In a previous post [“Atlanta, we have a problem”] I asked readers to consider the facts about the cheating scandal that led to criminal convictions for a network of Atlanta teachers and administrators. This post is part two of a three part look at the scandal.
We still don’t have the story right about Atlanta. We’re still hearing all the wrong questions. What if the convicted educators were white? Why were they charged under racketeering laws? Why fault them for succumbing to crazy expectations in a test-obsessed education culture?
Maybe a study (summarized by APS here) that shows a disproportionate impact on black students will get us back on track. It says “while 75% of APS students are black, 98% of the students identified as having the largest number of erasures on their answer documents (10 or more) are black.”
That’s what this case is about. Let’s focus people.
The impact on math for students in 1st and 2nd grade are consistent with having a novice teacher rather than one with 5 or more years experience. For reading, arguably the most important discipline because it is foundational for all others, the story is worse.
The study says:
[b]eing cheated had negative consequences for later student performance… The estimated impacts are in the range of one‐fourth to one‐half of the average annual achievement gain for a middle school student. This is equivalent to one to two times the difference between having a rookie teacher and one with 5 or more years of experience in a single year…
So why aren’t we focusing on the kids here who lost ground academically and the impact on their lives rather than the plight of the well-paid, educated people charged with cheating them?
Why are we ignoring what Judge Jerry Baxter said during the sentencing hearings: “There are victims that are in the jail that I have sentenced…there’s some of them that were the most vulnerable children in our city and they were shortchanged, they were passed on, and now unfortunately they’re in the prison system. And that’s the tragedy of all tragedies.
I think I know why.
Students are “Dumb as hell”
Maybe we think too poorly of the victims. They are poor. They are black. That in itself tells a thousand stories that could be tagged under the category of “belief gap.”
Shayla Smith, a math teacher accused of cheating provides the most elegant example. She reportedly told one of her APS colleagues “I had to give your students the answers to the questions because they’re dumb as hell.”
To her credit she came clean once busted. She admitted she was wrong. She accepted responsibility and apologized to her victims, saying:
My actions were not only improper, they do not reflect my true heart. And for this I apologize. To every child that has been affected I apologize. I recognize as a teacher I have a voice and with that voice the power to influence.
Contrition earned her leniency from the court. Probation, community service, and a fine. People of good faith should consider that a fair outcome.
Still, let’s be clear about the reason social media was abuzz with pictures of other “educators” being lead away from the courts with stiffer sentences. Unlike Ms. Smith they refused responsibility even after thousands of our hours of investigations, a tower of evidence, and direct testimony from credible colleagues.
En route to smacking them with outlandish sentences – 7 to 20 years prison time – Judge Baxter said their stubbornness, not the court, condemned them.
“people will tell you I bend over backwards when people take responsibility to try and give them a [fair] shake. But the reality is if you don’t accept responsibility and there is not recognition of harm then a lot of times you get what you deserve.”
Watching video of the sentencing hearings it’s apparent that the accused were gambling. They risked jail time against the chance to maintain their standing, and to defend their future right to appeal convictions in the remote chance that their professional credentials might earn a living. Watch for yourself and tell me if I’m wrong. Then, watch what eight of them said about rejecting a last minute plea deal that would have spared them jail time (and saved us all the embarrassing theater).
One of them, Michael Pitts, a former top APS district leader was indignant. “[Y]ou got fine educators here,” he said about the felons standing with him.
Then he cautioned us about the the educators who testified against him, saying:
[t]he educators who are back in the schools who cheated and came here [to court] and told everything and came and said we made them cheat because they were scared of us and all that, they’re back there teaching your kids. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
No remorse. No contrition. No surrender, no retreat. Just contemptuousness for accountability, and an insufferable level of middle-class privilege.
If that’s not enough, Christopher Waller is an even better example of the self-preserving, delusional, and detached privilege that saturates this scandal. He was the principal from Parks Middle School who accepted a plea that let him walk with community service, a fine, and probation. Since, he written a book called “Cheating but not Cheated” (this might be the very definition of too soon).
In the book he says:
I want to clarify the difference between cheating and cheating children. One of the major media frenzies out of this scandal was that children were cheated. After working at the school for more than five years and seeing the means of the students and the families in the Parks Middle School community, I highly took offense to that, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on why I know children at Parks Middle School were not cheated. Cheating did take place at Parks Middle School, but our children were not cheated.
Are we really this lost? Are we so off track with racial politics that we can’t call out obvious middle class absurdities like these even when our children are hurt? Have we forgotten that many of history’s frauds and atrocities committed against our humanity were done with the the help of a select cohort of our own people?
Where was all this outrage when Kelley Williams-Bolar caught a case and did jail time for “stealing” a public education by enrolling her child in a high performing school district where she didn’t live? Where was the anger when Tanya McDowell was charged by police with “stealing” over $15,000 in educational services in Connecticut, or when Yolanda Hill faced criminal charges for enrolling her children in a suburban New York school district to get them a better education?
Where is the outrage now as more than 100 parents have received criminal summons in Louisiana because their children have missed school?
Why have the cases of these black women and their children failed to inflame mass sympathies and backlash?
Why are the people speaking up for the APS middle-class felons silent when public education criminalizes the poor?
Do we think so little of our children that we choose to stand up for those that consider them “dumb as hell” and too disposable to teach, rather than the kids themselves who we know to be infinite with potential and worthy of better?
Here’s what I know: tomorrow black and brown people, mostly poor, will be ushered through countless court rooms with routine efficiency. The book will be thrown at them. Many of them will be charged with survival crimes, which is one consistent byproduct of failing public schools, low expectations for high opportunity youth, and class loyalties that disfavor the poor in our “justice” system.
Most of the accused will stand alone.
They will not have their tough sentences reduced as a result of respectable blacks and their allies boiling over with classist heat. Unlike the educators who abused power and position; abused their colleagues; lowered public esteem for a critical institution; and hurt children in the process; they will not benefit from the complex, ironic, and cruel double standard marking contrasts between bad actors with advanced educations, and those poor souls robbed of the same.
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young will probably not come to tell their judges and prosecutors “I’ve never understood putting brilliant people in jail” as he did for the APS educators.
The daughter of American civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King will not be there to offer help as she did here.
The black, brown, and poor defendants in court tomorrow will most certainly not get the bougie break.
Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud
My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.
My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.
I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.
Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?
Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.
I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.
Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.
Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.
In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.
a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.
And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.
“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.
Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.
The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.
And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.
But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.
And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.
Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!
Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!
Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.
So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?
According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”
His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.
“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.
See his powerful speech below.
It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education
The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.
I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.
In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.
Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.
Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.
“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.
Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:
People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.
If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?
Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”
Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.
During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.
Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”
Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:
…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.
Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically, the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?
Again, only she can say.
In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.
In supporting Pataki’s push she said:
It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.
Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?
Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.
Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:
Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.
If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.
But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.
Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.
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