20 years in prison for cheating?

Photo credit: Kent D. Johnson

Photo credit: Kent D. Johnson

Educators in Atlanta were convicted of cheating on standardized tests yesterday. They allegedly gave students answers or changed the answers themselves. It was a sad end to the legacy of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was previously celebrated for her achievements in turning the school district around–she had been named Superintendent of the Year and was hosted at the White House for her role in dramatically raising Atlanta’s test scores, all while collecting performance bonuses of $500,000. Hall died last month and was not present to see the verdict, nor did she have to stand trial (she had been granted a later trial because of health concerns). 11 of 12 educators were convicted of racketeering, a charge that is usually used against organized crime syndicates or similar offenders. Some of these teachers could spend up to 20 years in prison.

I think this is an extremely complicated case. People are already angry over school testing, and there is reason to be angry. 20 years in the slammer seems extraordinarily high–teachers accused of cheating who testified against the others only got probation–but then again, as the judge reminded everyone yesterday, those who decided to go to trial cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Beverly Hall got rich off the alleged cheating, but I don’t know if that money found its way down to the rest of the teachers. It definitely didn’t find its way down to the schools themselves. In fact, some of these schools lost federal aid because their test scores were too high to qualify. Ethical decisions are often complicated. See more at the New Yorker:

But he worried that his students would struggle with questions that were delivered in paragraph form. Some of his seventh-grade students were still reading by sounding out the letters. It seemed unfair that the concepts were “buried in words.” Lewis felt that he had pushed them to work harder than they ever had in their lives. “I’m not going to let the state slap them in the face and say they’re failures,” he told me. “I’m going to do everything I can to prevent the why-try spirit.”

It’s actually a very good point, even if this teacher clearly broke the law and crossed an ethical boundary that he had no right to cross. Oftentimes teachers in these poorer schools are very good teachers; it’s just that it’s difficult to teach within the culture of these schools and the broken families in which their students live. The “why-try spirit” is a very real problem. If you read about Lewis’s background, it’s clear that he had reasons to do what he did. It’s seems clear that he was trying to do what he thought was best for his students.

Others focus on the other side. There’s an opinion piece at the Chicago Tribune:

Recall that in announcing the indictments in 2013, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard highlighted the case of a third-grader who failed a benchmark exam. The girl was held back but soon passed another assessment test.

 

The girl’s mother “knew something was wrong (with the second result) but was told by school officials that the child simply was a good test-taker,” The Associated Press reported. The girl advanced, but when she reached ninth grade, she was reading at a fifth-grade level.

 

There’s no undoing the damage inflicted on untold numbers of children here. Those students can’t be reimbursed for their lost opportunities to learn.

Thoughts?

12 thoughts on “20 years in prison for cheating?

  1. @Byron,

    I had seen the news. I was wondering are the students that graduated fraudulently required to pass their high school again, and have their college admissions reevaluated for fairness to students who actually study and graduate.

    I have mentioned (other have I am sure) how students are just allowed to move to higher grades with their peer.

    “But he worried that his students would struggle with questions that were delivered in paragraph form. Some of his seventh-grade students were still reading by sounding out the letters.”

    I think its a serious problem when seventh-graders whose native language is English are unable to read in their native language that has only 26 alphabets. I have been a student. I had to learn three languages (yeah Snoopy, I was not making up about languages) that are not my native language that I speak at home. So, I do know something about struggling to read.

    I found a simple remedy. I just got up early before everyone at home, and kept on reading the same text again and again. After about a month or so, my reading improved. This coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy learning foreign languages. Reading is not hard after you practice it over and over.

    I don’t want to down play being poor. Despite the disadvantages, find 30 minutes a day to read out the text loud.

    13-14 yr olds not being able to read paragraphs in their native language is just bull shit. There is no excuse for that unless you are clinically retarded.

  2. but then again, as the judge reminded everyone yesterday, those who decided to go to trial cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

    What logic is this coming from a judge? If cases never go to trial, how the hell would we know if the prosecutors have a strong case?

  3. Those educators are indeed heroes, they were fighting the the good fight for black kids to get into college. Without them, affirmative action would be much harder to implement because universities would have to pick someone who score 800 on SAT over an Asian nerd with 2200 on SAT to give admission and scholarships to.
    20 years is obviously too much, but don’t worry, the NAACP will pay to get them the best accommodation and services in prison and bribe the media, politicians, and judges to pardon them soon.

  4. Sengge,

    I think the judge was trying to say that the defendants had no case. American judges often say stuff like this–they don’t want to waste taxpayer money on cases that are clear and obvious. It looks like this judge in particular warned them that it was wiser to take a deal. Most of my lawyer friends get pissed off at frivolous cases or weak defenses too.

    Kyrie:

    I share your anger at affirmative racism. We all hate racism. But these teachers had some serious issues that they had to deal with on a daily basis. It’s not easy to teach kids who have really hard lives, as their kids did. See my comment below to John.

    John,

    I agree with you in theory. Not to make excuses (like our favorite liberal friend), but if you have time, the New Yorker talks about the backgrounds of some of these kids:

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/wrong-answer

    I think the “why-try spirit” is very common among these kids, so they don’t even try. It’s heartbreaking to think that kids live like this–it sounds like few of these kids even had fathers in their lives. So yes, it’s probably easy to learn, but lots of these kids won’t do it because they don’t believe they can.

  5. Kyrie,

    Also, kids like these are rarely the beneficiaries of affirmative action. Remember what John Doe and Snoopy Jenkins uncovered together: Race-based affirmative action more often helps rich black kids rather than poor black kids. Affirmative action is based on race, not culture.

  6. @Byron,

    “the New Yorker talks about the backgrounds of some of these kids:”

    Its a long article … I read carefully the initial parts about the kids, and then mostly skimmed. Seems like there is an obsession about graduate rates and retention rates in this country. Lot of these ideas come from the college of higher education.

    So, first thing first. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree in education has to be publicly flogged 200 times, master’s get 500 lashes, PhD gets 2000 lashes, and the professors handing out these worthless degrees get 5000 lashes.

    No Child Left Behind: This fits into the college of education mumbo-jumbo of graduation rates, learning be damned. We all know a bachelor in education was a staunch supporter and advocate of this train wreck.

    Every child is different, and they come from different background. So, to expect some theoretical graduation rate in every school is stupid. Not everyone is going to graduate high school or college. We still need people to pick up apples and oranges in the farms.

    Instead of graduation rates, it would have been better to focus on learning such as a 3rd grader must know multiplication, addition and subtraction, reading simple chapter books to graduate to 4th grade. Then you wouldn’t have a 7th grader who cannot read a paragraph.

    Bottom line: No matter how poor the students are, they have to be held to the same standard. The job of the teachers and govt is to find ways to bring students to an acceptable level instead of focusing on graduation rates and retention rates. You cannot blame teachers for poor student performance. If you want to measure teacher performance, have a couple of administrative/peer evaluations where you see if the teacher had a well thought out syllabus and time line. If the time line was followed to complete the required materials.

    Some friends who teach English and Math in college tells me that they provide special watered down English and Math classes for the college of education. And these are the education majors who end up teaching in schools. In my volunteer work with a local school I had to deal with a PhD in education whose math (and possibly reading) was atrocious. This Dr. in education would fail 8th grade math.

    In the NY article check to see how many education majors were involved. These people are useless. All useless pedagogy training without any content.

  7. John:

    So, first thing first. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree in education has to be publicly flogged 200 times, master’s get 500 lashes, PhD gets 2000 lashes, and the professors handing out these worthless degrees get 5000 lashes.

    That is some hard immigrant love!

    It’s so complicated. I just don’t know how these kids could possibly keep up with kids who don’t go through what they have to go through. I was talking to someone offline and saying that maybe they should just have lower standards for certain schools, but I was reminded that that would never fly in lawsuit-loving America. So much of education is culture, and as you can see from our conversations here, lots of people consider it wrong or even “racist” to try to change culture, even if it means more success.

    As far as I’ve seen, the far left is still confused on the family/culture arguments. David Brooks and Ross Douthat have reported on this:

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/left-and-right-family-and-economics/

    But lots of this, of course, is common sense, which the far left often lacks. A one-parent household simply has half the manpower/womanpower of a two-parent household.

    Given that parents and peers have a much larger influence on kids than teachers, one has to wonder if it really is possible for most kids to overcome these cultural barriers. I know the far left has pretty much declared that they won’t even try.

  8. @Byron,

    “It’s so complicated. I just don’t know how these kids could possibly keep up with kids who don’t go through what they have to go through. I was talking to someone offline and saying that maybe they should just have lower standards for certain schools”

    Lowering the standard is not the solution. We can’t have a second set of easier exams for kids that have a hard life. That would be problematic on so many levels besides the obvious one that a diploma or a degree is only worthwhile if the employers think it stands for some quality control. Education is the only industry where customers pay, and can’t demand to get a product after a guaranteed period of time. Florida (or was it Virginia?) tried an idea where they put different thresholds for competency based on race (Asians needed highest, Blacks needed lowest scores).

    A second track, technical school kind of setup might be useful but it won’t be acceptable in the US.

  9. Kyrie said: “…but don’t worry, the NAACP will pay to get them the best accommodation and services in prison and bribe the media, politicians, and judges to pardon them soon.”

    You vastly overestimate the power of the NAACP.

    That being said none of the teachers will serve 20 years or even half that. No should they. But they should be punished.

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