Atlanta 'scandal' just the latest in a series caused by Obama administration's (and corporate America's) massive testing policies

The day after the three million member National Education Association (NEA) voted to endorse Barack Obama for re-election as President of the United States, another one of Obama's pet projects crashed into scandal because of cheating on high-stakes so-called "standardized" tests. On July 5, 2011, the governor of Georgia announced that more than 100 Atlanta teachers and principals had been involved in what amounted to a decade-long cheating scandal to boost student test scores because of the pressure from Atlanta Schools Supt. Beverly Hall (who received an award from Obama's U.S. Department of Education) and Atlanta's business community.

Above, Georgia teachers share the truth prior to the final verdict of the Georgian investigation that exposed the cheating produced because of the pressure of former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall. Hall, who received an administrator of the year award in 2009, has been identified by the Governor of Georgia as having created a climate of fear among teachers and principals that resulted in the cheating scandal that is now rocking the Peach State. Photo by georgiateachersspeakout.The latest test cheating scandal follows within a year in the wake of scandals involving two other high-profile school chiefs praised by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the business interests that are pushing standardized tests as "accountability" for large urban school districts that serve poor, segregated, largely minority populations. Other scandals demonstrated that increased test scores in New York City under former schools chancellor Joel Klein were illusory, and that scores in Washington, D.C. were inflated by the same kinds of cheating now exposed in Atlanta. Despite the national scope of the scandals, Klein, Rhee, and other corporate school reform chieftans continue to be featured as national spokesmen for the "reform" of public education, while teachers and teacher unions are vilified.

Several media outlets reported the stories in their July 6, 2011 editions, although at least one major paper, The New York Times, buried its story in the back of the national edition and almost completely ignored the tone and context begun during the Clinton administration, speeded up during the Bush administration, and now having gone almost insane under the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, and Obama's signature "Race to the Top" program to make everything in education part of the competitive marketplace.

The cheating was first exposed in the pages of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which conducted an extensive investigation. Despite pressures on teachers who blew the whistle on the cheating and constant denials from Hall and her staff, the investigations continued. Like the scandals caused by the same policies in New York and Washington, D.C. the root of the problem was traced to the pressures on teachers and principals to raise test scores as corporate America more and more tried to cover up the terrible conditions under which many children are forced to live in capitalist America in the 21st Century. As background noise to the scandal, the constant refrains from Arne Duncan and others in the U.S. Department of Education has been that a Maoist-like act of will ("Believe that all children can learn..." etc.) will overcome the material problems created by American economic realities, which result in the USA having the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world. By dominating the narrative and hiring subordinates (like Beverly Hall) to repeat it, Duncan and those he represents turned the 2010 - 2011 school year into the year of teacher bashing and union busting, while "Waiting for Superman" provided part of the fictional sub-test.

But the real facts couldn't be withheld. The scandals under MIchelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. were exposed by investigative reporting by USA Today. The Atlanta scandals were first brought to light by investigative reporting by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

One place Arne Duncan and Barack Obama don't have to worry about exposing their lies and cheats is Chicago, where the two daily newspapers, the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, are echo chambers for the propaganda promoting the latest iterations of corporation school reform. The July 4 weekend, which saw the NEA endorsing Obama, also saw the Chicago Tribune promoting the latest teacher bashing program of the Duncan administration: "turnaround." In typical Tribune fashion, the newspaper began with a "news" story promoting the latest reform at Chicago's Marshall High School, then, a few weeks later, used the "facts" reported in the news story to promote "turnaround." Left out of both the news and editorial versions was the fact that Marshall High School first became a symbol of corporate school reform during the first year of the Reagan administration (with a cover story in then Life magazine) and has been reformed, reconstituted, reengineered, and "re'd" a dozen times since then under a half dozen U.S. Presidents. At every point, the terrifying poverty and cruel drug gangs of the Marshall High School community are ignored, while the teachers and others are usually blamed for the problems that are reflected in student test scores. The New York Times was part of the problem a year and a half ago when it promoted the "turnaround" of Marshall High School during hearings under then Chicago Schools CEO Ron Huberman. Today, the Tribune pushes that "turnaround" (which has still not had any real chance to prove anything) under Jean-Claude Brizard, who is the second CEO since Huberman and the third in three years in Chicago.


Systematic Cheating Is Found in Atlanta’s School System, By KIM SEVERSON, Published: July 5, 2011 (on line) July 6, 2011 National edition.

ATLANTA — A state investigation released Tuesday showed rampant, systematic cheating on test scores in this city’s long-troubled public schools, ending two years of increasing skepticism over remarkable improvements touted by school leaders.

Enlarge This Image

Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

The administration of former superintendent Beverly L. Hall punished whistle-blowers, hid or manipulated information and altered documents, the investigation found.


Vol. 1: Special Investigation Into Test Tampering in Atlanta’s School System (pdf)

Vol. 2: Special Investigation Into Test Tampering in Atlanta’s School System (pdf)

Vol. 3: Special Investigation Into Test Tampering in Atlanta’s School System (pdf)

Exhibits to the Report (pdf)

The results of the investigation, made public by Gov. Nathan Deal, showed that the cheating occurred at 44 schools and involved at least 178 teachers and principals, almost half of whom have confessed, the governor said.

A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in the district, which led to a conspiracy of silence, he said in a prepared statement. “There will be consequences,” Mr. Deal said.

That will certainly include dismissals, according to school board members and the interim superintendent, Erroll B. Davis Jr., and could possibly result in criminal charges.

The findings of the investigation, which was conducted by a former state attorney general and a former county district attorney, will be delivered to district attorneys in three counties where cheating most likely took place.

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta called the release of the investigation “a dark day for the Atlanta public school system.”

The cheating, he said, showed a complete failure of leadership that hurt thousands of children who might have been promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards.

At the center of the cheating scandal is former Superintendent Beverly L. Hall, who was named the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year and has been considered one of the nation’s best at running large, urban districts.

Dr. Hall, who announced in November that she would be leaving the job at the end of June, left Tuesday for a Hawaiian vacation.

Dr. Hall is a veteran administrator of the New York and Newark public schools. She took over the Atlanta district in 1999 and enjoyed broad support. Under her administration, Atlanta schools had shown marked improvement in several areas.

Still, the investigation shows that cheating on the state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Test began as early as 2001, and that “clear and significant” warnings were raised as early as December 2005. Dr. Hall’s administration punished whistle-blowers, hid or manipulated information and illegally altered documents related to the tests, the investigation found. The superintendent and her administration “emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics,” the investigators wrote.

In 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began aggressive reporting that questioned the statistical probability of some test scores and eventually led to a separate state investigation of 2009 tests that showed an unusually high number of erasures.

The specter of widespread cheating caused rifts within the business and religious communities and contributed to a tumultuous school board power struggle. That disarray led the body that accredits the district’s high schools to review whether the district could hold on to its rating. That review is expected to culminate in September, when inspectors return to see if the school board has improved its performance and how it handled the fallout from the cheating scandal.

Mr. Deal and Mr. Reed also made moves to control the school board, supporting a new law written specifically to address the issue. It gives Mr. Deal the power to suspend the entire school board for jeopardizing the district’s accreditation.

Just how badly students were affected by the altered scores is difficult to determine; however, some 12,000 students whose tests might have been tampered with have attended remedial classes after school and on weekends.

Parents of the 55,000 students who attend Atlanta public schools have found themselves torn between defending beloved teachers who said they felt pressured to cheat, worrying about the quality of their children’s education and wanting to support a district that has been improving.

“It becomes a question of what it means to be educated,” said Maria Pease, a former teacher who is the parent of a high school student. “Does it mean the highest test score? I would argue it does not. This is part and parcel of a general dysfunction that isn’t particular to Atlanta public schools.”


August 6, 2011 at 6:29 PM

By: Vernetta Northcutt

cheating scandal

The cheating scandal in Atlanta is very sad because it involves the education of children Whatever motives teachers might have had does not excuse their unprofessional behavior. However, I do sympathize with them because of the pressure they had to endure from their respective principals, especially since there is no teacher union.

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