The collapse of integrity at Atlanta Public Schools

Thinking Right’s free-for-all — today on a single topic, the tragedy of Atlanta Public Schools.

Ten observations:

1. The metastasized corruption that spread through the body of Atlanta Public Schools is the most heart-breaking collapse of public-sector integrity in Georgia in my adult life. Investigators found that 178 educators, including 38 principals, participated. More than 80 have confessed. Of 56 schools examined, cheating was found at 44. My God! So deep. So widespread.

2. Once in, cheaters were trapped in their own dishonesty — prompting Part 2, the cover-up. Investigators attributed a quote to now-retired principal Armstead Salters that explains how wrongdoing by individuals descends into systemic corruption. Said Salters, according to the report, “If anyone asks you anything about this just tell them you don’t know. … Just stick to the story and it will all go away.” That, one suspects, is the defense bureaucracies teach and learn to avoid accountability for program failings long before the don’t-know-don’t-tell strategy slip-slides into corruption.

3. Those who say “testing pressure” drove good people to cheat make excuses for the unethical and aid and abet their crime against children. That crime is failing to educate children while passing them through the system with self-esteem rallies and unearned grades. Meanwhile, they hold weekend “changing parties” to erase wrong answers on accountability tests.

4. Once the lie is spawned that children have been educated, their teachers, principals and administrators are vested in deceit. In one example offered by investigators, a hot-shot principal quickly produced unreal improvements in CRCT scores. Did Superintendent Beverly Hall drill down to find out how, as one might expect if a subordinate had indeed discovered a statistically impossible cure for nonperformance? Apparently not.

5. Hall and the Atlanta business community, as represented by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, were far too desperate to create a public image of success. A senior vice president of the chamber, according to investigators, sought to depict the cheating as limited and suggested that it be “finessed” past then-Gov. Sonny Perdue. It wasn’t. He appointed independent investigators. Hall cultivated business leaders, and they bought in to the “successful urban public school system” idea.

6. The scandal provides a clue to how segregation existed for so long in Southern communities. Leaders fell into an unspoken compact to create a mutually beneficial system based on illusion — mutually beneficial, that is, for those who controlled key institutions. That kind of compact is not always evil. At its best, it can elevate. Atlanta, “The City Too Busy to Hate,” was a community compact founded on illusion.

7. When bureaucracies or like-minded blocs come to believe it’s Us against Them — whoever “Us” and the more powerful “Them” are — it’s easy to self-justify cutting corners and disregarding laws or rules.

8. It’s a real tribute to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to former editor Julia Wallace, to other editors and reporters, and to the principle of a free and independent media, that the sacred cow Hall personified was held accountable. Nobody wants to see the community’s National Superintendent of the Year or the system she ran brought down. Asking the questions that lead to truth required guts.

9. In every group scandal, there are individuals whose exemplary conduct under pressure inspires us all to hope that in similar circumstances we’d have been just as true to our conviction. An example is Arthur Kiel, the testing coordinator at Parks Middle School. He strongly resisted efforts by superiors and colleagues to tamper with tests, prompting elaborate efforts to deceive and to get him out the door.

10. Finally, nobody in the top job could be unmindful of that much corruption.

142 comments Add your comment

dougmo2

July 7th, 2011
8:21 pm

If ignorance is bliss, Beverly Hall is the happiest person alive.

Barry

July 7th, 2011
8:38 pm

Fire, fire, fire. And then prosecute.

Lewis Murray

July 7th, 2011
8:51 pm

It is all summed up by #10. Ambition and publicity-seeking, along with monetary incentives, drove the whole thing. Nothing too complicated about it. The old adage that “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” applied here. But everyone wanted to believe in the advances claimed, it worked to everyone’s advantage – except the children’s, of course. The AJC has done a great service to the community by bringing this stinking mess to light.

MrLiberty

July 7th, 2011
9:00 pm

What integrity are you talking about? This is a government school system after all. There is no integrity there. How can there be? They don’t EARN the money they take in – the government STEALS it for them. They aren’t accountable to the parents or the students – I mean its not like these folks can take THEIR money and go elsewhere.

Integrity is earned – in the marketplace of free choice. Captive prisoners who are robbed at gunpoint and then forced by law to comply are not the foundation of anything deserving of the noun integrity.

Never mind, nothing to see here. Go back to rationalizing about how government education is actually helping society. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha……

Hootinanny Yum Yum

July 7th, 2011
9:14 pm

No one is pointing out the elephant in the room.

Remember what happened in Clayton county and DeKalb county? Now this in APS.

Come on folks. Be honest with yourselves.

I Must Say

July 7th, 2011
9:17 pm

@MrLiberty… I went to public school, loved it, and was then able to attend a university that is consistently ranked in the top ten in the country. There are many fine public school teachers. In fact, many teachers are vastly underpaid for the work the do. I can’t count the number of times a teacher would pay for their own supplies or spent their own time at the end of the day to help students. I also met many people (at said university) who clearly would have enjoyed the diversity you find in public schools. Don’t be ignorant.

That said, this whole debacle is deeply distressing. These “educators” and administrators should be in jail for what they have done to the community and most of all the children. Their actions are deplorable and rightly maligned but they do not speak to the value of teachers.

I’m sorry you apparently never had a good education.

Hunter

July 7th, 2011
9:45 pm

Martha Mitchell was proof in reverse that Ignorance is bliss.

BADA BING

July 7th, 2011
9:52 pm

ATL Bumper Stickers
“My child is an honor student (subject to impending investigation)”
“ATL…The city too busy to teach”
“My Supt. won Supt of the year, and all I got was this lousy education”

Peter

July 7th, 2011
10:25 pm

Jim, I agree with you on this stuff including the final comment….Please…..why stop lying now Ms Hall ?

Badnewz

July 7th, 2011
10:44 pm

Jim, now that this disgrace has gone public, why are public officials (the city Mayors, APS Board, DOE, etc) and ATL Business leaders so-so-so surprise? Please save us the excuses, the wine and cheese for another occasion because no one is innocent except the kids and the whistleblowers who were punished. All were on public record for supporting Beverly Hall and her dictatorship of the past 12 years while serious questions of her leadership surfaced annually. We, the taxpayers, have seen this oxymoron culture and cesspool of corruption in Atlanta for years with little or no enforcement. No surprise here! We also have seen similar behaviors at City of Atlanta, DeKalb, Clayton, Fulton and HJAIA, where public officials consistently indulged in illegal activities at taxpayers’ expense with little or no enforcement of state and federal laws. Despite years of public outcry for compliance, these public officials (Beverly Hall, Kasim Reed, Shirley Franklin, etc), political (Andy Young, Roy Barnes, etc) and business leaders (Metro Chamber) turned a blinded-eye to the wrongdoings until my man, Sonny Perdue, finally stepped up to the plate and launched the independent investigation with subpoena power for Mike Bowers and others. Yes, as expected, Bowers got folks to react, holler, point figures and confess to wrongdoings because folks fear jail time like cats fear water. Now with this APS investigation report finally out in the public, the Nation knows in detail what we already knew for years – “systematic corruption” at its worst which explains why Beverly Hall’s allies, including APS Board, Mayor Reed, Andy Young and others, have distance themselves from her (I wonder if Hall’s Hawaii vacation is booked at taxpayers’ expense). Yes, there is no secret Atlanta is a major corrupt city where anything goes without enforcement. As evident of this investigation report, there is no accountability here. There is also no secret why many small and large corporations have either left Atlanta or bypassed Atlanta for another city as their Headquarters because of all the shenanigans (at city governments, school systems, state laws, etc) over the years. Let’s get real, this train has left the station and APS officials need to be indicted over this mess in order to recover any decency of the school system. We must see swift action. I do not feel sorry for these corrupt people because they deceived us, knew what they were doing and must face the prosecutor and judge. While DA Paul Howard won’t indict anyone because of political reason, I am sure others will. The main questions are who will get indicted under what charges, how high up the command chain will this go and when will DOE launch a federal investigation for the waste and mismanagement of federal funds over the years. As a taxpayer, it is time for justice to be served. So, let’s get the indictments and this party started NOW.

MikeB

July 7th, 2011
10:57 pm

Ms. Hall should be made to answer both civil and criminal charges as step 1 in the city of Atlantas effort to regain public trust.

Is it me, or does Ms. Halls attorney sound like former Congressman Weiner when he commented for another AJC article “Ms. Hall has no knowledge of wide spread cheating”. This dog will no longer hunt as an acceptible defense tactic.

When Ms. Hall returns from wherever she is, she should be taken into custody and do a perp walk (her administration as well) like every other criminal in Atlanta. The audacity of this woman is amazing…….

I like to read

July 7th, 2011
11:02 pm

I read all three volumes of the APS report–quite disturbing and enlightening. Thank you for finding a bright spot: Arthur Kiel. I think there is another bright spot: Michael Milstead. In reading the report on Harper Archer MS (in volume 2), it became evident that genuine efforts were made at that school to resist the corruption. I’d like to shake his hand.

Bama Bill

July 7th, 2011
11:25 pm

All professional educators have known that the “results” achieved by Hall and her team of pricipals and teachers were flawed – impossible ! Now, why did all the Chamber, GE’s John Rice, IBM’s Ann Cramer fall for such outrageous fabrications – maybe they listened to Jeff Dickerson spin his story of absolute rubbish ?

Hunter

July 7th, 2011
11:26 pm

Wow, Jim, we here expected your commentaries upon these events but didn’t expect them to be so studious and nuanced, despite your deep commitments and journalistic record. the AJC was splendid throughout, though I would ave wished for a bit more vision from the investigative team as well as the distressingly unimaginative Editorial Editors. and yes, it’s nice that the organized business community pressed the case, but then it was they who were progenitors of this brain-dead regime of “standards, assessment, accountability”, as though schools, as a late colleague put it, “ever could have a yield comparable to that of a ball bearing factory.

You speak of unaccountable bureaucrats (quite redundantly), and of the bureaucratic mindset of Us and Them. Naturally teachers will continue to fight this counterproductive regime of high-stakes testing because it was not originated in their ranks and adopted as a discipline of their own field but rather was imposed upon them by politicians and businesspeople who blatantly doubt that a frontline educator just might know or care about pedagogy more than an interloping opportunist does.

i warned you all along that this boorish bean counting would come to bankruptcy. I’m surprised that you’re surprised, because it’s happening all over the country, while meanwhile Harcourt Brace makes record profits.

i always thought that a true Conservative stood before the townhall insisting, “There are no shortcuts!”

Glenn

July 7th, 2011
11:46 pm

Yes, that was I, just now.

you can’t seriously expect teachers to explain what constitutes “education”. most of them went into the field, playing dodgeball with the deeply confused grad schools, because they want to help the Young. now Georgia finds itself with a serious problem in retaining apprentice teachers because, to them, it all seems like drill-and-kill in pursuit of votes & profits. It’s all so damn foreseeable, and so unfortunate from here to Guam..

Glenn

July 7th, 2011
11:50 pm

Yes, Bama Bill.

Glenn

July 8th, 2011
12:10 am

Honestly I understand if someone wants to take this story as a text–an index or an example–of modern corruption, but I see it rather as good-willed arrogance wedded to the usual power plays, with children as usual as, at best, pawns; at worst, sacrificial victims. It’s all so expected. Jim thinks that the predictable racial dynamic in this falls to inveterate racialists. I wouldn’t know. but definitely there is here a dynamic of systematic separation and scapegoating by a ritual class. And I just don’t see the point of playing such adult games at the expense of a child the price of whom is a score on a store-bought pencil test sold to the General Assembly because the publisher gave the best party, as it were.

Alice

July 8th, 2011
12:42 am

BADA BING, You are on a roll tonight. I think you may be ready for prime-time. Those bumper stickers are hysterical. Where can I get one?

B.

July 8th, 2011
2:16 am

I don’t understand quite the bit about ethics education for teachers, and perhaps administrators, next year. This will be done during in-service days–on paid time? If, by the time they are certified teachers, the teachers have not learned that cheating is unethical and illegal, should they receive training on taxpayers dollars? Or should they be dismissed, perhaps with consequences?

Chas

July 8th, 2011
3:51 am

Hootinanny @ 9:14: No one is pointing out the elephant in the room.

If you point out that Black controlled entities such as city councils, school boards, etc. are always a completely disfunctional hot mess you will be labeled a racist and the subject dropped.

The Black community will not improve without a strong family foundation. A community with mothers and fathers working 24/7 to raise decent childern. A community educated to the point of responsibility.

This POTUS was supposed to be the bridge across the racial divide. So far, nothing.

When someone tries to have a dialog it is labeled racist at the first hint of a remark that is unsympathetic toward the Black community.

We need to quit pretending Black people are qualified when they do not meet the criteria. Let them stand on their own merit.

RC

July 8th, 2011
6:35 am

All this screaming about corruption at the highest level. And what is the highest level? Why, it is the people, the voters, the parents who elect those who run their government and public agencies, set the rules, and do the hiring and firing. So, go ask the people why they seeming fail to notice this kind of behavior year in and year out. Seriously, go ask them. As Lincoln said, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people…”

jd

July 8th, 2011
7:36 am

Cheating on standardized testing (for all kids) is shameful. Let’s hold the wrong doers accountable. Let’s not be fooled into thinking that this ONLY happens in the APS.. Let’s be realistic..Hey let’s have a discovery of all the Georgia PS and see if there is this same kind of Cheating happening in other school districts. I’ll bet that the findings will have a lot of PS administrators singing the GOOD-BYE SONG!

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

July 8th, 2011
7:39 am

Put in perspective:

Local corruption flies under the sheltering wings of corruption at the national level all know exists: Bush and Cheney committed 9/11, re: “The New Pearl Harbor,” Griffin, Ph.D. (and common sense); and Bush’s father and Cheney’s mentor, Nixon, using the Roman Catholic, Knight of Malta-led CIA, assassinated President Kennedy to send us to die for lies on behalf of the five percent Roman Catholic elite of VN which owned 95% of the wealth. So what “character” is required of those, fully aware of the truth known by G-d, to get secure jobs teaching innocent children Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated JFK and OBL committed 9/11?

Churchill's MOM

July 8th, 2011
7:42 am

Who says birds of a feather stick together, 2 weeks ago Reed was Hall’s main backer now he has thrown her under the bus. If you think APS is corrupt just wait until the new set of airport contracts come out.

Not So Casual Observer

July 8th, 2011
7:46 am

Ivan Allen left the Mayor’s office and the corruption began in earnest.

City council bribery scandals were just the beginning and the corruption has continued to this day.

Mayor after Mayor who ignored the crumbling infrastructure to use the money for their supporters and family. To have added one of these bums to William Hartsfield’s name at the airport is a disgrace.

Interesting that an earlier post raised Jeff Dickerson’s name, since he has been nothing more than a paid schill for the Black governments around Atlanta for several years. No problem for Jeff however, just as Lanny Davis (Clinton’s primary voice of denial on Monica until the blue dress) has now resurfaced on Fox and other networks – those with power will see that this bum will be cared for financially. Will Dickerson still try to claim Beverly Hall was ignorant of the scandal?

The business leaders (oxymoron?)should also be held accountable for the personal and finacial support provided to the Mayor and APS.

The APS failures are nothing more than an indication of the systemic failures throughout Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb.

Not So Casual Observer

July 8th, 2011
7:51 am

The purge needs to begin in the White House and US Congress and continue throughout the country until every small town Mayor and council is also “trash free”.

midtownguy

July 8th, 2011
7:58 am

Arthur Kiel should be promoted to Principal.

That said, where was the State Department of Education during all this? Should they not have questioned the almost impossible improvement in test scores? Or were they also invested in the lie and reaping rewards for the progress made in their state’s largest urban district?

Aquagirl

July 8th, 2011
8:04 am

It’s a real tribute to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to former editor Julia Wallace, to other editors and reporters, and to the principle of a free and independent media, that the sacred cow Hall personified was held accountable

Next time anyone starts celebrating the declining circulation of this “liberal rag” they should re-read this. The traditional press serves a vital function that cannot currently be duplicated by talk radio or independent bloggers.

BW

July 8th, 2011
8:23 am

Chas and Hootinanny

Race is less of an issue…the common denominator is always class. All you need to do is look at Gwinnett and Hall Counties in Georgia and throughout the country, City of Bell, CA being a prime example, to see that corruption extents past color lines. We get it…you don’t think African Americans are able to lead anything. In some cases you are correct…in others not so much. Unfortunately the prevalence of news stories on the bad ones always indicts the entire race in some people’s eyes. It’s clear that your mind is made up on this matter but it’s food for thought.

Guy Incognito

July 8th, 2011
8:24 am

APS is the prime example of why I, as a teacher, do not pay any attention when those, who can’t even speak english properly, try to tell me how I should teach.

BADA BING

July 8th, 2011
8:25 am

ATL Bumper Stickers
“My Principal is Unprincipled”
“My Child Got a Hall Pass”

Cutty

July 8th, 2011
8:34 am

While I don’t dispute any of Wooten’s assertions, I would like to know why he isn’t as gleeful to write about Deal’s transgressions for the last 12 months. When in doubt, just bash Atlanta.

midtownguy

July 8th, 2011
8:35 am

There were no schools that cheated in my neighborhood, or Buckhead, or Druid Hills, or VIrginia-Highlands, or Garden Hills or Morningside etc. etc. The difference is not the teachers, its the parents. The issue is socio-economic status, not race.

But there was an agenda to prove that kids from lower income, single parent families could achieve on par with their middle class counterparts. Anyone who has ever been near a classroom knows that never has, and never will happen. Money buys educational opportunity, and not just in private schools.

Public schools in neighborhoods where the median house price is $300,000 provide quality education. If they didn’t the parents would be on the Principal’s doorstep. Those parents EXPECT that their children will get into UGA and Tech and the principal will lose his job if the school doesn’t provide that.

Tall

July 8th, 2011
8:38 am

Aquagirl: “Next time anyone starts celebrating the declining circulation of this “liberal rag” they should re-read this. The traditional press serves a vital function that cannot currently be duplicated by talk radio or independent bloggers.”

You’ve got a good point. However, I still refuse to support Jay Bookman, Cynthia Tucker and Mike Lukovich.

Junior Samples

July 8th, 2011
8:44 am

Who woke Jim up?

Down in Albany

July 8th, 2011
8:49 am

Could we please get the AJC to come to Albany and investigate the Dougherty Co CRCT scores? We can’t depend on the Albany Herald to do anything but publish off of the AP wire. Thanks in advance…

lefttheschoolsystem

July 8th, 2011
9:02 am

I was a teacher in APS for six years. There is a lot of pressure placed on teachers, and administrators, to do well. I can honestly say, the principals know EXACTLY who to go to “run their erasing” game. Some teachers, like myself, weren’t having it. Although I never heard of my principal telling teachers to erase answers, I am sure it was happening. As an educator, I would not risk my teaching certificate in which I worked so hard for just to be recognized at the Georgia World Congress Center each year. I am sorry. If the child came into my room not knowing anything, I would teach the child to best of my ability, ask for additional help, and direct his/her parents to agencies that would help outside of school. Parents must also remember that sports aren’t their first priority; school is. Who wants a dumb athelete on their team??

Tancred

July 8th, 2011
9:05 am

“In a statement to investigators, Waller said if tampering occurred,
it must have been after test papers left Parks. He wouldn’t have cheated, he said, because he wouldn’t have risked his $107,000-a-year salary — and because he is a minister.”

This guy sounds like Richard Pryor.

Tall

July 8th, 2011
9:12 am

To Left the School System: “Parents must also remember that sports aren’t their first priority; school is. Who wants a dumb athelete on their team??”

Sadly, many folks do. Who is more important, Mark Richt or a top flight mathematics professor? Who is the most important man in Alabama?

My son is an elementary student in the Fulton County School district. As I see it, the biggest single problem is trying to make school fun instead of what it is. My son is bright, but lazy. He has no interest in learning for the sake of it. I hear the same complaints from his friend’s parents as well. Girls, too.

Churchill's MOM

July 8th, 2011
9:16 am

“Hell just froze over”.. I am listening to WABE & NASCAR is sponsoring the hour.. Going to load the Kids & Husband in our truck & head for the race.

The Austrian Brotherhood

July 8th, 2011
9:24 am

@ I Must Say – Mr. Liberty does have a good education. He educated himself about the top-down inspired corruption of the government schools. And he didn’t need Beverly Hall to do it, just some choice reading is all it took. Books by Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Rockwell, Paul, and others. But you wouldn’t know about that would you stooge? No independent thinking for you. Just more death and debt. Right Statist?

BADA BING

July 8th, 2011
9:28 am

Let’s have some more ‘Erasing Parties’. Erase the cheater’s names from their paychecks, awards, pensions, diplomas. I’ll bring the pizza!

lovelyliz

July 8th, 2011
9:38 am

lovelyliz

July 6th, 2011
9:22 am
The Texas Miracle that never was: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/06/60II/main591676.shtml

In December 2000, the New York Times introduced us to the president elect’s choice for Secretary of Education, a former football coach with a penchant for “snake-, lizard-, ostrich- or alligator-skin boots.” In that article, Jacques Steinberg reported that under his leadership as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, Rod Paige “helped nudge test scores steadily upward in the Houston district, which is largely black and Hispanic. It now ranks among the highest-performing in the state.” Houston, the commentators cooed, was nothing short of a miracle. In 2002, the district won the first Broad Prize for Urban Education.

By 2003, the press – and the Texas Education Agency – started looking more closely at Houston’s results. Ten days later, the Times editorial page wrote that Paige “owes it to the country to share his thoughts on how this happened and what it means.” In an interview with the Times editorial board a few days later, Paige defended his record. Gains in student achievement were real and “still standing,” though he said ”there probably was” a dropout problem.

But the cat was out of the bag. By December the Times had acquired test score data – both on the Texas TAAS and the nationally normed Stanford tests – and established that Houston’s state test score gains were enormously inflated. In other words, Houston’s sizable gains on the Texas test largely evaporated on the Stanford 9. In August 2004, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the Texas Miracle. When the Dallas Morning News uncovered widespread cheating in Houston late in 2004, it appeared that the game was finally over.

And President George Bush made Rod Paige Secratary of Education

lovelyliz

July 8th, 2011
9:38 am

lovelyliz

July 6th, 2011
9:24 am
Lest you think that private companies do any better:

June 2011: LAUSD moves to close 6 charter schools after cheating scandal
In an unprecedented move, the Los Angeles Unified school board is set to close down six charter schools involved in a test cheating scandal last year. The board’s convening a public hearing on the proposal today.

An L.A. Unified investigation found that John Allen, the founder of Crescendo Schools, directed school administrators to break seals on state standardized tests and prepare students for the questions

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

July 8th, 2011
9:38 am

1. This is all George Bush’s fault.

2. Only Obama can save us.

3. Those who actually work for a living and pay taxes should pay even more taxes to help Obama save us.

4. Anyone who dares to disagree with 1, 2 and 3 above is obviously a racist.

Weiner's Wiener

July 8th, 2011
9:57 am

Aquagirl

“Next time anyone starts celebrating the declining circulation of this “liberal rag” they should re-read this. The traditional press serves a vital function that cannot currently be duplicated by talk radio or independent bloggers”

A blind squirrel will always find nuts occasionally, doesn’t change the overall reality regarding the AJC

I'm just saying

July 8th, 2011
10:04 am

PARENTS – The next time your child comes home and tells you he/she passed the CRCT and you KNOW that he/she cannot read or has not passed a test all year…………………..

BELLS SHOULD GO OFF IN YOUR HEAD. yOU SHOULD KNOW THAT something is wrong here. You should IMMEDIATELY notify the principal, the teachers, the administrators, etc.

THAT IS IF YOU CARE!!!!!!!

Don

July 8th, 2011
10:05 am

It is a classic example of leaders blaming the troops for failure.

Another Voice

July 8th, 2011
10:12 am

@Bama Bill … Dickerson is the spokes-piece for DeKalb, Bromery is APS’s mouth. But your point is well-taken. Both systems have hidden the truth and are failing heavily. These leaders should have been digging deeper into APS’s operations to find the truth. And now, some of the key contributors to the scandal are moving onto other school systems. Hope those systems have stronger Boards to ensure that this doesn’t occur again. And Yes, I’m talking about Kathy Augustine. (Wonder if Joyce is moving to Texas, too?)

jconservative

July 8th, 2011
10:15 am

Nice column JIm. Nice piece of writing. Of the 10 observations I could not find one to dispute.