There is a case out of Atlanta, prosecuting and sentencing educators like they were made members of a mob syndicate for changing test results to make their schools and students look better so the authorities wouldn’t close the schools or the teachers or educators lose their jobs.
The State Judge, Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Jerry Baxter, handed out twenty-year sentences that real mobsters and murderers don’t get, nor do corrupt bankers, insider traders, or self-dealing politicians.
So what does this recent injustice have to do with anyone outside of Atlanta?
It’s about the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, why it’s not working, and how, in the bargain, Justice got left behind.
David Berliner, a former dean at the School of Ed at Arizona State University, quoted in a recent New Yorker, said that educators were asked to compensate for factors outside their control: “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse for doing nothing about poverty.”
Some have observed that these educators would normally be considered first time white collar offenders – if they weren’t black. I believe it is more about defending a corrupt system that doesn’t work, and making these educators the scape goats, so we’ll lose sight of what’s really wrong here – the failed and failing educational construct.
The Atlanta prosecutors said that the children were cheated of an education, by having their scores changed, so the educators could get raises.
Really? How do you feed instruction to a food hungry student, compensate for a disrupted family or the lack of community roots, in neighborhoods where violence is everywhere and suffered up close and personal?
These educators were fighting against a system that allowed for no excuses if the test scores faltered, including the practice of having students and educators of poorly performing schools seated in the bleachers at games, humiliating and punishing schools and students, rather than helping, and so, teachers were let go, students were sent out of their neighborhoods to other schools, and, the worst, schools were taken over or closed.
Test erasures had become more obvious, year to year, and this is true across the nation. An investigation of the Atlanta system uncovered 44 schools cheated, and 200 educators. 35 educators were indicted, cuffed, and pictured in perp walks, like they were the Mob’s “Teflon Don,” John Gotti.
On April Fool’s Day, the 11 who hadn’t accepted plea deals were convicted and jailed awaiting sentence, dressed up in chains, for the nightly tv visual.
The sentencing judge was way over the line, approaching, in my opinion, the 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, given how disproportionate the sentences he rendered.
Judge Baxter said, “Everyone starts crying about these educators.”
Bernice A. King, of the Martin Luther King Center, one of the Judge’s “cry-babies,” said, “[T]hese educators were themselves the victims of a corrupt education system. The systemic issues that have plagued APS and other educational entities should be considered when weighing sentencing. Teachers are under tremendous pressure to meet standards and ensure that students pass tests, even to the extent that their jobs, their livelihoods, may be threatened.”
Ms. King asked Judge Baxter “for a sentence of probation or alternative sentencing.”
But the Judge heard nothing. He insisted, “Nobody has taken any responsibility that I can see,” and imposed 20 year sentences on three defendants, 7 years in custody, 13 years on probation.
How about our legislators taking responsibility, working for a change, and modifying how we test so we can really each?