The Atlanta public school system is being rocked by a scandal that involves not so much students, but teachers and principals. School officials are vowing to create a "culture of integrity" that will start with criminal charges against those responsible.
The scandal involved teachers who were literally erasing wrong answers on standardized tests and substituting correct answers as well as principals who knew or should have known about the practice. The excuse was that under current "no child left behind" legislation, teachers are judged by results, which are measured by student performance on standardized tests.
The scandal may also affect the career of Kathy Augustine, the newly appointed superintendent of the DeSoto Independent School District in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. Augustine got the job on the basis of high test scores in the Atlanta public school system.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:"In the APS probe, Augustine was accused of 'illegally' withholding public documents and 'aiding and abetting' former Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall in "falsifying, misrepresenting or erroneously reporting the evaluation of students" on the 2009 CRCT, according to the investigation released last week. Augustine was also accused of making 'false statements' about a testing security breach at Deerwood Academy where a confession on cheating was obtained. Augustine was APS' deputy superintendent of instruction and curriculum, and according to the report, 'either knew or should have known that cheating and other misconduct was occurring in schools in the APS system.'"
Augustine denied being involved in or knowing about the cheating.
Aside from disciplining and even prosecuting the teachers and school officials involved in the cheating scandal, the Atlanta public school system is instituting reforms that will include ethics training for Atlanta teachers. Remedial help will also be offered to students who were improperly advanced because of the cheating on their behalf by teachers.
The cheating scandal reveals a larger problem that is likely not restricted to Atlanta public schools. The original Bush era "no child left behind" legislation was made into law to address the problem of American public schools not actually teaching students very well. Some schools have apparently reacted to the use of standardized tests in ways that were unanticipated by law makers.
The solution might be to institute a measure that was specifically rejected during the original "no child left behind" debate. The policy goes by the name of "school choice", "school vouchers", or even "school scholarships." The idea is to allow students to attend private or parochial schools using money that would ordinarily be used to finance their attendance of public schools. The theory is that competition would force public schools to reform. It may be time to try it on a national level.