11 former Atlanta educators convicted of Racketeering in cheating scandal
Face possible 20 year Prison Sentence
Face possible 20 year Prison Sentence
"They are convicted felons as far as I'm concerned.
They have made their bed and they're going to have to lie in it."
---Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter
This from MSN:
In one of the biggest cheating scandals of its kind in the U.S., 11 former Atlanta public school educators were convicted Wednesday of racketeering for their role in a scheme to inflate students' scores on standardized exams.
The defendants, including teachers, a principal and other administrators, were accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in the 50,000-student Atlanta school system. A 12th defendant, a teacher, was acquitted of all charges by the jury.
The racketeering charges carry up to 20 years in prison. Most of the defendants will be sentenced April 8."This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever," said University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson. "It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business."
A state investigation found that as far back as 2005, educators fed answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were subject to retaliation.
Thirty-five educators in all were indicted in 2013 on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. Many pleaded guilty, and some testified at the trial. Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall never went to trial, arguing she was too sick. She died a month ago of breast cancer.
Hall insisted she was innocent. But educators said she was among higher-ups pressuring them to inflate students' scores to show gains in achievement and meet federal benchmarks that would unlock extra funding.
Over objections from the defendants' attorneys, Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ordered all but one of those convicted immediately jailed while they await sentencing.
"They are convicted felons as far as I'm concerned," Baxter said, later adding, "They have made their bed and they're going to have to lie in it."
The only one allowed to remain free on bail was teacher Shani Robinson, because she is expected to give birth soon.
Bob Rubin, the attorney for former elementary school principal Dana Evans, said he was shocked by the judge's decision. "I felt it to be unnecessary and vindictive," he said.
Prosecutors said the 12 on trial were looking out for themselves rather than the children's education. Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of overreaching in charging the educators under racketeering laws usually employed against organized crime. The attorneys for some of the defendants said they will appeal.
The cheating came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.
The months-long trial began in August with more than six weeks of jury selection, and testimony concluded in late February. The criminal investigation by the district attorney's office lasted nearly two years and involved hundreds of interviews with school administrators, staff, parents and students.
District Attorney Paul Howard said it was the biggest and most complex case his office had ever handled.
"Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at the education system," Howard said.
Dessa Curb, a former elementary school teacher, was the one educator acquitted of all charges.
"I've prayed and I believed that this would be my outcome," said a dazed-looking Curb, tears in her eyes.
Hall served as superintendent for more than a decade, which is rare for a big-city schools chief. She was named Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009 and credited with raising student test scores and graduation rates, particularly among the district's poor and minority students. But the award quickly lost its luster as her district became mired in the scandal.
In a video message to the staff before she retired, Hall warned that the investigation would probably reveal "alarming" behavior.
She added: "I am confident that aggressive, swift action will be taken against anyone who believed so little in our students and in our system of support that they turned to dishonesty as the only option."
This timeline from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
An AJC investigation highlights suspect scores on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in five elementary schools, including one in Atlanta. APS responds that it has no plans to investigate.
Beverly Hall is named the national Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, which credits her for rising test scores and graduation rates. The group called Atlanta “a model of urban school reform.”
A state investigation finds strong evidence of cheating on retests at one Atlanta school and three in other districts.
The state Board of Education throws out math retest results from four schools, including Atlanta’s Deerwood Academy, despite Superintendent Beverly Hall’s statement that external investigators found no evidence of tampering.
Hall describes APS as a model urban school district with double-digit test score gains. An AJC investigation shows the district fails to scrutinize many allegations of test cheating.
An AJC analysis shows statistically improbable increases on the state tests in a year’s time at a dozen Atlanta schools and seven others statewide. Hall and her aides say they don’t believe there was cheating.
Hall announces that national experts will review test scores at schools that recorded extraordinary improvements.
The state Board of Education orders districts to investigate 191 schools statewide for potential cheating, including the 58 in Atlanta.
LaChandra Butler Burks, chairwoman of the Atlanta school board, announces a “Blue Ribbon Commission” will oversee the district’s cheating investigation and that its members will be chosen from recommendations by the board, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the nonprofit Atlanta Education Fund, a district advocacy group.
The state board threatens to punish the district if it does not submit a report on its investigation by Aug. 2. The AJC reports that the APS panel looking into reports of cheating had ties to Hall or to the district, and that central office administrators took part in questioning potential witnesses.
After initially refusing to accept the Blue Ribbon Commission’s finding of cheating, the Atlanta school board relents. The commission concludes that cheating occurred at just 12 schools. The AJC reports that APS’ chosen investigators scrutinized fewer than half of the 58 schools in question. Gov. Sonny Perdue announces that special investigators will look into the cheating scandal.
Fifty GBI agents begin questioning Atlanta teachers and administrators about whether they falsified test results.
A study largely confirming the AJC’s 2009 analysis finally comes to light, months after Hall received drafts. Hall announces she will retire in June.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard appoints two special prosecutors for a criminal probe of Atlanta schools. Allegations include possible felony charges of lying to agents or investigators and the destruction or altering of public documents. The AJC reports that Hall and other APS officials carried out a broad campaign over two years to suppress mounting allegations of widespread cheating.
State investigators say they uncovered a pattern of intimidation, threats and retaliation against APS employees who report cheating or other improprieties. They tell the district to drop plans to do its own cheating analysis, saying it would interfere with the governor’s special investigation. After the district refuses, a judge orders it to stop its internal probe.
The AJC reports that a former high-ranking district official says Hall ordered the destruction of investigative documents detailing systematic cheating and ordered subordinates to omit adverse findings. At month’s end, Beverly Hall retires after 12 years with APS.
Within days, specially appointed state investigators cite a wide range of cheating violations and organized and systemic misconduct in APS. Their report names 178 teachers, principals and administrators at 44 Atlanta schools. Eighty educators confessed to cheating, according to the report. Davis said most of the educators named in the report will remain on the payroll as the district decides what to do next. That same month, interim school superintendent Erroll Davis takes over.
APS officials tell educators implicated in the state report they have one day to resign or face firing. “I do not intend to issue contracts to anyone who has not been exonerated,” Superintendent Erroll Davis says. “I’ve made a commitment to parents that people who committed cheating, whether knowingly or unknowingly, will not be put in front of children until they are exonerated.”
The Atlanta school district begins disciplinary tribunals for educators accused of cheating who want to appeal their dismissals. The educators also face suspension or revocation of their teaching licenses by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. The PSC says it won’t hear appeals in the cases until the district attorney completes the criminal investigation.
APS announces that 12 educators named in the investigation can return to the classroom after it determined there was not enough evidence to fire them.
Cheryl Twyman, former principal at West Manor Elementary, becomes the first accused principal to be reinstated into a school district job after a year on paid administrative leave. The district determined there was insufficient evidence to prove that she violated any testing protocol. She receives a position at the central office.
The Atlanta school board votes 7-2 to renew the contract of Superintendent Erroll Davis, whose current contract expires in June. The 18-month contract extension gives the board an out if it votes to hire a replacement superintendent. Davis has said he does not want the job long-term.
Of the 178 people implicated in the state investigative report, 21 educators have been reinstated and three people are still awaiting tribunal appeals, said APS spokesman Stephen Alford. About 150 educators resigned, retired or lost their appeals to retain their jobs.
Tamara Cotman, who oversaw 21 north Atlanta schools, is found not guilty of trying to influence a witness after a 3-week trial. Cotman still faces racketeering charges. Prosecutors were hoping to make Cotman’s case a test-run of their arguments.
Defendant Lisa Terry, a former Humphreys Elementary teacher, apologizes for her actions and pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction, agreeing to testify for the prosecution.
Armstead Salters, a principal at C.L. Gideons Elementary for three decades, pleads guilty to a felony count of making false statements and writings. Prosecutors say it was an “open secret” that cheating had been going on at Gideons for years.
Millicent Few, a former APS human resources director, pleads guilty to misdemeanor malfeasance in office. Few is expected to testify that Beverly Hall ordered the destruction of internal investigative reports.
Of the original 35 educators indicted, 21 choose to enter guilty pleas by the deadline, leaving 13 to stand trial (one defendant passes away while waiting trial).
Lawyers for Beverly Hall say that she is suffering from Stage IV breast cancer and is too ill to stand trial.
It’s revealed that prosecutors and lawyers for Hall tried to work out a deal where she would plead guilty to a single felony charge in exchange for probation. Sources familiar with the negotiations say the deal fell through over the issue of admitting wrongdoing.
Two cancer experts disagree on whether Beverly Hall can withstand a trial. The emotional hearing includes an outburst by former Mayor Andrew Young.
Judge Jerry Baxter says the trial can take no more delays and sets the trial for August for the remaining 12 defendants, without Beverly Hall.
March 2, 2015
Beverly Hall dies of breast cancer at 68.
March 16, 2015
Attorneys give closing statements.
March 19, 2015
Jury gets the case to consider
April 1, 2015
Jury returns guilty verdicts for conspiracy and other felony charges for 11 of the defendants. Only former teacher Dessa Curb walked away with no convictions. The others are led out in handcuffs and booked into jail.