Holy Moses, I have been deceived.
— Elton John
It was rock and roll poet Paul Simon who noted, “A man hears what he wants to hear, and he disregards the rest.”
I thought about those words recently while listening to a group discuss “the latest idiocy of the Dougherty County School Board.” Their conversation related to recent tribunal hearings for teachers and administrators named in a report prepared by a special panel created by former Gov. Sonny Perdue to investigate possible cheating during the administration of Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in the Dougherty school system in 2009.
The panel, which included former state Attorney General Mike Bowers, former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson and investigator Richard Hyde, reported that 49 school officials had been involved in test erasures. Their report included the ominous determination: “What we found was an acceptance of wrongdoing, a pattern of incompetence and a lack of will to correct it.”
Now, with several costly tribunal hearings ending in unanimous recommendations that accused school officials should have their contracts renewed and be allowed to return to their jobs, many are pointing fingers at the School Board.
Why, it appears to be the logic, let something like the facts get in the way of taking another dig at the much-maligned board?
Here, then, a few of those facts:
— The Dougherty School System School Board did not recommend that the accused educators’ contracts be renewed. An independent tribunal with no ties to the system voted, 3-0 in each case, to reverse non-renewal recommendations made by Superintendent Joshua Murfree that had been made based on the CRCT report sent to Gov. Nathan Deal after Deal replaced Perdue in the governor’s office. The School Board will, though, make the ultimate decision on what happens to the impacted educators.
— The tribunal’s recommendations to reverse the contract non-renewals suggested by Murfree were based on evidence presented during the hearings. As one person who took part in that process told me, “The evidence presented often didn’t match what was in the report. For instance, the report said that some (teachers and administrators) ‘admitted’ to cheating, and then after listening to more than two hours of tapes of their interviews, there was never any kind of admission.”
— It turns out most of the “evidence” presented by the investigators amounted to charges of using “facial expressions” and “voice inflection” as intent by teachers (and, to a lesser degree, administrators) to encourage students to change answers.
Like most folks, I was originally stunned that so many school system employees were implicated in the extensive — and expensive — investigation. I, too, wondered if the system had reached a new low.
But after reading reports and talking to people involved in the actual tribunal hearings and finding out the “evidence” used to prove teachers and administrators had indeed cheated during the administration of the standardized tests, I was apalled that — in most cases — there was almost no evidence of actual wrongdoing.
I’m well aware that many people in this community have such low opinions of the school system that few want to be fair when it comes to assessing the system’s troubles. But who thinks it’s right for someone to have their career taken away based primarily on words they might — or might not — have stressed during instructions to students?
That’s particularly worrisome when consideration is given to the fact that many of the accusations came from students too young to understand the ramifications of questions being asked of them. I’d venture a guess that many of the students interviewed gave the answers they thought the investigators wanted to hear, kids’ attempts to please the grown-ups.
No, the outrage over this “scandal” that has rocked the school system for the last year-plus is, for the most part, being misdirected. Instead of railing against the School Board or the accused teachers and administrators, perhaps we should be looking at the motivation of the investigators who came into town looking to find the kind of corruption that was rampant in the Atlanta School System.
Were they motivated by the standby “doing what’s right for the children” — children they didn’t know — or were they justifying the no doubt tens of thousands of dollars they were paid to find corruption in a system that was already under fire?
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know it would be a great injustice to strip anyone of his or her livelihood based on evidence as flimsy as voice inflection and facial expression, evidence this all-powerful investigative team used to determine intent.
Instead of damning the School Board or most of the accused school officials, perhaps the community and state — and the children — would be better served by having Messrs. Bowers, Wilson and Hyde justify a hugely expensive report that proved virtually nothing.