Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Atlanta sentencings

This week 8 Atlanta educators who declined to take plea deals were handed stiff sentences for their roles in a massive standardized testing cheating scandal that spanned almost a decade. Three received 20 years with 7 to be served behind bars, the rest received 5 year sentences with 1 to 2 years of jail time. Others cut plea deals that either avoided jail altogether or required them to serve sentences on weekends.

These educators clearly broke the law and they need to suffer the consequences. What they did was flat out wrong. It not only damaged their schools and their professional careers, but most importantly, their students. Teachers are supposed to be role models. Every day we teach students about fairness, cooperation, honesty, loyalty, tolerance, respect and compassion. We teach them to play fair and make good choices. And we don't tolerate cheating. I can't imagine how the leaders of those schools explained what happened to the thousands of students who suddenly found out that the test scores they 'earned' were bogus. This is a tragedy that will take years to correct. 

People who cheat are either desperate, insecure, selfish or some combination of all three. Perhaps the cheating started as an act of desperation. After all, when state and federal governments stack the deck against public education, when they hold educators and students to impossible standards with devastating consequences while slashing funding to make it almost impossible to meet those standards, when they cut funding to programs that provide a safety net or a leg up to impoverished children, those are desperate times indeed. And you know what they say about desperate times.

2012 Census data puts Georgia in the top 10 worst states for child poverty. According to this report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute:


Since the recession, Georgia lawmakers cut funding for education, safety net supports and other key services. Those services help build a strong economy with good jobs that can help struggling families climb into the middle class. Continued failure to invest in these important services will hurt Georgia’s sluggish economic recovery and make life harder for these families.

Harder in so many ways including learning. And all across this country more and more children fall further and further behind as social safety net programs and education budgets are cut to preserve the lifestyles of the rich and famous. 

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter had this to say at sentencing:

This thing was pervasive. It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened to this town. There were thousands of children that were harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime. All I want from any of these people is to just take some responsibility, but they refuse.

Indeed. Who took responsibility for this? Who went to jail for this?


Michelle Rhee: not desperate, just insecure and selfish

Diane Ravitch spells it out clearly:

G.F. Brandenburg asks what the differences were between the cheating scandal in Atlanta under Beverly Hall and the cheating scandal in D.C. under Michelle Rhee.
 
He can’t find any other than the powerful protection extended to Rhee by the Obama administration. She was the poster child for Race to the Top. They couldn’t let her fail. Arne Duncan even campaigned with her on behalf of Mayor Fenty, a most unusual act for a member of the Cabinet. Fenty lost, and Rhee left D.C. to form Students First and raise campaign funds for mostly rightwing Republicans who were pro-voucher, pro-charter, and anti-union. 
He writes: 
“But why is it that only in Atlanta were teachers and administrators indicted and convicted, but nowhere else? 
“What difference was there in their actual behavior? 
“To me, the answer is simple: in DC, officials at every level, from the Mayor’s office up to the President of the US and the Secretary of Education, were determined to make sure that Michelle Rhee’s lying and suborning of perjury and lies would never be revealed, no matter what.”

How many millions of dollars did these people raise for elected officials hell-bent on destroying public education? Yea, I didn't think so. 




The 'crimes' these three have committed against America's public schools, students and education professionals are also a tragedy that will take years—if not generations—to correct. 


But they will never be arrested. They will never see jail time. They will never have to make restitution for the damage they've inflicted on the future of this country even though Judge Baxter's words are just as applicable to what they're doing:  
This thing was pervasive. It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened to this town. There were thousands of children that were harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime. All I want from any of these people is to just take some responsibility, but they refuse.
These three take responsibility? Ha! No, why should they be held accountable when there are plenty of educators around the country who must be.