Atlanta school officials reprimanded for continued obstruction in cheating probe

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

Georgia state officials, investigating a culture of “intimidating, threatening and retaliating” against Atlanta Public School employees who come forward with information about widespread cheating and corruption in the system, sent a letter to the school board on Wednesday, demanding that the obstructive practices cease immediately.

Investigators appointed last summer by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, say they have found evidence that the district-wide cheating on the state’s standardized test, the CRTC, has been going on for years. Since the early 2000’s, they say that the district engaged in “a pattern and practice” of punishing employees who reported cheating, or asked questions how the CRTC was managed.

The three state investigators who signed the letter, Mike Bowers, Bob Wilson and Richard Hyde, said the district repeatedly acted to intimidate witnesses during their own investigation, by having principals accused of changing test scores stand outside the room were witnesses were giving statements “with the obvious intent to make their presence known and to put a chilling effect on the staff member being interviewed.”

The letter also detailed accusations that a high level official in the district encouraged principals to refuse to cooperate with state investigators, and instead, write “go to hell” memos to state agents.

Even after the district learned of the official’s illegal actions, it waited two months before taking action, consisting of re-assigning the employee. During that period, the official took retaliatory action against at least one whistleblowing district employee.

The state investigators also demanded that the district immediately stop their own investigation, believing it was intended to further suppress information. District Superintendent Beverly Hall responded by denying the district was investigating anything, saying only that it was “conducting an analysis.”

Before the scandal was exposed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta school system was heralded as a model of success by turning around a poorly performing school system in just a few years’ time.

In 2008, the AJC reported that an independent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania determined that the vastly improved test scores were statistically impossible.

Ultimately, outside investigators found widespread evidence of cheating in at least 58 schools. Test sheets showed that incorrect answers were erased on tests, and correct answers were substituted. Investigators also said that many teachers admitted to changing test results, and supplying questions and answers to students before handing out tests.

Largely based on the phony scoring achievements, the district’s Superintendent Hall, was named 2009 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. In May 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the National Board of Education Sciences.

The AJC reported last month that the district has punished teachers that have reported the cover up of  cheating and other illegal activities, and has rewarded those who keep quiet.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

Georgia mayor suspended over missing $575,000 in city funds

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

A special commission appointed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has suspended longtime Broxton Mayor Bobby Reynolds.

Reynolds was indicted in December, along with his daughter, the former city clerk, over the disappearance of $575,000 in city funds. In December, a Coffee County grand jury charged Reynolds, 69, with two felony counts of violating his oath of office, two misdemeanor counts of malfeasance of office and a single count of failing to take and file the proper oath of office.

His daughter, Tracy Lott, 48, was charged with two counts of theft by taking and one count of making false statements. Last year, the City Commission fired her after an audit dating back to 2000 determined the money was missing.

Both Reynolds and Lott pleaded not guilty.

Officials said that Reynolds failed to have audits conducted on city finances since 1999, a condition of receiving monies from the state.

Reynolds was accused of failing to oversee the city finances and failing to supervise his daughter. During the period Jan. 1, 2008 though mid-July 2009, she overpaid herself at least $15,000 in salary. She also lied to Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents about the overpayments.

If convicted, Reynolds faces up to 13 years behind bars, and Lott faces 35 years.

The Florida Times-Union

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

Georgia public school principal suspends kids for one day to improve test results

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

A Dekalb County elementary school teacher, who suspended 13 poorly-performing students a day before state-wide standardized tests were administered, has resigned.

Principal Angela Jennings of Rock Chapel Elementary in Lithonia, Georgia, admitted in a memo to Dekalb County School Superintendent Ramona Tyson, that she suspended the children because she was ““worried about the effect certain students would have on her school’s chance to make annual yearly progress, or AYP.”

She said “before the CRCT, I sent a letter to the parents of 13 students advising that they would be withdrawn due to poor attendance, which would cause the school not to make AYP.”

Tyson passed the information of to the state’s Professional Standards Commission, seeking an opinion whether any ethics violations might have been triggered.

Gary Walker, of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, said the case was not the first of its kind. He said that in another county, a principal suspended 86 children before the state exam. “Yeah, they were withdrawn one day, and a day later they were reinstated. They were out one day,” he said.

No word on whether Jennings will be disciplined, as her case is making its way through the Professional Standards Commission.

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

Atlanta Public Schools in danger of losing accreditation

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

An educational standards agency said Tuesday it has placed Atlanta Public Schools on probation and given the system nine months to make improvements or risk losing accreditation for its high schools. Losing that standing could diminish grant money and make it harder for graduates to get into college.

The system’s board has failed to meet standards on governance and leadership set by accrediting agency AdvancED, said its president and CEO Mark Elgart.

“The reason for probation is the issues are serious,” Elgart said at a news conference in Alpharetta, where the agency has a corporate office. “They not only affect the effective governance of the board but they affect the future direction of the school system and its ability to provide a quality education for all students.”

Board Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El said the district is taking the report very seriously and will address all of the concerns in a transparent manner.

“I want to make this absolutely clear, retention of our accreditation is a top priority for this board and administration because the academic standing and reputation of the district is at stake,” he said.

Losing accreditation could put the 50,000-student district in danger of losing private grants and could keep students from gaining admission and winning scholarships at some colleges.

The agency’s move is relatively rare. Of the roughly 5,000 districts nationwide that AdvancED has accredited, only eight are currently on probation, said spokeswoman Jennifer Oliver.

Schools remain accredited during the probation, which doesn’t apply to elementary and middle schools because they are outside the agency’s purview. The system has nine months to make progress toward better-governance requirements outlined by the agency.

Complaints that the school board wasn’t governing effectively prompted AdvancED to make an onsite visit in December and review school system documents.

The board had become divided after the launch of an investigation of allegations of cheating on standardized tests. After months of bickering, four members filed a lawsuit in October alleging that the board’s chairman and vice chairwoman were improperly elected to the leadership positions. They had to give up the positions as part of a settlement, though El became chairman again in a subsequent vote.

To keep its accreditation, the board must develop a long-term education strategy, hire an impartial mediator to resolve board disputes and put in place a transparent process for selecting a new superintendent, among other requirements. The system will have to convince Elgart’s group that it’s making “authentic progress” on those requirements by the end of September, he said.

The Associated Press

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

New Georgia agriculture commissioner orders slavery murals off walls

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

Murals of slaves harvesting sugar cane on a Georgia plantation and picking and ginning cotton are coming off the walls of a state building on the order of a new agriculture commissioner.

The murals are part of a collection of eight works painted by George Beattie in 1956 depicting an idealized version of Georgia farming, from the corn grown by prehistoric American Indians to a 20th-century veterinary lab. In the Deep South, the history in between includes the forced use of slave labor.

“I don’t like those pictures,” said Republican Gary Black, the newly elected agriculture commissioner. “There are a lot of other people who don’t like them.”

Slavery was indisputably part of 19th-century farming in Georgia. By 1840, more than 280,000 slaves were living in the state, many as field hands. Just before the Civil War, slaves made up about 40 percent of the state’s population.

Beattie’s murals tell part of the story. In one painting, two well-dressed white gentlemen in top hats and dress coats leisurely inspect processed cotton. They’re framed on either side by black slaves doing the backbreaking work of cotton farming.

On the left, a slave hunches over to pick cotton bolls by hand. Two other slaves are using the infamous Whitney gin – invented near Savannah – to separate cotton fiber from seeds as a white overseer weighs cotton bags behind them.

“I think we can depict a better picture of agriculture,” Black said.

There are no signs of the whippings, beatings, shackles or brutality used to subjugate the slaves, who appear healthy, muscular, even robust.

Black said less controversial murals, a scene at a state farmers market, for example, may find a new home in a conference room or elsewhere in the building.

Few openly have protested the murals, maybe because the agriculture department is not heavily visited. Black’s election marks a generational shift. He will succeed Democrat Tommy Irvin, who was appointed to the post by a segregationist governor in 1969 and won re-election ever since.

Black’s plans after the inauguration next month include painting rooms, cleaning offices, patching walls – and taking down those murals.

A full century after the Civil War, Southerners still argue over how to handle potent symbols of slavery and segregation in public places. It’s nothing new. The same year Beattie finished the murals, state lawmakers put the Confederate battle flag back into Georgia’s state flag to protest integration. Only in 2001 did Gov. Roy Barnes replace it, and some say it cost him the election the following year.

Those conflicts spill into art. In 2007, a black lawmaker lashed out at white colleagues for refusing to support putting a portrait of Coretta Scott King in the Statehouse beside that of her husband, slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The sponsor suggested her white colleagues were bigoted. The opposing lawmakers argued that portraits in the capitol should be reserved for Georgia legislators.

In 1995, two years before he died, Beattie defended his murals in a department-sponsored article that mentioned the art had spurred debate and concern among visitors and employees.

“As a human being, I am vehemently opposed to slavery, as anyone should be,” Beattie said, “but it was a significant epoch in our history; it would have been inaccurate not to include this period.”

His paintings showing slavery could be interpreted as an indictment. They hang in a lower lobby opposite a painting of colonial founder James Oglethorpe, a utopian who dreamed of making Georgia a classless society free of slavery.

One of Beattie’s friends, the sculptor George Beasley, said Black should commission new artwork if he has a new vision, not remove the originals.

Beasley, a professor emeritus at Georgia State University, admits that Beattie stretched reality to build his scenes. His friend was an optimist with an artistic tendency to gloss over life’s roughness.

“It kind of reflects George Beattie’s personality,” Beasley said. “He always looked on the bright side of life. … He liked to portray the history and the beauty of things. I would have rather had seen the scene maybe not so sunny, and muddy, and maybe the slaves under more duress, as they would have been.”

The Associated Press

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

Atlanta Public Schools “turnaround” one big cheating machine

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

When Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly L. Hall arrived on the scene in 1999, she promised to turn around the poorly-performing school district and make it a model of urban success. Hall didn’t disappoint supporters, including her school board, and managed to deliver results year after year showing students’ test scores on a steady rise.

The impressive data on the standardized Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests proved that students were doing better- in fact much better than seemed even possible in such a short time. Hall rose to national prominence on the back of her magic touch, turning lackluster students into outstanding ones.

An ongoing investigation now claims that Superintendent Hall and associates knew about, and even promoted cheating, in the Atlanta public school system. President Obama just appointed her to the National Board of Educational Sciences.

In 2009, Hall was named the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, the top professional honor for a K-12 education leader in the United States. In May, President Obama named hall to the National Board for Education Sciences.

Just when things couldn’t seem to get any better, outsiders began questioning the test scores as being too good to be true. Starting in 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution launched its own investigation into whether the quickly rising scores could even be correct.

Its conclusion, based on an independent study by the University of Pennsylvania – that the scores were statistically impossible – set of a chain reaction within the district, at the state department of education and with criminal investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Ultimately, outside investigators found widespread evidence of cheating in at least 58 schools. Test sheets showed that incorrect answers were erased on tests, and correct answers were substituted. Investigators also said that many teachers admitted to changing test results, and supplying questions and answers to students before handing out tests.

Throughout the investigation, school officials, including Hall, claimed that they were completely unaware of the widespread cheating.

On Sunday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a new report claiming that Hall and other officials ran a behind-the-scenes campaign to suppress evidence that the district’s gains were in fact, bogus. Documents recently obtained by the AJC show that authorities knew much more about the cheating than they admitted publicly, and that they acted in a manner to downplay or dismiss information that would be damaging to themselves.

Even though Hall and school officials agreed to not interfere with a state-mandated investigation, their actions were entirely opposite. Hall’s aides insisted on screening prospective investigators, interviewing witnesses and editing reports issued by a so-called Blue Ribbon Commission formed by the school board to conduct an internal investigation.

The Blue Ribbon Commission was intended to be an independent operation, but school officials inserted themselves into its investigation at every possible juncture. The 15 member BRC commission itself was suspect, in that it consisted of local leaders, many of whom had business with the school district.

Internal emails clearly showed that the BRC sought direction from school district officials on the investigation, and provided them with draft documents for their review and comments. Even though the BRC was supposed to be looking for evidence of cheating, emails from Superintendent Hall and her top aides suggested it look for evidence to challenge damaging information to discredit data uncovered by state officials.

To help in its investigation, BRC hired the auditing firm of KPMG to independently question school employees about the cheating and to look for any other evidence of irregularities. Critics say that KPMG’s so called “independent” review was compromised, since many of its interviews with teachers and administrators were “coached” or lead by district officials.

KPMG’s questionnaires filled out by school employees, and obtained by the AJC, also appeared to be tainted. Summaries of questionnaires and interviews were sent directly to Hall’s chief of staff, Sharon Pitts, for school officials’ review. Any irregularities were instructed to be brought to the attention of Pitts, allegedly so that she could notify KPMG.

By June 2010, KPMG had spent more than the $350,000 budget for its investigation, and the BRC ordered them to stop its work. The BRC said that the auditors had provide incomplete information and its findings were unclear. At this point, the BRC took over the responsibility to complete the investigation.

According to documents reviewed by the AJC, the most significant piece of damning evidence collected by KPMG came through a “tip hotline” that was set up to solicit information for their investigation. An anonymous, but credible caller left a message claiming that Hall and two top aides condoned cheating for years, and told principals to achieve better test scores by any means necessary.

The caller said that one of Hall’s top aides, Sharon-Davis Williams, had told principals to “tamper” with test results, and Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine, “was pushing the issue to principals that they needed to have high scores by any means necessary.”

The caller also said that the district’s central office sent out copies of the CRCT standardized test to select schools in advance and told principals to give the questions and answers to students in advance of the examinations.

After Hall’s office reviewed the KPMG findings in the commission’s preliminary report,all references to that specific call were removed. Of 51 allegations in the draft report, many of which were anonymous, 50 of them made it into the final report-but not the most serious accusation.

The commission’s chair, Gary price, said the allegation was left out because it was “broad and vague.” It was taken very seriously,” he said. “There wasn’t any attempt to hide it.”

Also removed from the final report was a letter from Andrew Porter, a consultant who confirmed the statistical indications of cheating. All references to his opinion were removed within a few days of the report having been reviewed by Hall’s staff.

The deletions didn’t stop there.  The draft report indicated that cheating was found at 41 schools, but after the district’s input, it was changed to 12 schools in the final report.  The commission also deleted mention of four schools in which it had found evidence of cheating, between the draft and final reports.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

Former Atlanta cop sentenced in drug dealer protection case

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

A former Atlanta cop was sentenced on Thursday to 12 years in prison on drug and corruption charges.

Lucius T. Solomon III pleaded guilty to charges that he took $2,000 in protection monies three separate times in 2009 and 2010 from drug dealers. Solomon, 32, was on the Atlanta force for nine years.

Solomon was originally charged with attempting to sell 5 kilograms of cocaine and possessing a firearm while involved in the sale of illegal drugs. When arrested, he was under video surveillance.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that Solomon was attempting to sell the cocaine to an undercover FBI agent when he was caught. Prosecutors claim that Solomon worked the deals when in street clothes, and out of his police cruiser when he was in uniform.

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon