Most Americans condemn cheating in sports, business, and marriage, yet our culture is pervaded by cheating. Premier athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, cheating in business ravages our economy, and the media regularly exposes infidelity by prominent personalities and politicians.
But it gets worse. Atlanta’s public school system, which won national recognition and millions of dollars of awards for apparent improvements in student test performance, is embroiled in the largest school cheating scandal ever: 44 of 56 schools and 178 teachers and principals allegedly were involved in altering student tests; eighty-two have confessed.
Even our schools cheat?
As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s substantial evidence of teacher cheating in at least half a dozen other states – and altering the answer sheets is just the most blatant form of cheating. It’s likely that thousands of teachers are pumping up test scores by giving students advance exposure to test questions.
When widespread cheating occurs, lots of people blame the system or the test for subjecting individuals to seductive temptations or putting heavy pressure on them to earn bonuses or keep their jobs. Many argue that it’s human nature to put self-interest above honor.
This is a dangerous rationalization.
People of character don’t surrender their integrity to greed, self-indulgence, or fear; they do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay. We should expect nothing less, especially from those entrusted with the intellectual and moral development of our children.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
The Georgia report called test-tampering “an open secret.” In one school, a group of teachers brought students’ answer sheets to a teacher’s home and held a “changing party.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the teachers union complained about cheating in Atlanta in 2005, but it was ignored. Though the union has been critical of the testing and extreme consequences associated with test scores under No Child Left Behind, to her credit Ms. Weingarten said cheating “under any circumstances is unacceptable.”
Interim Superintendent Errol Davis replaced four superintendents, and trustees of the DeSoto Independent School District near Dallas placed Kathy Augustine on leave as they re-examine her previous post. Augustine denied any knowledge of test cheating as Atlanta’s deputy superintendent.
A report by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Atlanta school administrators emphasized test results “to the exclusion of integrity and ethics.” A third-grade teacher told investigators that “there are ways that APS (Atlanta Public Schools) can get back at you” if teachers don’t go along. “APS is run like the mob,” the teacher said.
The Atlanta investigation found a “culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation” that spread district-wide over the last decade.
Recently evidence was published strongly suggesting that similar cheating occurred at Baltimore and Washington, DC schools and evidence of test-tampering has been uncovered in California, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan.
In 2007, The Dallas Morning News found more than 50,000 cases of student cheating on high-stakes state tests, with 90% of students, in some cases, showing suspicious answer patterns.
At least 10 states require that student scores be the main criterion in teacher evaluations. In some areas, teachers may earn a large bonus if scores climb.
This is text taken directly from the official report of the Governor’s Special Investigators. The level of detail leaves no doubt at all that this was a thorough, ongoing, planned fraud orchestrated from the highest level, and that hundreds of teachers and principals complied. The corruption was, however, ultimately exposed by a courageous whistleblower. The report is chilling and the conclusions scathing. Here are the first few paragraphs of the overview:
Thousands of school children were harmed by widespread cheating in the Atlanta Public School System (APS). ln 30 schools, educators confessed to cheating. We found cheating on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in 44 of the 56 schools we examined, and uncovered organized and systemic misconduct within the district as far back as 2001. Superintendent Beverly Hall and senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and other offenses were occurring. Many of the accolades, and much of the praise, received by APS over the last decade were ill-gotten.
We identified 178 educators as being involved in cheating. Of these, 82 confessed. Thirty-eight of the 178 were principals, from two-thirds of the schools we examined. The 2009 erasure analysis suggests that there were far more educators involved in cheating, and other improper conduct, than we were able to establish sufficiently to identify by name in this report.
A culture of fear and a conspiracy of silence infected this school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct. From the onset of this investigation, we Were confronted by a pattern of interference by top APS leadership in our attempt to gather evidence. These actions delayed the completion of this inquiry and hindered the truth-seeking process.
The APS General Counsel told us that one of her main duties was to provide Superintendent Hall with “deniability.” Her aim was to insulate Dr. Hall from the burden of responsibility for making difficult decisions. This veil of deniability at the school level was aptly illustrated by long-time Gideons Elementary principal Armstead Salters, who told his teachers: “lf anyone asks you anything about this, just tell them you don’t know . . . just stick to the story and it will go away.”
There was a failure of leadership throughout APS with regard to the ethical administration of the 2009 CRCT. There are two main reasons for this failure. Dr. Hall’s insular style and her isolation from the rank-and-file was a major factor. ln addition, Dr. Hall and her top managers refused to accept responsibility for anything other than success. As Dr. Hall’s Chief of Staff, Sharron Pitts, explained to us, “nobody ever wants to take responsibility for anything” in APS.
Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine oversaw daily classroom instruction, and operated as the de facto second-in-command. She told us that she should not be held responsible for cheating that took place in APS classrooms under her authority. While this may be an appropriate defense to criminal charges, it is an absurd leadership concept. Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet accepted accolades when those below them performed well, but they wanted none of the burdens of failure.