Dem-Controlled Atlanta Schools Rob Minority Students of Their Futures

Editor’s note: The following is the fifth in a series of FrontPage articles that will unmask the racial injustice of Democrat-controlled education by examining some of the nation’s worst (and biggest spending) school districts. Read our previous reports on the public school systems of  Washington, D.C.DetroitPhiladelphia and Chicago

The Atlanta Public School system (APS) bears a strikingly depressing resemblance to all the other big city school systems chronicled in this series. Yet it does stand out in one respect: APS was the epicenter of the biggest cheating scandal in the nation. And once again, in a Democrat-controlled school district where more than eight-in-ten children are black Americans, it is those children who bear the burden of a system enmeshed in a culture of corruption and failure.

The details of the scandal are shocking. A state investigation discovered that 178 teachers and principals, 82 of whom subsequently confessed, were engaged in the rigging of test scores at 44 schools. Investigators concluded that those schools, comprising nearly half of the city’s total number, and located mostly in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, had been cheating for as along as a decade. As a result, tens of thousands of minority children were routinely advanced to higher grade levels, even as they remained unable to grasp fundamental concepts.

According to the report, administrators who felt pressured by the the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law created a climate of “fear, intimidation and retaliation,” so oppressive that teachers felt they had no other choice but to go along with the subterfuge. “Everybody was in fear,” said a teacher in the report. “It is not that the teachers are bad people and want to do it. It is that they are scared.”

Most of that fear was engendered by former school superintendent Beverly L. Hall. Hall was hired in 1999, coming in with an undeserved reputation as a savior, despite leaving behind a still-troubled Newark school system that she ran so badly, the local chapter of the NAACP was glad to see her go. Moreover, she took over the APS even as she remained the target of a New Jersey State Senate investigation probing what happened to $58 million dollars of taxpayer funds under her control.

In Atlanta, Hall made it clear to principals that if test scores did not improve, they would be fired. During her ten years at the helm of the APS, she made good on her threat: 90 percent of the principals serving under her were terminated. The report minced no words describing her tenure. “Fear of termination and public ridicule in faculty and principals meetings drove numerous educators to cross ethical lines,” it said. “Further, because targets rose annually, teachers found it increasingly difficult to achieve them.” The report also noted that “Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet accepted accolades when those below them performed well, but they wanted none of the burdens of failure.”

Hall, who was named the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year, remained defiant regarding the scandal. “Cheating on the CRCT (Criterion Reference Competency Test) in 2009 or earlier by no means undermines the clear indication of improvement shown by the annual testing of all segments of our student population as part of the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) performed and monitored independently by agents of the federal government’s National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP),” she contended.

In 2011, Binghamton University Professor Lawrence C. Stedman analyzed Atlanta’s performance on NAEP tests during Hall’s tenure in order to assess her assertion. He concluded that it was little more than self-serving. According to Stedman, APS students lag 1-2 years behind national averages on the NAEP, and “vast percentages” of Atlanta school children cannot reach the NAEP’s basic level of achievement. In grades 4 and 8, where testing is done to assess overall progress, less than 25 percent of the students were rated proficient. In other subjects and grades, 90 percent of students lacked proficiency. Stedman’s most damnable conclusion? “At current rates, it will take from 50 to 110 years to bring all students to proficiency,” he wrote.

In chronicling other urban school systems, it has been useful to compare the disparity between local test scores and those on the NAEP, which are usually lower. In this case, it is impossible to do so with any assurance that such information would be valid. The achievement gap is also impossible to determine, because closing it was one of the motivations behind the cheating scandal. Yet there can be no denying that even with falsely boosted test results, the graduation rate of APS students remains dismal: only 52 percent of APS students currently graduate.

Thus, it was totally unsurprising that on Election Day, Georgians passed Amendment 1 by a whopping 58-42 percent margin. Amendment 1 grants the state the power to approve charter schools, irrespective of a local school board’s objections. Under the prior law, charter school applicants were required to get the approval of the local school board. If the application was rejected, they could appeal to the Georgia Board of Education. Those who supported the amendment contended they did so because Georgia’s schools are terrible, and competition will likely result in improvement.

Naturally the teachers union was against the measure, along with a coalition of black lawmakers, and civil rights groups, including the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP. Ironically, the antipathy aimed at the genuine competition charters represent was framed in racial terms when a legendary civil rights figure, 91-year-old Rev. Joseph Lowery, appeared in ads pleading with Georgians not to let law makers “resegregate our schools.” There are currently 13 charters operating in the Atlanta school district and, like other urban school districts where demand for a decent education outstrips supply, a lottery system is the only avenue of escape from the APS. Mr. Lowery, et al., would be wise to focus on the kind of genuine segregation such a system represents.

On the other hand, the teachers union’s support for the status quo of endemic scandal and dismal achievement is not hard to fathom. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the average salary paid to an Atlanta teacher is $94,068. According to the APS, it is  $85,675.93 when a 30 percent benefit package is included in the mix. Either way, teachers are extremely well-compensated. Adding insult to injury, some of the APS educators involved in the cheating scandal were also paid approximately $500,000 in merit pay for achieving the phony higher test scores. Beverly Hall pulled down $580,000 in “performance” bonuses as well, over the course of her tenure.

Hall was allowed to resign without penalty. Several of the teachers caught up in the scandal are refusing to follow her lead, despite the possibility of criminal charges, because, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) puts it, they have “little incentive” to do so. Union job protections allow for only eight “fireable” offenses, and school districts must prove teachers are guilty. This results in a time-consuming and expensive process that has cost the district $6.2 million in salaries for suspended educators, and $700,000 in legal fees–so far. Both numbers are expected to increase as the investigation goes on. Moreover, even if the suspected teachers are fired, they are still entitled to employment hearings that will cost an average of $9000 per teacher.

Such nonsense goes a long way towards explaining why the APS, much like its counterparts in other urban schools systems, is coping with budget problems. The $574.7 million budget approved for FY2013 included termination of 375 non-teaching positions, and cutting the school year by four “furlough days” rather than two.

Finally, as this series on failing urban schools systems has revealed, Democrats dominate the political landscape in Atlanta. Despite losing the State to Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, President Obama carried Atlanta’s Fulton County by a whopping thirty percentage points. In the 2008 U.S. Senate election, several of the city’s districts voted more than 90 percent Democrat. As the AJC notes, black Georgians “vote overwhelmingly Democratic.”

APS’s current Superintendent is Erroll B. Davis Jr., another ostensible reformer who took over after Hall resigned. He brings a different perspective to the job and he has made it clear that he will not tolerate any further cheating. “My policy is zero tolerance,” he said in 2011, after removing a teacher from a classroom following the investigation of a complaint. “I do not want people who cheat teaching children. Can I do that? We’ll find out. If I lose, so be it, sue me.” Davis’s contract was just renewed in December, yet his position remains tenuous because the Atlanta Public Schools’ Board of Education can still hire a permanent superintendent, or the school board can cancel his contract by a 5-4 vote. Both provisions require giving him 90 days notice.

Maybe Davis will clean up the system. But the damage to thousands of black school children in Atlanta has already been done, just as it will continue to be done, by a status quo of unions and their Democratic enablers who have turned a blind eye to massive corruption and endemic failure. In a better world, the entire concept of union-controlled public school education as it currently exists would be jettisoned. Yet as long as big-city voters keep supporting a corrupt Democrat-union alliance, genuine reform likely remains impossible–and as in every other city chronicled in this series, black and minority children will be hurt the most.

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  • adinakutnicki

    The Dem controlled teacher's unions are lockstep with radical politics. Hence, they are not attuned to educational spheres, rather they are mental boot camps. As such, they have made sure that Billy boy Ayers, and wifey Dohrn, are the teacher's teachers –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

    • Mary Sue

      They are the ideological descendants of radical socialist education "expert" John Dewey who made a name for himself starting the roots for this garbage in American Public Education in the 1920s.

  • KTH

    The proverbial cat is out of the bag…again!
    Black people are responsible for Black problems.
    This is criminal activity and was not and WILL not be dealt with appropriately – Supt. Hall was allowed to resign without penalty and she received $580,000 in performance bonuses during her tenure which, of course she was allowed to keep!
    That'll really teach HER a lesson! lol!!!
    She will do the same thing again, bet your boots!

  • κατεργάζομαι

    RE: "Dem-Controlled Atlanta Schools Rob Minority Students of Their Futures"

    The Democrat-controlled DE, & NEA unions & the Left's policies Rob ALL Students!
    ….(especially the TaxPayers)

    Before the 1960s, the concept of identity politics in America did not exist. Keep in mind that some of the highest per-pupil spending in the Country is the Washington D.C. school system.

    The real betrayal is the beleaguered TAXPAYER. So screw the dialectic of "minority-centric" school system arguments!

  • ltcdmward

    Sounds like the APS is, rather than an education system, another system of warehouses — with few "goods" on the shelves. Wonder where the 48% who do not graduate wind up; certainly not at Penn State but State pens. In all sincerity, why do Black Americans put up with all this and the teacher's salaries, benefits, and — don't even mention — their retirement plans? Perpetual day care it seems.

    • SFLBIB

      "… why do Black Americans put up with all this …"

      Several reasons. 1) success in school is "acting white"; 2) blacks vote for Democrats because Dems promise them, "I'm for you against the rich and powerful [read "whites"]; 3) success in school requires individual effort, and as a group, blacks wait for government to do it for them [see Hurricane Katrina].

  • Questions

    Who does the author think runs Atlanta public schools? Whites? Blacks, who have controlled politics in that city for more than 30 years, are the victimizers here, not just the victims. To keep defining everything in the world one doesn't like as "Democrat" distorts the nature of an issue. Party membership is merely a means to an end; the end itself is dictated by racial/ethnic and other loyalties which shape principles.

    • JacksonPearson

      Nothings distorted…
      Your argument is full of holes. It's common knowledge that most, if not all public employee unions financially support the democrat party. Next, most blacks, for whatever unknown reasons, are still on the democrat plantation and vote democrat.

      • Questions

        It is you who are filled with cliched Tea Party-style nonsense. Democratic Party urban politics has been built on advancing or accomodating black racial grievance since the 1960s riots. Blacks aren't prisoners on some "liberal plantation." They OWN the plantation. And it's white conservatives and white liberals alike, shivering scared of being called "racist," who can't muster the courage to fight black demands.

        So long as we conservatives insist on seeing blacks as victims instead of the victimizers they really are, things will get worse — and not just in Atlanta.

    • Parenthetical Phrase

      I agree with you, Questions. Let's look at all the groups opposed to reform: black teachers, coalition of black lawmakers, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Council and black clergy. This is indicative of a culture irrespective of politics or party affiliation. I read Thomas Sowell's book, "Black Rednecks and White Liberals", along with his autobiography which talks about the attitudes of black educators at traditionally black colleges. It is outrageous. "Keep 'em dumb, angry and dependent." That is the philosophy 99% of black politicians, clergy and professional community organizers. And black people most often fall for it.

  • JacksonPearson

    "Union job protections allow for only eight “fireable” offenses, and school districts must prove teachers are guilty."

    For the above reasons alone, are why public employee unions need to be dismantled and banned, from coast to coast, including Hawaii, and Alaska!

    • Parenthetical Phrase

      Hopefully this will happen. How can the rest of the public tolerate such unfairness?

  • κατεργάζομαι

    HOTLANTA, De-Twah, D.C., Chicago, are Democrat-controlled epicenters of educational fraud, corruption, welfare abuse, social failures and are too, political-polemic cesspools.

    However, Their Never Lacking Attribute is: PRIDE & SELF-ESTEEM!

  • Brujo Blanco

    We have entered the age of outcome based activities. As long as we achieve the desired outcome it is ok to lie and cheat. Education is not improved by pencil whipping documents. I have met many individuals who have high school diplomas but are functionally illiterate. in other words they cannot read.


    "Hall was hired in 1999, coming in with an undeserved reputation as a savior, despite leaving behind a still-troubled Newark school system that she ran so badly, …"

    Do you mean they have "The Turkey Trot" [AKA, "Dance of the Lemons"] for upper management too?

    • κατεργάζομαι

      Replying to SFLBIB

      RE: "Do you mean they have "The Turkey Trot" [AKA, "Dance of the Lemons"]"

      [AKA, "Dance of the Lemons"] – lol. We always called that the "Green Apple Quick-step"

      Or, as my Great Grandmother would caution children that eating too much fresh fruit (cherries) would make them, – "Ps-s-s-c-h-t way out yonder"

  • DrBukk

    My baby sister taught at a charter school near Albany, GA. After the 1st year of success which embarrassed the public school system, they began transferring the most difficult students to her school to bring down scores. They still surpassed the others. But, that 8th grade Criterion test was a test of survival. "Do I cheat and pass this obnoxious, stupid, bully or do I face him again next year when he is even bigger and more racially resentful?"

    Also, I will never forget one of the funniest headlines in the Atlanta paper ever printed.
    "Principal, "The further they gets the behinder they gets"." (Speaking of how blacks are about equal in abilities at 2nd grade but fall way behind by 8th grade.)

  • jzsnaake

    And $11,125 is spent per pupil for this failure.

  • martin

    It is clearly obvious that the problem of low minority achievement in these schools is caused by whites. If whites would leave blacks alone then these schools would do really well. One only has to watch Hollywood or the TV to learn how capable blacks are and how inept whites are, once white privilege has been taken away

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