The educators — allegedly at the direction of then-Superintendent Beverly Hall — are said to have systematically conspired to change students’ scores on standardized tests. Nearly 200 city educators have admitted to taking part in the scheme. Hall is accused of conspiracy, making false statements and theft, the later charge stemming from the fact that some of the pay bonuses she received from the school board resulted from the improved test scores.
She and the other alleged ringleaders — including top deputies and principals — are also said to have used intimidation and termination against underlings who didn’t go along with the scheme. A number of teachers are said to have taken part in altering test scores, then accepting bonus money based on the falsified results, then of misleading investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Some of them are alleged to even have attended pizza parties at which the wrong answers on stacks of standardized tests were erased and the correct ones circled. And at least one principal involved is said to have made a point of wearing gloves while handling the test papers so she would not leave fingerprints.
In all, it is a sordid, sordid case, one that came to light in large part due to the dogged investigative work of the Atlanta newspaper. In an era when fewer and fewer Americans are reading newspapers, it is another reminder of the vital role that newspapers play as the watchdogs of our communities.
There are plenty of public officials who would like nothing better than to see the newspapers in their community just disappear, or else serve just as a public relations megaphone ballyhooing those officials’ accomplishments. Likewise, there are other officials from Washington to the local level who talk a good game about the need for “government transparency,” but who in fact try as hard as they can to keep the public in the dark.
The Atlanta cheating scandal (and myriad others) would likely never have come to light without the work of that city’s newspaper, just like many government misdeeds in Marietta and Cobb through the years would never have been reported had it not been for the Marietta Daily Journal.
As bad as the present situation is, it would have been even worse had it continued and had even more Atlanta children and their parents been misled into thinking they were “shooting out the lights” on their tests, when in fact the opposite was the case. And the tragedy would have been compounded even further had the scheme continued to trick taxpayers and everyone else into thinking the city’s long-problematic school system had been miraculously transformed, and that the perpetrators were deserving of further financial reward for their efforts.
There’s no question that the damage caused by this case will be a long time undoing.