising? Probably not. Teachers are just a macrocosm of what’s happening in society, and it seems that the end justifies the means more and more these days. If these are the mentors and role models for students, it does not bode well for our future.
[UPDATE: Just a few minutes after writing this post, I discovered (hat tip: Althouse) a much more detailed article on the subject which is far more shocking than anything I'd read earlier. It makes it clear that the evidence supports a massive, systemic, and coordinated scam of long-standing duration under Hall's supervision:
Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible.
Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.
For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests. The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.
In the report, the governor’s special investigators describe an enterprise where unethical — and potentially illegal — behavior pierced every level of the bureaucracy, allowing district staff to reap praise and sometimes bonuses by misleading the children, parents and community they served.
The report accuses top district officials of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges in some cases.
The decision whether to prosecute lies with three district attorneys — in Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas counties — who will consider potential offenses in their jurisdictions.
For teachers, a culture of fear ensured the deception would continue.
“APS is run like the mob,” one teacher told investigators, saying she cheated because she feared retaliation if she didn’t.
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. If these allegations are true, prosecutions should follow.]
[NOTE: Ironically, it may have been the meeting of those high standards that was the cheaters' downfall. Results were so good that people became suspicious:
Among the achievements [Hall] cited: a 33 percent increase in graduation rates and one in three elementary students exceeding state standards…
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Hall as recently as last month, noting that under her leadership Atlanta students made double-digit gains on national exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.
But over the last two years, APS has faced a series of reports and investigations questioning improbable test score gains at some city schools…Questions about the tests were first raised in December 2008, when the AJC [Atlanta Journal Constitution] published an analysis that showed improbable gains at some Georgia schools — including some in Atlanta — on tests taken first in spring and then in summer by students struggling to master core skills.
Last fall, a second AJC analysis showed 12 Atlanta schools posted highly unlikely gains or drops on the spring 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the state’s main academic measure for students in grades one through eight.]