Remember our children. They were, and remain, the innocent victims of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
Keeping them in the forefront of civic consciousness will provide the most-fitting vantage point from which to assess, analyze and see through to conclusion the remaining portion of this sad affair. It will also outline the best path forward toward truth, reconciliation and, yes, justice.
All of which is important to remember as the remaining criminal trials of the APS cheating defendants lumber along. Chief among the defendants is former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, who by all accounts is now gravely ill.
Given that leaders, at least in theory, are responsible for what happened during their watch, it’s natural that much attention has focused on Hall, her health and the prospect of whether the charges against her will ever be tried in a court of law. Hall’s cancer is said to be terminal. That sobering point may well be the only one on which prosecutors and defense attorneys agree.
Hall’s precarious health led Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter to delay until August the start of her trial on charges of allegedly engaging in a racketeering conspiracy to improperly boost student standardized test scores.
The gravity of her illness naturally elicits compassion from most anyone who does not have ice water flowing in their veins. For that reason, we agree with Baxter’s decision. It was the right call for humanity and for Hall.
A delay should not be confused with a verdict, however. Doing right by harmed children and those yet unborn requires that the trial begin as soon as humanly possible. Those who’ve called for a permanent halt to the proceedings on account of Hall’s health are no doubt sincere. But their heartfelt sentiment is gravely misguided, in our view.
Atlanta’s children, their parents and this entire metro area need comprehensive answers. They deserve to have the truth of this sordid matter revealed in its entirety. The destroyed careers, the cheated children and the damage heaped upon this great metro cry out for a full revelation of what really happened. And why.
Only then can we truly begin the journey toward resolution and rebuilding. And finding ways to ensure the likes of this scandal never happens again. Seeing the matter of Beverly Hall and other remaining defendants through to a final legal adjudication is a large part of that process.
Any doubters might consider the well-known verse from the New Testament Book of John: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Atlantans need to hear the remaining truth of what happened in the classrooms and offices of APS.
Not to excuse personal responsibility by any means, but we need to hear and absorb just how much pressure had to be leveraged against professionals in positions of trust to drive them to commit the actions of which they were later accused. The answers will not be pretty, but they need to become known.
We need to listen and accept that there are no easy, fast ways to reverse decades of struggle to adequately educate poor children. No amount of pithy slogans or sunny spreadsheet data is likely to alter that truth.
Driving real educational gains for society’s neediest youngsters can be done — must be done — but it is a long-haul task, not a quick fix.
Atlanta’s children deserve that much. They bore the personal harm in this case. Including learning from too many grownups that it was OK to cheat. Worse, in the sweeping under the rugs that followed, the affected kids were robbed of the timely help that a true assessment of their test performance would have generated.
Yet, we mustn’t forget that all human beings are fallible. We’ve all fallen short — at some time, somewhere. Thus, mercy should temper justice.
Judgment that counts on this earth is rightly remanded largely to judicial systems and not the court of public opinion. Hall and the other defendants are innocent until proven guilty. We accept and respect that.
And, if the medical experts are anywhere near accurate in their assessments, Beverly Hall — at a date and time not of humanity’s choosing — may soon face a judgment outside of human hands.
If doctors’ predictions come to pass — and Hall does not live to stand trial — that sad outcome should not end matters.
The quest for the full truth should continue undeterred. Facing up to the full reality of what really happened in the APS CRCT cheating scandal is a necessary step for this region. Doing so will let us begin to move on. In so doing, we should remain mindful evermore that Atlanta’s children should never be harmed in such manner again.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
Excerpts as reported in the AJC from an exchange between Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter and Andrew Young during an April 7 court hearing:
Baxter: “It’s probable if we take your route the case will never be tried.”
Andrew Young (from the front row of the courtroom gallery): “Good.”
Baxter: “Okay Mr. Young, you’re going to need to go outside. I mean, you can’t interrupt the —- I mean, you said ‘Good’? You yelled out ‘Good’?”
Young: “It would be merciful for this court, for these prosecutors, for this whole city if this trial never took place.”
Baxter: “And everything just sort of go away?”
Young: “No, it won’t go away, your honor.”
Baxter: “Well, is that your wish, that it just vanish?”
Young: “No. The school system has repaired itself. The state has done everything it could to wreck a very good school system.”
Baxter: “To wreck a good school system?”
Young: “Yes, they did. I mean, firing teachers without — threatening principals… . We got to put the city back together, your honor. And putting one person in or out of jail… .”
Young: “I’m just saying that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. She’s got to stand before God before long. Both sides say it. Let God judge her… . I think justice has to have some mercy to it to be relevant.”
Baxter: “Okay. Thank you, sir. … People, their careers ruined. And it was the saddest thing I have ever seen. … I believe it should proceed before a jury of their peers.”
Excerpts from an April 28, 2013 AJC op-ed by Beverly Hall’s legal defense team:
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.
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.
Hall did not order, direct or participate in any form of 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.
From the 2011 investigative report presented to Gov. Nathan Deal: Thousands of school children were harmed by widespread cheating in the Atlanta Public School system (APS). In 30 schools, educators confessed to cheating. We found cheating on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in 44 of the 56 schools (78.6 percent) we examined, and uncovered organized and systemic misconduct within the district as far back as 2001. Superintendent Beverly Hall and her senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and other offenses were occurring. Many of the accolades, and much of the praise, received by APS over the last decade were ill-gotten.
We identified 178 educators as being involved in cheating. Of these, 82 confessed. Thirty-eight of the 178 were principals, from two-thirds of the schools we examined. The 2009 erasure analysis susggests that there were far more educators involved in cheating, and other improper conduct, than we were able to establish sufficiently to identify by name in this report.
A culture of fear and a conspiracy of silence infected this school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct. From the onset of this investigation, we were confronted by a pattern of interference by top APS leadership in our attempt to gather evidence. These actions delayed the completion of this inquiry and hindered the truth-seeking process.
Dr. Beverly Hall, Superintendent of the Atlanta Public School System, was ultimately responsible for honestly and accurately reporting information to the State of Georgia regarding the evaluation of students. She certified to the Georgia Department of Education that the district “adhered to all written regulations and procedures relating to testing and test administration … as required by the relevant guidelines and test manuals.” It is our finding from the statistical data and other evidence, that Dr. Hall’s certification to the state was false.
Finally, we conclude that Dr. Hall either knew or should have known cheating and other misconduct was occurring in the APS system.