All I could do initially was to shake my head in disbelief and embarrassment.
I heard about this press conference a few days ago. On the local news stations, they showed snippets of this video in their coverage of this press conference. But after viewing this press conference in its entirety has evoked so many emotions within me...including outrage.
As a black educator, I am completely outdone with the Concerned Black Clergy (CBC), a group of local black pastors in the Atlanta area. Their plead to stop the criminal investigation of Atlanta Public School (APS) teachers in the cheating scandal was well intended; yet, the angle the CBC took to rationalize their plead was insane at best. Preaching that APS black teachers should not go to jail for helping [black] students pass standardized tests they were presumed to fail will not help the teachers' cause:
Will we put teachers in jail that help students passed because they knew or they know that students were smarter than a test measure?
Now, there are some things I do wholeheartedly agree with the speaker:
- Educational disparities among black and white students, especially in the South
- Overemphasis of standardized testing
- Underemphasis on "initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, efforts to build and improve good will and ethical reflection, and a host of other valuable attributes" in public schools
- Adverse impact of APS cheating scandal on local economy, schools, and the community
- History of racism in public education and in the media (particularly the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- The big business ($500-700 million) of standardized testing
- More support for public schools
Although I didn't teach in APS, during pre-planning in every school district in Georgia, we teachers went through a mandated in-service on The Codes of Ethics for Educators, which spoke against cheating of any form. In addition, prior to administering any standardized tests, generally, site-based test coordinators reviewed the testing rules and consequences for infractions with teachers. Also, teachers were required to sign an agreement form to adhere to these testing rules. Therefore, the teachers (and administrators for that matter) KNEW BETTER and chose to do otherwise; thus, they should be held accountable. However, for the guilty teachers only, I don't believe they should literally go to jail IF they told the truth to investigators AND they were pressured by administrators to change answers on the student test answer sheets. Their teaching licenses, however, should be temporarily revoked for 1-2 years, if this was their first offense, and permanently revoked if this was their 2nd+ time. For guilty administrators, since they should lead by example, their penalty should be more stringent, including some jail time.
Last year, another metro Atlanta school system in Dekalb County went through a similar cheating scandal at an elementary school, resulting in the temporary suspension of the licenses of two administrators. Below is an internal e-mail sent to all employees from the (now former) superintendent, addressing the aftermath of this scandal:
----- Original Message -----
From: Postmaster Wednesday, June 24, 2009 12:28:25 PM
Subject: Message From the Superintendent
To: News Flash
To: All DeKalb Employees
From: Dr. Crawford Lewis, Superintendent
Subject: Message From the Superintendent
Date: 24 June 2009
As you know by now, Atherton Elementary School was recently implicated in
the CRCT cheating scandal that has been a source of much publicity by the
Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).
As Superintendent, I was both concerned and surprised that this
investigation was elevated to the front page of Sunday’s AJC newspaper and
warranted a probe by the District Attorney’s office. Dr. James Berry and
Mrs. Doretha Alexander are good people who made a grave mistake. They
both acknowledged their involvement and accepted their consequences. They
have served the DeKalb School System with distinction for many years. It
is important that you know that the school district was not consulted nor
played any role in their recent arrests. While we do not condone their
actions in any way, they should be allowed to move on with their lives.
DeKalb County School System is a family, and during difficult times family
should come together. As a family, I am asking the entire system to reach
out to Dr. Berry and Mrs. Alexander and show your support. An e-mail,
card or phone call will go a long way towards showing Dr. Berry and Mrs.
Alexander that we still care about them. The DeKalb County School System
is a great school district working together to ensure that all of our
students are successful and prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st
The DeKalb County Postmaster
Off topic: I wonder if teachers would have received this type of "love" if they were guilty of similar offense. His history of cronyism and corruption has finally caught up with the former superintendent as he and three of his buddies were indicted on racketeering charges in late May of this year. Unfortunately, it is worthy to note that all the parties involved (in the email and indictment) were black.
Regardless of race, cheating incidents on standardized testing are a growing problem in many American school districts. As my friend and former union colleague, Patrick Crabtree, explained, cheating is an unintentional consequence of tying student test scores to school performance and teachers' careers:
Patrick Crabtree, an APS elementary schoolteacher who heads the Atlanta Association of Educators, said his group has helped teachers caught up in the probe find lawyers to represent them and has helped pay the legal fees by tapping into a National Education Association legal assistance program. A number of school principals have retained their own defense attorneys.
The investigation should focus on school leaders and their tactics, Crabtree said, because principals and administrators pressured and “bullied” teachers to meet academic targets.
“This overt threat of job loss, bonuses and pay for performance created this climate,” Crabtree said. “It was stated that targets must be met ‘by any means necessary.’ ”
No one condones unethical behavior, he said, but “when an ethical person operates under constant threats, they will do unethical things, simply for survival. I have met with the investigating team and they assured me that they are not out to ‘get the teacher’ and they want to go after the ones who created the climate. That part I commend them [for] but, in many cases, the threats have been a bit much.”
Indeed, the bigger picture here needs to be address to curb cheating in the future; unfortunately, it will not happen anytime soon because Pres. Obama and other ed deformers are pushing for more emphasis on standardized testing. Nevertheless, falsifying legal documents (i.e. answer sheets of high-stakes tests) and perjury are felony offenses, according to Georgia state law. To enhance the already broken public faith in the judicial system, any person, regardless of race, ommitting any felony infraction should be punished fairly. As black people, we have come a long way; yet we know that racism is still prevalent in this country. But using race as an excuse for condoning wrongdoing is counterproductive, troubling, and unjustifiable. As black people, we need to forge ahead, not step further backward by using the race card at the wrong damn time!