Eleven teachers from the Atlanta Public Schools system were convicted and jailed for being involved in a cheating scandal that shocked the nation. The cheating scandal came to light after an investigation concluded that teachers at 44 schools changed test answers in an effort to raise scores on standardized tests.
But while the teachers were initially convicted for cheating the students, each educator was first cheated by President George Bush and the shortsighted No Child Left Behind Act. Three days after taking office in 2001, Bush signed the act which required states to implement more accountability on standardized tests.
Underperforming schools would be punished and potentially lose funding, while schools that met or exceeded standards would receive bonuses and awards.
From the outset, No Child Left Behind was created on a flawed premise. Although testing became a priority, there was never additional federal funding provided for after-school programs or weekend prep courses. Creativity was stifled as teachers were focused on teaching the test instead of an all-around curriculum. Students nationwide were held to the same standards, but each state measured proficiency differently.
Many of the teachers caught in Atlanta’s scandal were teaching in low-income communities. The students who attend school on Atlanta’s west and south sides are more likely to to deal with different life circumstances than children who reside on the north side of Atlanta. Socioeconomics can play a major role in education when it comes to access to resources. No Child Left Behind assumes that every child in the state will learn at the same pace.
Overall, No Child Left Behind created a culture of competition and survival versus improving education. The teachers involved in Atlanta’s scandal were more worried about numbers than actual education. Test scores were the bottom line and the students weren’t given the resources to adapt.
The case soon became a national news story and Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard decided to make an example out of the teachers by charging them under the RICO Act. The act, which can lead to 20 years in prison, focuses on racketeering and is usually applied to drug organizations or the mafia. It’s excessive to charge a group of educators with the RICO Act when considering that there wasn’t an initial attempt to commit an organized crime.
Unfortunately, the teachers reacted in an extreme manner to an education act that was fundamentally extreme.
The teachers who cheated should be held accountable for their actions, but their crime was set forth years before by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.