Cheaters never win

Final sentencing for the 12 Atlan- ta Public School (APS) teach- ers who were tried in court for cheating on standardized tests was announced April 12. However, the jail time already came down swiftly back on Easter Sunday, when 10 of them were already put behind bars.

Is this too harsh for a white col- lar crime? Is it unnecessary for those teachers just doing what they’re told to do? For the negative impact they had on countless student’s lives, being immediately jailed is a great place to start.

For those that don’t remember, Atlanta Public Schools were in the middle of one of the largest cheating rings in educational history. Multiple teachers were working together with principals and district APS educators to falsify test scores and answers on what are considered ‘high stakes’ tests for elementary and middle school students. Those caught were charged with racketeering since the higher test scores directly led to cash bonuses for teachers and both financial and career perks for the principals.

While community activists are busy trying to help out those behind bars, the activists themselves returned to the courthouse on April 6 to have
a meeting with the District Attorney (D.A.) who, in a surprising turn of events, had 10 of the 12 educators charged with racketeering and sent to jail immediately until the final sen- tencing on April 13. Only one of the teachers has been released on bond until then.

One activist, Rev. Tim McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church, is seeking to help “free the APS 12.” He was excited to meet with the district attorney after the trial in order to con- vince him to give a more reasonable sentence. After leaving the meeting, however, hopes were dashed.

“It was debilitating,” McDon- ald said to 11Alive reporters waiting outside the courthouse following the meeting.

But it seems like the public is on the side of D.A. Paul Howard. On a poll administered by WSB-TV, 59.7 percent agreed the teachers should serve prison time. My question is: Why shouldn’t they? They were clearly participating in organized racketeer- ing, and months of testimony and trial has shown that. What seems to be holding up those in opposition is that it all seems too “harsh.”

Too harsh compared to what? This cheating scandal is unprecedented in
the country, being one of the largest rings caught in recent history. The logic for the D.A. is there is no prec- edent to this case. Thus, he is sentenc- ing very strictly to make it known that this type of behavior is not to be taken lightly.

Furthermore, any other school system in the future will see this case and know there will be zero tolerance in the courtroom for cheating. While this case was tied to high stakes stan- dardized testing in K-12 schools, the verdict will undoubtedly set the stan- dard for cheating in all levels of edu- cation. The impact will likely reach to the university level and many colleges will be revisiting their cheating proto- col and prevention.

Rev. McDonald went on to say to Channel 2 Action News about why he felt the jail time was too harsh.

“This is not the mafia; these are not drug dealers,” he said.
These 12 educators each had the opportunity any time during the pro- cess to stop it. They could have stood up and demanded it all to stop. Being a whistleblower in this cheating scan- dal would not have tarnished their reputation and in the best case would have kept them out of jail.

So why didn’t anyone talk? Well,

much like the mafia, if teachers spoke up, they would most likely disciplined or terminated. In 38 of the 44 schools charged with being part of the cheat- ing ring, the principal was held re- sponsible, according to the 800-page report on the scandal.

While intimidation is a powerful tactic and pressuring the teachers to cheat was clearly effective, those ac- cused in court on April 1 clearly put their own interests before their stu- dents. In order to receive bonuses, move up in the school district or just keep their jobs these former educators cheated to get by.

I don’t see anything wrong with prison time for these criminals. The average length of prison time for a similar offense is eight years, which is plenty of time for these educational leaders to think about why they let this cheating scandal happen.

Until then, we can only hope that this sentencing will act as a wake up call for the countless other cheating rings going on in our education sys- tem around the country right now. Maybe those with power and influ- ence will see that it is not worth it, and it is, sadly enough, harming the students and their futures more than anything.