The report to the governor on the 2009 CRCT investigation is in and its 293 pages cite 11 principals and 38 teachers who have been accused of cheating or allowing it to go on.
The report also shows that the prevailing culture that allowed these shenanigans to go starts at the top -- at the School Administration Building.
The investigation found three reasons that cheating flourished:
-- Pressure of meeting AYP under No Child Left Behind;
-- Teachers' and principals' fears of being perceived as a failure;
-- Failure of leadership at the principal level and, to some extent, by the system's administration and the Board of Education.
Pressure to meet standards and concerns about perceptions of how you're doing your work go with most occupations. The question is whether you deal with those stresses with integrity or use them to rationalize actions in which the end justifies the means. While all 49 of the people cited in the report don't have the same culpability, it's pretty clear that unethical and quite probably illegal actions took place, teaching the students that when they are faced with tough, challenging situations, cheating is an acceptable course.
So, how did this culture come about? In any organization, the direction is set by the people running it. In this case, the environment stemmed from the School Board and administration.
"During Dr. Whatley's tenure, the tendency of some board members to micromanage, and Dr. Whatley's unwillingness to prevent them from doing so, placed the Board and Superintendent relationship in an unbalanced position and weakened the authority of the Superintendent," the report says. "Dr. Whatley abdicated the authority she needed to correct, sanction or terminate educators.
"Due to the Board's failure to support the Superintendent, and her refusal to assert herself, she could not fully and effectively administer matters of employee discipline."
The results of this unhealthy relationship between the group tasked with setting policy and the administration tasked with implementing it was that employees were free to do as they wished without fear of any serious reprisal. Firing offenses, the report noted, drew only "absurd" sanctions. "The end result was a system where there was little fear of the consequences for wrongdoing," the report said, "Therefore misconduct went unabated."
Gov. Nathan Deal, reacting to the report, said, "The findings out of Dougherty County are alarming as they paint a tragic picture of children passed through with no real or fair assessment of their abilities. To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state."
Indeed, what has occurred is a shame, a blot on the school system. The students deserve better. Much better.
Whether they will get it is another matter.
The federal No Child Left Behind Law is fatally flawed and needs to be made workable or abandoned. It was a good idea to create a system of accountability, but NCLB has been more of a detriment than an asset. That problem, however, can't be fixed at the local level.
But how the leaders of the school system function and who those leaders are can be. The students in today's classes are tomorrow's leaders in business and in front of the classrooms.
We, as a community, have to stand up and demand that the students be placed ahead of self-interests and political ambitions. Otherwise, these self-centered individuals will continue to cheat young minds out of a quality education.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board