Suspects in the huge Atlanta public school cheating scandal have started turning themselves in to authorities after being indicted on Friday. A total of 35 people are charged with racketeering, theft by taking, influencing witnesses, and making false statements after years of what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to cheat that went all the way up to a former superintendent. That superintendent, Beverly Hall, has until today to surrender, and could face 45 years in jail. This scandal is probably the biggest in the history of education.
According to a big story in The New York Times over the weekend, a 2 1/2 year investigation that included a wire tap shows that these educators made and executed plans in which they would sit in rooms for hours altering tests to raise scores for Atlanta students in Hall’s district, most of whom were from low-income and African American families. Writes the Times:
Those test scores brought her fame — in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named her superintendent of the year and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, hosted her at the White House.
And fortune — she earned more than $500,000 in performance bonuses while superintendent.
Students in this district received test scores that often outdid those students from wealthier districts.
Teachers and educators involved in the scandal are said to have worn gloves to keep from leaving fingerprints on the tests they were tampering with. As a result of their handiwork, scores in the district rose dramatically — in 2005, 86 percent of eighth graders were deemed proficient in math while only 24 percent were found to be so the year before. The positive results earned Hall acclaim from other big names in education around the country, including chancellors Michelle Rhee in Washington DC and Joel Klein in New York City.
And those students are the real victims in all of this. Rather than getting the help that they need to really excel in school, they were getting a pass from teachers who wanted to build and maintain a reputation for changing around a failing school district. The Times continues:
The falsified test scores were so high that Parks Middle was no longer classified as a school in need of improvement and, as a result, lost $750,000 in state and federal aid, according to investigators. That money could have been used to give struggling children extra academic support. Stacey Johnson, a Parks teacher, told investigators that she had students in her class who had scored proficient on state tests in previous years but were actually reading on the first-grade level. Cheating masked the deficiencies and skewed the diagnosis.