Southern Cheats

Atlanta Public Schools - Grade: FGeorgians everywhere should be up in arms over the recent scandalous management of the Atlanta Public Schools. Last week Mike Bowers and Bob Wilson, the two attorneys Gov. Sonny Perdue hired to investigate the problem, were speaking to the Gwinnett Rotary Club.

The situation was bad, extremely bad. Bowers says: “It didn’t stand out like a sore thumb, but like a handful of sore thumbs. It was a total failure of leadership.”

Wilson adds: “The system became more concerned with numbers than the children. It became a data-run system, not one run for the children.”

Bowers and Wilson were charged by Governor Perdue (1) to get to the truth, (2) to produce evidence of who cheated to remove them from office, and (3) to develop information for prosecution. The two long-time attorneys lauded both Perdue and current governor Nathan Deal for their support, asking for two provisions, which they got:

  1. They could call it as they saw it; and
  2. No one would preview the final report.

Bowers says: “Our number one finding was that thousands of children were hurt for lack of a good education for a decade, from the late 90s on. These children will never have a chance to make up for what they did not get, and will be harmed for life.”

They found “undisputable evidence” of cheating in 44 of 56 Atlanta schools. They obtained confessions from teachers in 30 schools. Many told them: “I had no choice, cheat or lose my job.”

Altogether, at least 183 educators were involved, and Bowers feels that was a fraction of the cheating by teachers. “We met a wall of silence from 48 principals in 56 schools. And six principals took the Fifth Amendment to every question we asked them, not wanting to incriminate themselves.”

Wilson adds: “The numbers are really worse than reported,” since the eventual checking of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) was lenient on the high side.

It all sprang from the No Child Left Behind program. They quoted Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall saying: “There were no exceptions and no excuses” when it came to principals meeting the targets. She said to the principals: “If they didn’t meet the targets, she would get someone who will.”

Examples were numerous, as Wilson points out:

  • In 2004-2005, an elementary school went from not meeting standards in one year to a 42 percent improvement in math, and exceeded the standard.
  • In 2006-2007, another school had a 51 percent improvement in language arts.
  • In 2008, one Third Grade was lowest in the entire state’s 1,280 elementary schools, and the next year that same class, now in Fourth Grade, was fourth highest in the state.
  • Another school went from 840th in the state in one year to Number One in the state the next.

Wilson adds: “And the Atlanta Public Schools never questioned these results.”

The lawyers emphasize that some teachers never did anything wrong, and stood up for the students. The key supervisors did not mess with these teachers. But those teachers who were vulnerable were subject to threats.

This entire investigation came after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began writing stories about the test scores in 2004. Wilson says: “We never found anything the AJC reported which did not hold up. But APS never investigated any of these stories, saying it was their good work that caused the test scores to rise.”

Bowers told the Gwinnett audience: “Don’t think it’s about the money. The Atlanta public schools spent an average of $14,498 in 2010 per pupil, and you in Gwinnett spent $8,245 and don’t have such problems. ” (The state average for 2010 was $8,761 per pupil.) More: See this chart.

Mike Bowers and Bob Wilson need to tell their stories to every statewide educational association in Georgia. And when they do, we bet some faces in the audience will be red.

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Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.