Cheating Teacher Fears the Law More Than God

The New York Times’ Michael Winerip details the stunning scale of the Atlanta test-score cheating scandal, and the equally jawdropping chutzpah of the teachers, principals, and administrators who participated in it. A Georgia grand jury indicted 35 educators yesterday.

What brought down the decade-long pack of lies was a two-and-a-half-year investigation led by a governor-appointed sleuth, Richard Hyde.

We’ll get to the God connection in a minute. First, let’s look at the massive deceit practiced in Atlanta’s public schools. Winerip calls it “the most widespread public school cheating scandal in memory.”

[Teachers] sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. … Children who scored 1 on the state test out of a possible 4 became 2’s; 2’s became 3’s.

Some participants were cautious enough to wear gloves, so as not to leave fingerprints on the answer sheets.

The pressure to alter the test scores was passed down from up high (no, not that high). One of the 35 educators indicted on Friday was former district superintendent Beverly Hall, a public servant so imperious that she had her own security detail to drive her around Atlanta at a cost to taxpayers of six figures annually.

Ex-Atlanta Schools Chief Charged in Cheating Scandal -

Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison. …

[The] test scores brought her fame — in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named her superintendent of the year and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, hosted her at the White House. And fortune — she earned more than $500,000 in performance bonuses while superintendent.

The motives of Hall’s subordinates were similar.

Teachers and principals whose students had high test scores received tenure and thousands of dollars in performance bonuses. Otherwise, as one teacher explained, it was “low score, out the door.”

Among the quantifiable negative effects of the cheating: Some of the schools suddenly scored so well that they no longer qualified for state and federal assistance. One of them, Parks Middle, lost $750,000 in aid, investigators said. While struggling schoolkids were getting fucked out of a proper education, the educators who knowingly failed them took home bonuses they weren’t entitled to.

Now, what does any of this have to do with religion? I was struck by this passage about Richard Hyde’s number-one witness, Jackie Parks, a third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School.

For weeks that fall [of 2010], Mr. Hyde had been stonewalled and lied to by teachers at Venetian Hills including Ms. Parks, who at one point stood in her classroom doorway and blocked him from entering.

But day after day he returned to question people, and eventually his presence weighed so heavily on Ms. Parks that she said she felt a terrible need to confess her sins. “I wanted to repent,” she recalled in an interview. “I wanted to clear my conscience.”

And here Ms. Parks has occasion to flaunt a bit of piety.

When asked during an interview if she was surprised that out of Atlanta’s 100 schools, Mr. Hyde turned up at hers first, Ms. Parks said no. “I had a dream about it a few weeks before,” she said. “I saw people walking down the hall with yellow notepads. From time to time, God reveals things to me in dreams. I think God led Mr. Hyde to Venetian Hills,” she said.

Ethically, how she decided to come clean is a mixed bag, as far as I’m concerned. She gets point for having qualms, and for (belatedly) doing the right thing.

Nonetheless, we should note that despite Ms. Parks’ references to God and her conscience, neither of those forces compelled her to stop ripping off schoolchildren, parents, taxpayers, and society as a whole. For seven or eight years straight, God was apparently powerless against her decision, which she renewed day upon day, to perpetuate the fraud.

You know what stopped her in the end? A tenacious man with a investigator’s badge. The fear of a lot of legal hurt. In other words, man‘s law. Not God’s law.

So what does Jackie Parks’ example tell us about the morals that religions supposedly impart?

[image via the New York Times]