Recent reports out of Atlanta concerning the teachers and administrators found guilty in our nation’s biggest school cheating scandal ever hit the news yesterday. And while it was the news most of us were probably hoping to hear, it couldn’t have been worse news for those who were involved.
If you recall, it was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution which first drew attention to statistically improbable test scores by students who attend Atlanta Public Schools last year. Its claims led to the state releasing audits of test results after the newspaper published its own analysis. This launched an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation which determined that at least 178 teachers and administrators were involved in this mammoth cheating scandal.
The GBI reported that under a cloud of “fear and intimidation” educators gave answers to students on their state achievement tests, changed the answers on tests, used nonverbal cues to get students to change wrong answers, and so on. Principals in these schools were usually the ones who encouraged and even orchestrated the cheating. Teachers who were not involved and tried to report the cheating faced retaliation and punishment. Some even lost their jobs.
Yesterday, a Georgia state commission voted to revoke the teaching licenses of eight of these teachers and three school administrators, implementing the first round of sanctions in what has been a horrific educational travesty.
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission voted on this, the first batch of cases that stem from the GBI probe which was released in July. This probe revealed that widespread cheating had occurred in almost half of the district’s 100 public schools dating back as far as 2001. By the end of the year, it is expected that the commission will rule on all 180 teachers and administrators who were involved in the cheating scandal.
The eight teachers who lost their licenses can reapply for licensure in two years, if they choose to do so, but the administrators’ revocations are permanent. The ruling can be appealed up through state administrative and the Fulton County Superior Courts in the Atlanta area, and some of these cases may take years to be finally resolved under the appeals process.
Kelly Henson, head of the licensing agency, said, “These are 11 cases we felt like had compelling evidence to give to the commission. Education is the most honorable profession, and part of our job is to protect not only the students, but the integrity of the institution.”
Names of the educators who were sanctioned were not released by the commission, as it was noted that they have 30 days to appeal the commission’s decision.
Educators who have been named by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation could also face criminal charges as investigations continue in Fulton and DeKalb counties in the greater Atlanta area.
The state probe led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General and the Georgia Department of Education. They say that the district may owe thousands in federal money for low-income schools that have high test scores.
And investigators for the state also concluded that the superintendent at the time of the cheating scandal, Beverly Hall, who just happened to retire right before the results of the probe were released (does anyone think that was a coincidence?) either knew that cheating was going on or at least should have known what was happening in the district she was hired to serve. From the start, Hall has denied any allegations of involvement and apologized for not doing more to prevent what was happening.
Finally, as if all of this isn’t bad enough, the district is awaiting a decision regarding the possibility that it may lose its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and School over issues with its school board. The national agency had placed the district on probation in January due to these problems and is expected to rule on whether to revoke their accreditation completely in the coming weeks.
With all of the turmoil this district continues to face, I want to send out a heartfelt message to those who work in these shell-shocked schools to hang in there, and show a watching nation what truly dedicated teachers and administrators can do under extreme pressure.