Those who believe in public education cannot help but be saddened, perhaps stunned, by Friday’s announcement that former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 other professional educators in the city’s school system had been indicted by a grand jury on racketeering charges for their roles in a test cheating scandal.
It’s a long way from indictment to conviction, but the process of having grand jurors say there is sufficient cause for prosecution bring into clear focus the enormity of the cheating allegations that have hovered like a black cloud over the Atlanta system for the past several years.
The racketeering charge stems from the fact that the accused are suspected of having changed student tests scores in order to reap personal financial benefits that came from reaching certain achievement goals.
It likely will be a long time before the case plays out in court, before all the evidence is weighed and verdicts are issued. But regardless of the ultimate outcome, there is no escaping the damage done to the school system’s credibility, and to the image of public education on a grander scale.
For years, many in the world of education have bemoaned the priority placed on standardized test scores as a means of judging academic achievement. Perhaps it was inevitable that as the demand for using such scores as a measure of accountability increased, so too did the likelihood that some would be willing to falsely inflate their students’ scores for personal gain.
We don’t yet know the end result of what will be a historic and precedent setting prosecution. No one has yet been found guilty of any crime, thought what the scandal has done to the reputation of public education is criminal in itself.
But there are some things we do know:
• There is too much emphasis on the results of standardizing testing as a means of proving how well educators are doing their jobs. That such is the case, however, does nothing to excuse the sort of behavior in which the accused are suspected of participating.
• A scandal such as the one in Atlanta makes us appreciate more than ever the quality of our local school system, and the job being done by professional educators at all levels here in Forsyth County.
• The real losers in this scandal are not the teachers and administrators whose actions have been called into question, but rather the students they cheated out of an opportunity for a better education.
• If these educators are found guilty, they need to go to jail, some for a long time, not only because of what they did, but as a warning to others who might be tempted to do the same.
It remains to be seen whether the indictments issued last week will result in convictions, but there’s no escaping the black eye given public education by the scandal in the state’s capital city.