By Richard H. Deane
Beverly Hall has spent literally her entire career in education advocating tirelessly for the very basic proposition that all children, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, have the ability to learn. She had almost 30 years of teaching and educational leadership experience before she began at APS. Throughout her career in several districts, her basic approach has been the same — she supported teachers and her staff with professional development and coaching but always expected her students, regardless of circumstance, to learn. Her standards have always been high.
In the rush to judgment on Hall, we believe a number of fundamental truths essential to our democratic system and the rule of law have been overlooked. These truths include: Hall is presumed innocent.
Hall is a citizen who is entitled to certain basic rights. Whether you believe that she has engaged in wrongdoing or not, she is entitled to be tried in a court of law based on facts and evidence with the benefit of a judge and jury and not in the media. This is the fundamental right of every citizen in our country and it is being overlooked in this case. We believe that when Hall has her day in court, the charges, which we believe are excessive, will not be proven.
Prosecutors have called Hall a racketeer, akin to drug dealers and organized crime lords. Prosecutors originally sought bail of $7.5 million — far exceeding amounts sought against those charged with murder and other crimes of violence. Such a bail amount demonstrates the excessive nature of these charges and the prosecution’s overreaching. We simply ask that the citizens of Atlanta wait to hear the evidence and accord Hall the same respect we give all accused — the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.
Atlanta public schools students have consistently progressed over the past decade.
Even setting aside the CRCT, Atlanta Public Schools students made significant and consistent progress on more rigorous federal testing done over the very same time frame as the CRCT period. Starting in 2002, Hall volunteered APS to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Education Progress’ (“NAEP”) Trial Urban District Assessment (“TUDA”), a standardized test similar to the CRCT except that it is administered, scored, and reported by the federal government.
TUDA results demonstrated a steady upward trajectory of system-wide progress similar to what was reflected in CRCT scores. In fact, an assessment of the TUDA results, done by the Council of the Great City Schools in 2011 found that APS posted the most consistent and significant gains in fourth and eighth grade reading of any participating district due to APS’ “universal and sustained professional development effort that emphasized reading for information in fourth grade and reading to perform a task in eighth.”
The assessment attributed these gains to Hall’s focus on instruction and her “clear vision” and “plan for district-wide improvement based on establishing goals that reflected high expectations for student achievement, not just minimum standards for meeting Adequate Yearly Progress.”
The assessment further concluded that TUDA’s results were unassailable because the Department of Education’s internal investigation found no evidence that TUDA testing procedures in Atlanta had been compromised. The federal Department of Education continues to stand behind its conclusions.
Hall did not order, direct or participate in any form of cheating on the CRCT or otherwise.
After over 2,000 interviews reportedly conducted over many months by special investigators and the Office of the Fulton County District Attorney, as far as has been disclosed, not a single person reported that Hall ordered, directed, or participated in cheating on the CRCT or otherwise. We believe the evidence will show that any cheating was a result of misguided individuals taking matters into their own hands, outside the vision or direction of Hall, for whatever reasons that were meaningful to them. The evidence will not show that Hall directed or suborned illegal behavior by teachers and administrators.
Hall had little to no direct financial incentive to cheat on CRCT test scores.
In order to label Hall a racketeer, prosecutors say that she single-mindedly schemed to inflate test scores in order to pad her yearly bonuses. You have likely heard media reports implying that Hall earned more than $500,000 in bonuses based on CRCT test scores. This is false information or at best misleading since it aggregates Hall’s approximate bonuses over some 10 years.
In any given year, Hall’s bonus was a fraction of this amount and was tied to 25 or more performance objectives established by the Atlanta Board of Education. The vast majority of these benchmarks had nothing to do with the CRCT results.
Further, APS teachers were eligible for relatively small bonuses of which, typically, only a few hundred dollars were based on test results. Even the state’s own investigators concluded, “The monetary bonus for meeting targets provided little incentive to cheat.” The great misfortune here is that the very real achievements of APS students and their teachers are being disparaged and summarily dismissed in an effort to vilify Hall. Meaningful learning occurred under Hall’s leadership and continues today at APS. Millions of dollars in precious public funds have been thrown at this effort to recharacterize isolated misconduct into a system-wide criminal enterprise led by Hall, when that money could have been far better spent.
We ask you to withhold your judgment as to Hall’s actions until she has had her day in court and honor the presumption of innocence that is so critical to our democracy. We will work tirelessly to present the facts in a court of law and believe that when the facts are provided, Hall will be found not guilty.
Atlanta Attorney Richard H. Deane is chief legal counsel for former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall. Attorneys David J. Bailey, J. Tom Morgan and Bettieanne C. Hart, also on her legal team, contributed to this op-ed.