The Atlanta Scandal: Teaching in A Culture of Fear, Intimidation and Retaliation
This essay is from Nonpartisan Education Review, July 2011.
Ohanian Comment: Erich Martel, a Washington, D. C. teacher, draws an important conclusion from what happen in Atlanta: Those who think our public schools can be improved by weakening teacher tenure and gutting union contracts, so principals can get rid of the bad teachers, need only read about the toxic environments created by unprincipled principals in Atlanta -- and which teachers they terminated.
Think about it. Think about the Atlanta teacher who was ordered to crawl on the floor and under a desk because her class had low test scores.
In fact, 90 (86%) of the 107 teachers named in the Report (see Appendix A) were in schools where the principal was also named. The Report documents that some teachers did report cheating as well as the pressure to cheat. While the oversight bodies capable of intervening were asleep or in thrall to their celebrity superintendent, teachers who took the risk to perform their civic responsibilities were ignored as principals and assistant superintendents responded with threats and termination (see Appendix B):
For many public school teachers, the treatment of teachers in Atlanta is disturbingly familiar (see, for example, Appendix C): Fear, abuse, threats, retaliation, cover-up, nepotism, misappropriated funds, being asked, “Are you a member of my team?” discovering that your grades were arbitrarily changed, and, in each case, facing the anguishing choice that was really no choice at all: “Should I report it and risk retaliation or go along and keep quiet – while it eats away at me?”
For readers who question these experiences, just ask a public school teacher.
Where were Atlanta’s oversight bodies to which teachers should have been able to turn (feel free to substitute your city or town for "Atlanta")?
Those who think our public schools can be improved by weakening teacher tenure and gutting union contracts, so principals can get rid of the bad teachers, need only read about the toxic environments created by unprincipled principals in Atlanta -- and which teachers they terminated.
Education policy makers and school governance bodies would be wise to take some advice from James Madison and stop empowering superintendents as if they were angels and begin putting effective checks and remedies in place that are safely accessible to teachers (Federalist 51).
Citation: Martel, E. (2011). The Atlanta Scandal: Teaching in “A Culture of Fear, Intimidation and Retaliation”. Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays, 7(7). Retrieved [date] from http://npe.educationnews.org/Review/Essays/v7n7.pdf
Appendix A. Breakdown of the 178 Educators
The investigators visited 56 schools with statistical anomalies. In 44, they concluded that 178 APS educators were involved in cheating to one degree or another. In the remaining 12 schools, where there was evidence of cheating, there was insufficient evidence of who was responsible. Likewise, in many of the 44 schools, many of the reports state that more staff was probably involved, but they deemed the evidence inadequate. The 178 educators fall under the following categories.
[detailed tables can be found in the attached Excel workbook [go to url below]
This breakdown shows that the vast majority of teachers accused of cheating were in schools where the principal and often another non-teacher staff member was accused of cheating.
Appendix B. Websites Related to the Atlanta Scandal
These are the four Atlanta Public School (APS) Investigation Report documents:
Appendix C. Whistle-blowing Reports in the DC Public Schools
1. 2002-03 Contracted Student Records Audit
The 2002-03 “agreed-upon procedures” audit of all DCPS high schools and of Wilson HS 15 seniors in the Class of 2002 I reported as ineligible. The auditors confirmed that 12 were ineligible and that all high schools maintained student records in a manner that made tampering a likelihood. The report excluded the possibility of external tampering, i.e. possible tampering was all internal. DCPS continued to deny the report's conclusion and refused to post it on the DCPS website: http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/030922b.htm
2. 2006-07 audit of the DC Inspector General of the Wilson HS class of 2006.
420 seniors were listed as graduates on the June 2006 graduation day program, but only 311 were on the list sent to the superintendent. Of the 311 June 2006 graduates, the IG reviewed the records of 93 students I had cited as ineligible for the diploma for reason of missing one or more mandatory credits.
Summary of the 2002 and 2006 exposes in the American Educator quarterly:
Retaliation by the principal of Wilson HS: http://tinyurl.com/5sovnwq or http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/12/AR2006091200709_pf.html
3. Credit Recovery & Summer School
How Michelle Rhee increased graduation rates.
Erich Martel: "A for effort shouldn't count: Just say no to credit recovery.” (Fordham Institute, Education Gadfly weekly e-journal)
4. Facing Retaliation: An Involuntary Transfer
An involuntary transfer from Wilson HS to Phelps HS in August 2010, because of :significant philosophical differences" with the Wilson HS principal
a. Are measures to prevent student cheating "creating an expectation that students will cheat"?
My principal thought so: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2010/03/principal_teacher_clash_on_che.html
b. Transcript of a surprise visit from "Instructional" Superintendent John Davis (note: Always have a witness and take notes!)
Or (generously posted by the parent of a former student): http://www.citizen.org/documents/Transcript1.pdf
c. Involuntary Transfer Order:
d. The Involuntary Transfer: Retaliation Denied
ii. http://tinyurl.com or
iv. Michelle Rhee explains to a teacher why my involuntary transfer was not retaliation:
e. Reporting Problems at Phelps ACE HS:
Testimony before the DC City Council on Problems with the Phelps HS Career Tech Program. I also read from two letters from Phelps teachers who resigned (6/16/2011)
My testimony begins at 2:40 (2 hours and 40 minutes into the hearing). Just place the cursor over the tiny sphere below the screen and move it to the right until it shows 2:40.
Access this essay in pdf format here
Erich Martel is a Social Studies Teacher
in the Washington, DC Public Schools
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