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Atlanta Could Have Averted Its Cheating Scandal If It Had Listened To Its Local Teachers Union

By Zaid Jilani on July 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

"Atlanta Could Have Averted Its Cheating Scandal If It Had Listened To Its Local Teachers Union"

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The Atlanta AFT tried to warn the school district of systematic cheating, but was ignored.

Yesterday, Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) released a comprehensive report on a massive cheating scandal that took place in Atlanta’s Public Schools system (APS). The report uncovered the participation of nearly 180 APS employees in altering test scores and facilitating cheating.

While uncovering this widespread cheating, the report also noted that these abuses were facilitated by a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that faced APS teachers and administrators, who were pressured to raise test scores and feared for their jobs if they protested these policies or even reported cheating. One excerpt from the report found that a principal forced a teacher under a table during a meeting because her students’ test scores were deemed unsatisfactory:

Many principals humiliated teachers in front of their peers for failing to meet goals. For example, at Fain Elementary School, the principal forced a teacher to crawl under a table in a faculty meeting because that teacher’s students’ test scores were low.

Interestingly, one aspect of the scandal that has not been covered by the major media is the role of the local teacher unions. While Atlanta’s teacher unions are largely powerless when it comes to actual bargaining and strike powers — unlike many of their northern counterparts, they currently have no collective bargaining rights enshrined into law — one local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was the very first body to internally report cheating to the district superintendent, Dr. Beverly Hall. The report notes this:

ALLEGATIONS OF COVER-UP: Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet received numerous reports of cheating. We found cheating allegations being made to top leadership in the district beginning as early as 2005, and continuing through this investigation. ln many instances, those reports were ignored, superticially investigated, or hidden from view. Parks Middle School APS received three complaints of cheating and other improprieties concerning Parks Middle School and Principal Christopher Waller at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006. Dr. Hall personally received the first complaint on December 22, 2005 from the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, and forwarded this complaint to Dr. Augustine [...]

In the current political climate, teachers unions are often demonized and portrayed as simply institutionally defending the most corrupt members in their ranks. Yet as the APS scandal shows, if Dr. Hall and others had taken the AFT complaints seriously and addressed faculty abuses, this very serious cheating scandal could’ve been avoided. Instead, Dr. Hall created a “culture of fear,” where dissent wasn’t tolerated, discussion was not encouraged, and systematic cheating became a natural result.

Update

AFT President Randi Weingarten provided the following statement to ThinkProgress: “The governor’s investigation found that Atlanta Federation of Teachers was the first to expose cheating in December 2005, but the union’s complaint was ignored and sadly, subsequent whistle-blowers in the district were punished and silenced. We applaud Governor Deal for the thoroughness of his investigation. His actions should provide a model for others to aggressively pursue other cheating investigations, including the District of Columbia. Parents, students and taxpayers deserve no less.”

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