The Big Cheat

The indictments have finally come:

In the fall of 2010, Ms. Parks, a third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, agreed to become Witness No. 1 for Mr. Hyde, in what would develop into the most widespread public school cheating scandal in memory.

Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde.

In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.

Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.

Side note: you should read what Ken, a former AUSA, has to say about sentencing guidelines. It is very unlikely Hall will face 45 years in prison.

During the decade she led the district of 52,000 children, many of them poor and African-American, Atlanta students often outperformed wealthier suburban districts on state tests.

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.

The irony? Her cheating brought her fame and fortune. But it crippled her kids. Their schools lost hundreds of thousands in federal aide because, on paper, it looked like the schools didn’t need any help.

There are very few stories that complete encapsulate what is wrong with our public schools. You have self-interested “educators” more concerned with their own careers than education, yes. But look deeper. Every decade or so, our politicians come up with some scheme to make our schools work. One year, it’s teacher evaluations. The next, it’s merit pay. The next, it’s testing. And every one of these ideas sounds good … in theory. But when implemented, the first priority of everyone is to game the system. Even those who aren’t as blatantly cynical and selfish as this superintendent will game the system because it’s the only way to secure funding and job security. With testing, this usually manifests as “teaching to the test”, drilling kids to memorize enough to get buy without learning anything. But in this case — and it is almost certainly not an isolated incident — it manifested in outright cheating. And the politicians still haven’t learned. The so-called “race to the top” made national standards one of the chief priorities.

This will continue. This will continue until we attack the problem of education from a different direction. Whether that direction is vouchers, school choice or union reform can be debated. But this isn’t just a horrible story about a superintendent sacrificing the future of children for her own benefit: it’s the worst symptom of the disease that is centralized micromanaged education.

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  1. Seattle Outcast

    It’s almost never about the kids. The stats on the effect of unions of schools districts proved that a couple decades ago – it’s always been about the poor, “underpaid” teachers that are constantly hounded by management and need tenure in order to speak freely without society trying to muzzle them.

    The teachers get pay packages most people only dream about while the quality of education keeps plummeting.

    Hot! Thumb up 7

  2. salinger

    And every one of these ideas sounds good

    Except to folks who actually understand education.

    Relevant.

    It’s way past time to get non teachers out of the education “business”.

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  3. Miguelito

    Also relevant.

    Convenient conclusion:

    This includes: shrinking/unionizing charter sectors; spending more money; expanding the scope of teacher collective bargaining; and abandoning all attempts to design and implement new teacher evaluations or accountability systems, no matter how promising they might be.

    Not so surprising when you pay attention to the fact it’s a blog by

    The Albert Shanker Institute is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of the late president of the American Federation of Teachers.

    IOW, they’re “honoring the legacy” of a past union head. Shocker that they’ve just happened to find that doing everything the union way and blocking any real competition (note it’s both shrink AND unionize any charter schools) to the public school behemoth. I’m absolutely shocked, shocked I say!

    The timing of the post on 4/1 makes me wonder too…

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  4. pfluffy

    It’s almost never about the kids. The stats on the effect of unions of schools districts proved that a couple decades ago – it’s always been about the poor, “underpaid” teachers that are constantly hounded by management and need tenure in order to speak freely without society trying to muzzle them.

    The teachers get pay packages most people only dream about while the quality of education keeps plummeting.

    Just to be clear, Georgia schools are not unionized. I wouldn’t call my husband a “poor underpaid teacher”, but he doesn’t exactly have a pay package most people dream about.

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  5. Hal_10000 *

    Just to be clear, Georgia schools are not unionized. I wouldn’t call my husband a “poor underpaid teacher”, but he doesn’t exactly have a pay package most people dream about.

    I’m expecting hist_ed , a Georgia teacher, to check in soon. As I recall from when I lived in Atlanta, Georgia also had problems with a merit pay system.

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  6. pfluffy

    I’m expecting hist_ed , a Georgia teacher, to check in soon. As I recall from when I lived in Atlanta, Georgia also had problems with a merit pay system.

    My husband works for Cobb County Schools. The salaries are on a matrix (not merit pay), but they have been frozen for a number of years. He has annual, renewable contracts. I would be interested in hist_ed’s comments as well.

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  7. salinger

    IOW, they’re “honoring the legacy” of a past union head. Shocker that they’ve just happened to find that doing everything the union way and blocking any real competition (note it’s both shrink AND unionize any charter schools) to the public school behemoth. I’m absolutely shocked, shocked I say!

    I’m sure there is some slanting going on – but the data is solid. I think the biggest take away is that this was accomplished sans the pre- packaged programs that are the darling of the education reformers (and their corporate sponsors).

    Also, any honest review of charter schools shows them doing absolutely no better than public schools as a whole. Just as the “reformers” pretend that the 3% of sub par teachers represent the whole – these same folks cherry pick the few “choice” schools to represent the charter movement.

    Whenever reform comes in shrink wrap and packaged by Pearson, Houghton or McGraw Hill it would do one good to consider the source. In order to sell a new product every 7-10 years the marketing arm of these text book and program conglomerates have to sell the public on the idea that teachers don’t know what they are doing and that they have the answers – just as long as you buy their shiny googaws.

    Follow the money – union wages are a drop in the bucket when it comes to education. Of course – if that fact isn’t focused by your world lens you can ignore it.

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