Atlanta: Still Burning

If there’s a Pulitzer nomination for investigative reporting worth making, it’s the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the work its team of reporters has been doing on the Atlanta Public  Schools cheating scandal.  (I wrote about it here, in December. See also this August story from the NY Times.)  In fact, scandal does not quite capture what would seem to be a systemic failure of huge proportions.

The paper’s latest report, from January 23, is here, and it documents what would appear to be another in a long line of insults to this 56,000-student public school system: “whistle-blowing teachers targeted.” (Georgia teachers, by-the-by,  have no collective-bargaining rights.)

To recap, the Journal-Constitution reported statistically unlikely gains in state test scores (the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test) in Atlanta in October of 2009. The Governor ordered a statewide investigation and – Wow! – his analysts found, according to the J-C, “suspicious erasure marks on thousands of tests from hundreds of classrooms.” Fifty-eight of the Big Peach’s 92 schools were “flagged” for cheating — it is unclear how much, if any, was student cheating; the focus of the charges and results of the various investigations, suggest that it was teacher and administrator cheating.

Atlanta school officials appointed their own Blue Ribbon Commission, which, not surprisingly, found “serious problems” at only 12 of the 58 cited schools.  That study was called a whitewash by some.  This prompted veteran Supertintendent Beverly Hall, who appears not to have admitted to know much about any of this, did refer 108 teachers to the state’s Professional Standards Commission and reassigned 12 principals.   The feds got involved and have opened a criminal investigation, which has spooked many teachers into confessing – and talking openly to the A-J. Finally, adding insult to injury, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting agency, sent a team to Atlanta and just last week, “citing dysfunction on the city’s school board, says the A-J, it put the district’s high schools on probation.

I am not an expert on this, but it would seem that the Atlanta story  could be one of the more bizarre whodunits in education history, with enough blaming and finger pointing to keep Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie busy for years.

–Peter Meyer

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