Widespread cheating on Atlanta standardized tests? It seems so, and eerily similar to accusations of cheating in Washington DC public schools while under the management of education "reform" darling Michelle Rhee.
Across Atlanta Public Schools, staff worked feverishly in secret to transform testing failures into successes.
Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible.
Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.
For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests. The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.
My first instinct when reading this was to think that Gov. Deal was working toward the right wing agenda of declaring public schools dead so they could be privatized, but no. It's real and it's ugly, and it lands right at the feet of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who held herself out as a Rhee-style reformer for years.
A major reason for the ethical failures in Hall’s administration, the investigators wrote, was that Hall and her senior staff refused to accept responsibility for problems.
“Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet accepted accolades when those below them performed well, but they wanted none of the burdens of failure,” the report said.
The district’s priority became maintaining and promoting Hall’s image as a miracle worker.
The report also touched on the support the Atlanta business community has provided Hall for years.
Her supporters were so concerned the district’s problems would reflect poorly on the Atlanta “brand,” the report said, that they attacked those who asked questions about the district’s purported success. A senior vice president at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, for instance, suggested a report commissioned by business and civic leaders that found cheating was limited to a dozen schools would need to be “finessed” past Gov. Sonny Perdue, the report said.
Sound familiar? In 2008, Hall, Rhee, and Green Dot's Steve Barr "debated" the best way to deal with failing schools. Hall trumpeted her success with school closures in that debate.
Hall, now in her 10th year as superintendent, said she spent a lot of her first three years talking with parents in their living rooms. She closed 17 failing schools. "Success began to change people's minds. Now, she said, "there's less pushback"—even though she was in the process of "transforming" a sentimental favorite: the high school attended by Martin Luther King.
Of course, that "success" now appears to be mostly the result of successful cheating, and not just for a couple of years, but dating back to 2001 when NCLB was first adopted!
The scope of the cheating is breathtaking and systemic. The report specified three reasons for the cheating:
The investigators gave three key reasons that cheating flourished in Atlanta: The district set unrealistic test-score goals, or “targets,” a culture of pressure and retaliation spread throughout the district, and Hall emphasized test results and public praise at the expense of ethics.
Because the targets rose each time a school attained them, the pressure ratcheted up in classrooms each year. Cheating one year created a need for more cheating the next.
“Once cheating started, it became a house of cards that collapsed on itself,” the investigators wrote.
Educators most frequently cited the targets to explain cheating.
“APS became such a ‘data-driven’ system, with unreasonable and excessive pressure to meet targets, that Beverly Hall and her senior cabinet lost sight of conducting tests with integrity,” the report said.
The investigators said Hall’s aloof leadership style contributed directly to an atmosphere that fueled cheating.
She isolated herself from rank-and-file employees, the report said. Mazyck, the district’s general counsel, told investigators that her job was to provide Hall with “deniability,” insulating Hall from the need to make tough choices.
Of course, those of us who have opposed NCLB as the wrong way to improve education for years feel a bit vindicated by this, but not vindicated enough to forget that nearly a generation of children has been cheated because Atlanta's school management not only condoned, but actually facilitated cheating. Let's just pare down those three reasons to one: NCLB. The day that test scores became the benchmark by which schools would receive federal funding (or not), the day that the benchmarks were set so high they were unattainable in the time frame laid out, the scene was set to invite widespread cheating. Atlanta is not the first nor will it be the last.
The similarities between Atlanta and Washington DC aren't coincidental. Rhee and Hall are cut from the same cloth. The "win at all costs" mentality, the gaming in order to prove a point, and the general lack of integrity from both of them proves how hollow NCLB is, and what a disservice Rhee does to educators who actually care about educating students.
Read the entire AJC article. It will make you sick, but also draws a picture of how this stupid law has corrupted our education system. Which is, of course, exactly what the Bushies hoped would happen.