By NICK CHILES
A year after the public learned the details of a school test cheating scandal in Atlanta described as the worst in the nation’s history, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has conducted a massive national investigation that revealed evidence of test cheating in about 200 districts across the country.
The AJC looked at test results in each of the country’s 69,000 public school districts and found that the suspicious leaps in test results were mainly concentrated in poor schools, in both big city and rural districts, stretching from St. Louis to Gary, Indiana, from Houston to Detroit. What the AJC report shows is that exactly in those places where the most is on the line when the students walk through the school doors—places where young people desperately need adequate educations to lift themselves out of their dire straits—is where they are the most exploited, disrespected and disregarded.
This country has a devastating problem in the way we treat poor children. Sometimes it almost feels like we are trying to punish them for something they had nothing to do with—the family they were born into.
While the AJC stressed that its analysis doesn’t prove definitively that these schools cheated on the tests, “it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.”
The Atlanta cheating scandal involved 178 educators at 44 schools—almost half of the 100 schools in the Atlanta system—and all indications are it had been going on for a decade. According to a report released by state investigators in Georgia, teachers and administrators in Atlanta used a variety of methods to conduct the cheating: teachers seated students in a way that allowed lower-performing students to cheat off higher-performing students; teachers in first and second grade—who have to read the test questions to students—used voice inflection to signal the correct answer; teachers sometimes pointed to the correct answer while standing at students’ desks; teachers gave the answers aloud to students and sometimes allowed students to go back and change answers from the previous day.
Any trip into a poor urban or rural school illustrates exactly how little the nation seems to care about these kids. For more than a decade, I was an education reporter in New York City and in Newark, New Jersey—two cities that contained some of the most brutally poor and ignored schools in the nation. I’d walk into kindergarten and first grade classes in these schools and be greeted by the bright, shiny, hopeful faces of little ones who had no idea that their schools, their communities and their cities had already written them off. Hardly anyone on the staffs cared whether they learned anything. From one end of the hallway to the other, the staffs mainly cared about one thing—raising the test scores enough so that they could all keep their jobs. The AJC story demonstrated just how far these teachers and administrators were willing to go to achieve that end.
What a tragically sad picture the AJC report paints of the condition of our nation’s schools—and, even more tragically, the mindset of too many of our nation’s teachers.
Is there any hope on the horizon? Well, certainly not if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has anything to do with it. Remember, he was the guy who said he was “not concerned about the very poor” because they have a safety net. Well, it looks like the biggest portion of the safety net—the public school system—is in tatters. Teachers and administrators cheating in 200 districts across the country? What a national disgrace.
1. Atlanta Cheating Scandal: A Question of Character
2. The Most Important Advocate: What Parents Should Take Away From the Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal
3. A Black Mom’s Lament: How Can We Parents Stop Schools From Failing Our Kids?
4. If Mitt Romney Doesn’t Care about the Poor, He Doesn’t Care about America’s Children