The national media has suddenly taken notice of Philadelphia’s cheating scandal, in which more than 130 educators are accused of helping, er, improve the local results of standardized tests. Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office is mulling criminal charges in the matter.
The New York Times calls it “one of the largest such cheating scandals in the country.”
Some administrators were giving answer keys to teachers who passed them on to students. In other cases, principals took completed exams home at night and doctored the answer sheets. And in some schools, teachers and administrators gathered secretly in conference rooms with test booklets, pencils and erasers and changed wrong answers.
“Any time you’ve got cheating going on by adults, that’s egregious,” said Michael A. Davis, general counsel to the Philadelphia school district, who described some of the findings of the inquiry.
The tests spanned three years, from 2009 to 2011, and involved 138 educators at 27 schools, three of them public charter schools.
The Wall Street Journal offers the other side of the story:
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he doesn’t condone cheating but declined to discuss the recent allegations. He said district officials have focused heavily on test scores and converted low-performing schools to charters, public schools run by independent groups that typically hire nonunion teachers. He said during the years in question, “there was a mood in the district that people knew they have to improve student outcomes or they would be in trouble.”
Robert McGrogan, president of the Teamsters, Local 502 Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, questioned the thoroughness of the investigation, and said that, in some cases, the district is relying on flimsy evidence of cheating. "They acted in haste," said Mr. McGrogan, who heads the union that represents school administrators. "The district basically did ready, shoot, aim—instead of ready, aim, fire."
The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, sniffs out its disbelief of Jerry Jordan's comments about the district mood: "The tests are to blame," writer Geoffrey Norman scoffs, then adds a serious note: "Students would appear to be the victims of this sort of thing since they are not only being indifferently educated but also conned into believing otherwise."
In an interview with BET.com, George Jackson, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that the union had little to say on the matter until more information is available. “No action has been taken on this situation and we will have a better idea on our response when we see what the next steps are.”
William Hite Jr., the superintendent of the school system, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the allegations. Hite came to the Philadelphia school system in 2013, after the alleged incidents occurred.
That is one odd thing about this coverage: Hite is mentioned in the stories, but his predecessor—the late Arlene Ackerman—is not. The scandal was slowly roiling when she left the district in 2011: The district's supposedly improved test scores were a huge part of her legacy. How is she avoiding mention?