You may be familiar with the biblical admonition against looking at the speck in your brother’s eye when there’s a log in your own. But what about ignoring the log in his eye, yet obsessing over his speck?
That’s what seems to be happening with some do-gooders’ narrow focus on the Atlanta school board.
The log in the eye of Atlanta Public Schools is a pervasive cheating scandal being probed by local, state and federal law enforcement. It’s a scandal that might lead to criminal charges for some educators.
It has raised questions about the Atlanta schools’ backers in the business community, who endorsed nearly all school board members and then coordinated an inadequate inquiry into the cheating allegations.
It has tarnished the woman who was once said to put the “super” in superintendent, Beverly Hall. She not only accepted statistically improbable gains in test scores and disputed graduation rates — and the trophies and grant money that came with them — but, an AJC investigation found, she tried to suppress the scandal.
Yet, Hall is being allowed to serve out her contract, with no known attempt to rescind financial bonuses she received for bogus improvements.
Worst, the cheating robbed maybe half a generation of Atlanta students of educational opportunities they deserved.
All of that constitutes the log in the eye. The speck? School board politics.
Shortly after the cheating scandal exploded, a board that previously acted in relative harmony began to splinter. In a series of 5-4 votes, the board tossed out its chair and vice chair and elected new ones.
And it’s this factionalism, not the cheating, that is the focus of the system’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS is shocked — shocked! — to find elected leaders being political.
The divide has also prompted city leaders to talk openly about taking over APS. That’s probably the worst idea to be floated during this saga, given the many problems Atlanta’s government already faces.
I have a personal stake in all this because I live in the Atlanta school district. But I take neither side in the school board fight. In fact, I wouldn’t balk at recalling all nine members and holding new elections.
Still, it’s strange that SACS investigators, in a report they issued last month putting APS on probation, didn’t address the root of the board’s friction: the cheating scandal, and specifically the allegations that the former board chair kept board members in the dark about the subsequent investigation.
The report mentions the cheating scandal only in passing, as if it were a coincidence.
The investigators also misrepresented the legal argument at the heart of the board’s split. The four-member minority insisted for weeks that the board’s charter prohibits members from removing officers the way the five-member majority did in September.
The SACS report notes that lawyers, including the board’s in-house counsel and the state’s attorney general, advised the five members against the move.
Anyone who read that report alone might conclude that the majority had gone rogue. Only if you’d also read a state judge’s November opinion declaring the move “was lawful and did not violate the 2003 Charter” would you know better.
If the board members are misbehaving — SACS also reported one member’s misuse of a school-system credit card and another’s steering a contract to a relative — they certainly should be held accountable. That’s why we have elections and the justice system.
But it would be more convincing if SACS and the city were outraged at the board’s kid-gloves treatment of Hall and failure to question the unbelievable success she claimed. That’s the real story here.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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