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Duped by Beverly Hall, Business Leaders Tried to Protect Atlanta “Brand”

Mike Klein

The next sound that you hear from the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal will likely be, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

Last August the Atlanta Public Schools Blue Ribbon Commission of very high profile corporate executives released its report that found no evidence of systemic cheating on 2009 school year state competency tests.  Now we know better and the story being told is absolutely repulsive.

Lacking subpoena powers, two companies hired to create the investigatory work produced a 22-page report that substantially failed to answer questions that include:  What did Beverly Hall know and when did she know it?  Perhaps it was always too much to expect that a Blue Ribbon Commission created by the APS Board would conclude that the superintendent and officials close to her office had roles in a test cheating scandal that has showered disgrace on Atlanta.

The Blue Ribbon Commission report stated:  “The investigative team did not find any data or other evidence, nor were there qualified allegations made, that there was any district-wide or centrally coordinated effort to manipulate the 2009 CRCT scores and outcomes of students in the 58 APS schools.”

The Key Findings section continued, “There were no self-admissions by any central office staff, district office staff or school staff of any wrongdoing in connection with the 2009 CRCT.  The investigative team did not uncover any other direct evidence of test irregularities in the form of video or audio recordings or similar evidence.”

Beverly Hall, Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent

To be fair, Caveon Test Security and KPMG investigators had no authority to compel anyone to answer questions.  They could not subpoena cell phone records, administer polygraph tests or initiate legal action.  Their report referred 108 educators for further investigation by APS which did no such thing.  APS sent the names on down the road to the Professional Standards Commission.  Superintendent Hall said the report was “vindication” that there was no widespread cheating scandal.

The Blue Ribbon Commission process itself was further flawed.  Caveon and KPMG conducted 292 interviews with APS central office, district level and school level staff.  One hundred thirty interviews were conducted with an APS observer present, monitoring the discussion.  APS tried to discredit test erasure analysis from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.  Also, the Commission investigators did not have access to the 2009 school tests erasure analysis.

A Blue Ribbon Commission of leading executives would have a lot to fear from such a report.  It would not serve the business community well to have Atlanta schools in screaming headlines such as this on Tuesday from CNN:  “Dozens of Atlanta Educators Falsified Tests.”  Or this on Thursday from USA Today:  “Atlanta Joins Growing List of School Exam Scandals.”  You cannot sell corporate relocation to a city whose education system is suspect.

Governor Nathan Deal released a very different report Tuesday, one of 428 pages.  Well down inside those hundreds of pages is a section labeled The Business Community.  It states:

Governor Nathan Deal Announces Results of Atlanta Public Schools Test Cheating Investigation

“Dr. Hall had the support of community leaders after becoming superintendent.  She courted philanthropic and business leaders rather than spend her days in the schools, working the ‘trenches’ and speaking one-on-one with teachers to know what was happening in her district.

“In many ways, the community was duped by Dr. Hall.  While the district had rampant cheating, community leaders were unaware of the misconduct in the district.  She abused the trust they placed in her.  Hall became a subject of adoration and made herself the focus rather than the children.  Her image became more important than reality.

“What began as a minor cheating scandal at Deerwood Academy, led to an investigation by a then-obscure state agency, headed by a former elementary school teacher.  This was the first CRCT cheating by APS uncovered by a governmental agency, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.   Questions began about Dr. Hall’s leadership.

“When the 2009 results were published, they were startling.  Governor (Sonny) Perdue ordered an erasure analysis.  There were concerns that the high scores were the result of cheating.

“Many of Dr. Hall’s supporters defended her and the district.  The possibility of a negative reflection on the Atlanta ‘brand’ caused some to protect Dr. Hall and attack the messengers.  Image was more important than the truth.”

There was also reference made that the Blue Ribbon Commission report should be “finessed” past then Governor Purdue.  The business section concludes, “Somewhere in the process the truth got lost, and so did the children.”

In the report released this week, special prosecutors and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation identified 178 principals and other educators who confessed or allegedly participated in the testing scandal.  Cheating was confirmed in 44 of 56 investigated schools.  Thirty-eight principals were responsible for or directly involved in cheating.  The report concluded Hall knew or should have known, implying that it was impossible to have not known.

The highly compensated Hall retired last week, ending a 12-year tenure during which she became celebrated for learning improvements that are now suspected to be a fraud.  Hall was paid $425,173 last year in salary, bonus and travel reimbursement.  Her bonus was tied in part to student achievement.  Hall earned $399,545 in 2009 and $355,993 in 2008.  Late Wednesday afternoon Hall’s attorney said she didn’t know anything about cheating.

This will be interesting to watch when folks are under oath.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is That All There Is? Editorial Writers Strike Obama Budget with Sharp Quills

Mike Klein

President Barack Obama insists the White House budget wish list released Monday made hard choices. Tuesday morning editorial pages saw it differently.  Writers gave the Obama budget attempt a lukewarm reception, and that’s being fairly kind.   Mostly they asked, “Is that all there is?”  Here are excerpts from twelve of the nation’s most respected news organizations.

Chicago Tribune Editorial: “The debate over fiscal responsibility in the months ahead will deal only with a slim portion of federal spending. Nobody in power — not Obama, not the Democrats who run the Senate, not the Republicans who run the House — wants to talk much about what it’s going to take to curb the huge projected growth in entitlement spending. Even Obama’s projections say deficits will fall only to $607 billion a year by 2015, but will start rising rapidly again.”  Link

Dallas Morning News Editorial: “Even under the administration’s optimistic future scenarios, the bottom lines are staggering.  A record $1.56 trillion deficit for 2011, with trillion-dollar estimates (give or take a few hundred billion) deep into the decade. An unemployment rate still about 8 percent at the end of 2012.  A tripling or more of the national debt, even without considering the shocking multiplier of unfunded Medicare and Social Security obligations … This starts the conversation. We, too, admit some skepticism that a sharply divided Congress will improve on Obama’s proposals, but the nation had better hope someone finds religion before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.”  Link

Denver Post Editorial: “Everyone agrees that something must be done about runaway debt and spending. Or at least that’s what we’d like to think … We are disappointed the Obama administration has decided to double down on the status quo by submitting a 2012 budget plan of $3.73 trillion in spending, or 25 percent of gross domestic product — the highest level since World War II. The budget would add $8.7 trillion of new spending — and $7.2 trillion to the federal debt — over the next 10 years … Obama called the proposal one of “tough choices and sacrifices,” yet it does not confront entitlements and continues to act as if government spending is the way to prosperity.”  Link

Detroit News Editorial: “Obama’s budget, while commendable for containing any amount of spending reductions, falls well short of the recommendations from his own deficit reduction commission, which would cut the deficit by $3.5 trillion over the decade. Getting there would require a good deal of sacrifice, but that’s the only way to make a substantial dent in the deficit … The commission’s plan has never received the serious airing in Congress that it deserves. That’s because it touches the sacred cows of Social Security and Medicare, and kills some cherished tax credits. And even though Obama formed the commission, he hasn’t championed its ideas.”  Link

Investor’s Business Daily Editorial: “Obama seems to be playing a political game of chicken with the Republicans — betting they won’t have the guts to make the cuts that he refuses to make.  And if they do, he’ll blame them for the pain that results.  No doubt that’s why he totally ignored his own “bipartisan” deficit-cutting commission, which in December recommended big spending cuts and entitlement reform to reduce future budget shortfalls. Obviously, Obama took his copy of the report and shredded it.”  Link

Los Angeles Times Editorial: “President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2012 landed with a thud Monday, laying out short- and long-term tax and spending plans that disappointed lawmakers on both sides of the aisle … The proposal was a remarkably tame response to Washington’s fiscal problems, not the bold statement about belt-tightening that the White House had suggested was coming.  Yet the biggest shortcoming is that it all but ignored the most important long-term financial challenge, which is the growing cost of entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid.”  Link

Minneapolis Star-Tribune Editorial: “The flurry of deficit-reduction plans released late last year were supposed to kick off a national adult conversation about the nation’s metastasizing long-term debt problem.  So when is that conversation going to begin?  It certainly didn’t happen on Monday when President Obama released his $3.7 trillion budget request for 2012 … While the president’s plan included some painful cuts that should stabilize the nation’s debt level relative to its economic output, it continued the reckless fiction that the country’s books can be balanced without reforming these expensive entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”  Link

New York Times Editorial: “What Mr. Obama’s budget is most definitely not is a blueprint for dealing with the real long-term problems that feed the budget deficit: rising health care costs, an aging population and a refusal by lawmakers to face the inescapable need to raise taxes at some point. Rather, it defers those critical issues, in hopes, we assume, that both the economy and the political environment will improve in the future … For the most part, Mr. Obama has managed to cut spending while preserving important government duties. That approach is in stark contrast to Congressional Republicans, who are determined to cut spending deeply, no matter the consequences.”  Link

Scripps Howard News Service Editorial: “Congress must shortly confront two critical budget matters. By March 4, it must vote to extend a resolution funding continued federal operations for the year or risk a government shutdown and later this spring to increase the government’s borrowing authority or risk the U.S. defaulting on its debts … The hope is that these issues will force the two parties to come to some kind of grand bargain on tax and entitlement reform to finally solve the problem of recurring deficits. But like some of the president’s economic assumptions, that may be overly optimistic.”  Link

USA Today Editorial: “President Obama likes to talk about those “Sputnik moments” when the nation rises to difficult challenges like the one posed by the Soviet space program in the 1950s. On Monday, he had a chance to turn his federal budget proposal into his own such moment. He whiffed … Obama and his aides boasted that the administration’s spending plan would shave $1.1 trillion off anticipated deficits over 10 years. For a Democratic president to propose cuts in programs with strong Democratic constituencies is a measure of how the national dialogue on spending has shifted. But, as it happens, $1.1 trillion is the projected deficit for 2012 alone. Talk about insufficient.”  Link

Wall Street Journal Editorial: “This was supposed to be the moment we were all waiting for. After three years of historic deficits that have added almost $4.5 trillion to the national debt, President Obama was finally going to get serious about fiscal discipline. Instead, what landed on Congress’s doorstep on Monday was a White House budget that increases deficits above the spending baseline for the next two years. Hosni Mubarak was more in touch with reality last Thursday night.”  Link

Washington Post Column by Dana Wilbanks: “Obama’s budget proposal is a remarkably weak and timid document. He proposes to cut only $1.1 trillion from federal deficits over the next decade – a pittance when you consider that the deficit this year alone is in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. The president makes no serious attempt at cutting entitlement programs that threaten to drive the government into insolvency … The best explanation the White House has come up with, uttered privately, is that Obama didn’t want to step out too far with politically unpopular cuts before congressional Republicans propose their own.” Link

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.  The opinions are those of news organizations and writers who were quoted and they should not be attributed to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which has no opinion.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment