Nearly 140 teachers and administrators of the Philadelphia school district have been implicated in one of the largest cheating scandals in the United States. District officials say they expect to discipline or terminate several district employees in connection with the allegations.
The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is also conducting a criminal investigation into the allegations. In addition, three principals were fired two weeks ago as part of the investigation.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the scandal first surfaced in 2009 when a state investigation looked into erasure patterns and markings on student test booklets on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math and reading exams.
William Hite, Jr., who became superintendent of the Philadelphia school district in 2013 after the scandal took place, said only a fraction of the approximately 8,700 teachers and administrators in the district were involved.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that while he does not condone cheating, district officials have placed strong emphasis on test scores and have converted low-performing schools to charter schools, which are publicly financed yet run by independent groups that generally hire nonunion teachers.
“There was a mood in the district that people knew they have to improve student outcomes or they would be in trouble,” Jordan said.
Robert McGrogan, president of the Teamsters, Local 502 Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, said the investigation was performed in haste and that, in some cases, the district is accepting flimsy evidence of cheating.
“The district basically did ready, shoot, aim – instead of ready, aim, fire,” McGrogan claimed.
Similar cheating and student test-score manipulation have been reported in public school districts in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and El Paso, with the largest cheating scandal in the country taking place in Atlanta.
According to the Philadelphia district, a state probe performed from 2009 through 2011 examined 53 test answer sheets in Philadelphia. Analysis of fourteen Philadelphia schools found that 69 employees of the school district violated testing protocols. A total of 19 city schools have been investigated thus far, and more are still in the process of being investigated.
Hite said that the district’s law firm cleared three schools of wrongdoing, found inconclusive evidence at three other schools, and found evidence of cheating at thirteen schools.
“There is no circumstance, no matter how pressured the cooker, that adults should be cheating students,” Hite said, observing that cheating harms students because schools use test scores to determine which students require remedial help.
As Steve Gunn reports at EAGNews, the Philadelphia school district has been gripped by substantial financial difficulties over the past several years as well, with reports of layoffs of nearly 3,800 employees in 2013 as well as a $300 million deficit.
Despite the enormous financial problems, however, Gunn reports that the school district is paying 395 employees more than $100,000 per year, totaling more than $50 million annually.
In addition, Gunn observes the pricey perks:
How else can this district spend more than $132 million per year for health insurance for teachers union members alone, while the teachers contribute a measly $288,000?
How else can the district pay $5.2 million per year toward a “wage continuation plan” for sick or injured employees, or $36 million in severance pay for those leaving the district?
EAGNews came across these disturbing figures – and many more – as part of our continuing “Where Your School Dollars Go” series. We inspected checking records and filed freedom of information requests in an effort to track as much district spending as possible in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years.
There’s absolutely no reason for this type of spending when district leaders are begging state and national officials for operational funds to keep their doors open.
BET also reports that, despite the layoffs of administrators and other personnel, Hite “was able to get the funds to allow many to be rehired.”