Tag Archives: Atlanta

Did the Punishment Fit the Crime: Test Fraud in Atlanta

Cheating is never right, so many will applaud the punishment handed out to ten Atlanta administrators and teachers charged with racketeering for cheating on state-administered standardized tests. Three of the ten convicted educators will serve a minimum of seven years each in prison while five will serve a minimum of one to two years each in prison. All ten will face stiff fines and 1,000 to 2,000 hours of community service. Did the punishment fit the crime? Maybe, but it is interesting to note that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the three educators sentenced to seven years in prison may have received a lighter sentence in 87% of the crimes tracked by the Commission. Only murder, kidnapping/hostage taking, sexual abuse, and pornography/prostitution carried longer median sentences than the three Atlanta educators received for cheating on standardized tests. Although testing fraud is serious and should be punished, do these educators really deserve harsher punishment than 87% of hardened criminals?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Jerry Baxter, said, “Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime.” There is little to argue with in the judge’s statement, but as despicable as the actions of these administrators and teachers were, it is hard not to see them as victims also. Administrators and teachers across the United States are under inordinate pressure to meet district and state student achievement targets and failing to do that they often face severe evaluation and/or termination consequences. The Atlanta educators were no different. However, they could have taken the high road and let the chips fall where they may as the vast majority of educators do, but they chose to sell their professionalism and integrity for a shortcut to success – their success, not the children’s. As a result, the children became victims of their fraud, and they became victims of their own stupidity as well as victims of a “CAN’T WIN” testing system for school administrators and teachers.

That these educators should be held accountable for their actions is not in question, but their sentencing does not solve the problem. Their sentencing only substantiates there is a problem. Judge Baxter is right; when the stroke of the cheater’s pen passes kids regardless of their ability to read, write, or do basic math, the kids become victims. However, aren’t they also victims when their parents don’t take responsibility for their education; aren’t they also victims when state lawmakers do not adequately fund education; aren’t they also victims when teachers pass kids to the next grade who lack the skills needed to succeed; aren’t they also victims when principals tell teachers no one fails even when kids do not have the skills needed for the next grade or school; and aren’t they also victims when superintendents make it clear to principals and teachers that their jobs depend on how well kids do on state tests?

If educators are to be held accountable for a child’s education, which they should be, it stands to reason that not only teachers but everyone who has a hand in the child’s education, including parents and state lawmakers should be held just as accountable. Why should school administrators and teachers shoulder all the pressure and blame? After all, if judges are going to uphold children as victims in cases of test fraud and hand out prison sentences normally reserved for hardened criminals, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to parents of children with excessive absences from school or parents of children with habitual behavior problems in the classroom that impedes the teacher’s ability to teach? Also, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to state lawmakers who fail to fully fund resources needed by teachers and children in the classroom? Aren’t children being educationally harmed, cheated, and victimized just as much by the actions or lack of actions by these individuals?

There are no doubts the administrators and teachers in Atlanta deserved to be punished for their fraud, but a more fitting punishment may have been to strip them for life of their license to teach and ban them for life from involvement in education in any capacity whether it be in the public or private sectors. Fines large enough to make it hurt and community service were appropriately part of their sentencing, and the shame and stigma they will carry with them for the rest of their lives may very well be the harshest punishment they will receive. However, Judge Baxter felt more was needed than expulsion from the teaching profession, large fines, and community service. He felt such an egregious conspiracy to fraud by professional men and women who disgraced their profession, themselves, and their families deserved more, and he may have been right. Through his actions, he has sent a message across the nation that such disingenuous neglect of duty will not be tolerated. Maybe, someday neglect of duty will likewise not be tolerated by the courts in the ranks of parents and state lawmakers as well.  After all, when it comes to educating children, educators are not alone, or are they?


©Jack Linton, April 19, 2015

Why I Don’t Use Twitter

I am asked quite often if I have a Twitter account, and when I say no, I usually get a sad “Oh, you poor thing” look. Once a young lady actually told me, “I understand. It’s probably a bit much for your generation.” She was right; using social media is sometimes a bit much for me, especially if I see little use for it. The options technology offers for connecting people is wonderful if you are one of those people who crave continuous contact with others. However, I am not one of those people who continuously talks on the phone, texts, tweets, checks Facebook, and sends email while they eat, exercise, shower, use the toilet, drive, shop, attend meetings, visit family, worship in church, and watch TV or a movie, but I understand that I am a relic of the past, and such behavior is now the norm in today’s society. For example, once in a restroom in the Atlanta airport, I heard a man scream from a stall for people to stop flushing the toilets because he could not hear the person he was talking with on his phone. That is taking technology a bit too far if you ask me, but of course, I come from a generation that grew up believing in independence, individuality and that certain private moments should remain private.

Nevertheless, in an effort to conform, I actually gave Twitter a try a while back, but I quickly determined it was not for me. It wasn’t the technology itself that proved to be frustrating, but rather the terminology used when tweeting. It was a major FAIL on my part to learn and understand the jargon and acronyms that play such an important role in communicating via Twitter. For the life of me, I could not figure out what terms and acronyms such as hash tag, twaffic, twalking, twishing, LOL, LMAO, TLC, and WTF meant. Thanks to Elvis, I was able to associate TLC with “tender loving care,” and with a little help from my kids I learned the meanings of LOL and LMAO. However, call it what you will, a generation gap or too much to handle or comprehend for an old man, the jargon and acronyms proved to be my undoing. Due to my interpretation or misinterpretation, I often found the terminology confusing, silly or even offensive, and that negatively impacted my Twitter experience.

For example, I could never quite figure out “hash tag.” I knew it had something to do with helping tweeters discover relevant posts, but other than that, I did not have a clue what it was or how it was supposed to be used. For me, it conjured visions of young people dancing with flowers intertwined with their long hair amid clouds of illegal smoke and psychedelic music. Of course, I knew it probably didn’t have anything to do with any of that, but the term was nonetheless a generational distraction for me.

Also, I found many terms to be outright silly. Every time I saw terms such as “twaffic,” or “twalking,” I completely lost focus on the tweeted message, and in my mind heard Elmer Fudd from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons speaking. Another term that I thought silly as well as confusing and misleading was “twishing.” I couldn’t help but wonder if “twishing” was anything like Miley Cyrus’s “twerking,” or was it simply Elmer Fudd speaking up once again? I found the silliness to be disconcerting, and a deterrent to clear communication, which provided me a solid reason or excuse not to tweet.

Finally, I found some of the acronyms and terms to be outright offensive. One such acronym was “WTF.” I can’t believe that people use such an acronym. People should not be so mean and judgmental! It doesn’t matter if a person is talking, texting, or tweeting they should always be sensitive to the feelings of others. To hurt another person’s feelings and say or write, “Whoa, WTF” is just wrong! So what if a person is “Way too Fat,” that is that person’s business, and it should not be blasted across social media. For me, such insensitivity was the nail in the coffin for Twitter. It is far too easy to be mean to people when you don’t have to look them in the eye.

On a serious note, I have nothing against social media such as Twitter other than like all other social media, it lacks the human touch. In spite of its illusion of audience and connectivity, Twitter and other social media have become the tools of human isolation. The sad thing about all social media is that we never truly know if anyone is reading or listening, but the biggest flaw is that we never know if anyone really cares. The only way to ever know that is face to face, and that is precisely the problem with social media; it is an illusion of the real human connectivity that we all crave so much for in our lives. Social media is not a bad thing as long as people do not allow it to become a substitute for real face to face human interaction. Technology cannot replace the human touch, nor was it ever intended to do so; unfortunately, many people in today’s society are more in touch with their social media lives than they are with the lives of the ones who really do care about them – their family. The real reason I gave up Twitter had nothing to do with the technology, but I simply decided I did not need another social media distraction in my life. I am not saying people need to give up all social media, but is it really necessary to be connected to every social media tool out there? By cutting a social media umbilical cord or two, people might be surprised at some of the truly real human connections and experiences they have been missing.


©Jack Linton, September 28, 2014