Ex-superintendent indicted for Atlanta cheating

Former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others were indicted Friday on charges they conspired to cheat on standardized tests from at least 2005 to 2010, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which conducted the investigation that revealed widespread cheating.

Further, the grand jury charged, Hall, several top aides, principals and teachers engaged in the scheme for their own financial gain. And with investigators closing in, the jury said, Hall and others lied to cover up their crimes.

. . . Pressuring subordinates to produce targeted scores, the indictment said, “created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.”

“This is nothing but pervasive and rank thuggery,” said Richard Hyde, one of the special investigators.

The indictment served as a resounding refutation of Hall’s assertions that Atlanta had found the secret formula that had long eluded educators elsewhere: how to get strong performances from poor, mostly minority students in decaying urban schools. For her efforts, Hall was named the national superintendent of the year in 2009.

Hall collected more than $225,000 in bonuses in 2007 to 2009 by certifying test scores “which she knew were false,” the grand jury found. Her base salary exceeded $300,000 by 2009.

About Joanne


  1. Why stop with Dr. Allen? Why not indict the Federal leaders who pressured her to pressure schools to cheat?


    • For the same reason banking companies aren’t prosecuted for “pressuring” bank robbers into sticking them up.

      • In the normal scheme of things, bank robbers are not working for the banks. In certain rare cases, they might be. I suppose you could argue that some of the financial hijinks in the period leading up to our recent crisis were a case of “bank robbers” working for the banks, and in those cases, yes, I would hope that both the robbers and the bosses might face some consequences. But my larger point is really that Dr. Allen was under a lot of pressure herself, and that this is less a case of individual malfeasance than of major systemic problems.

        • oops–I meant Dr. Hall, of course! Apologies to you, allen…

        • Your larger point was to find some excuse, beyond dishonesty and greed, for a school superintendent, phony up test results for her own gain. But there is none. If you’re looking for a reason to blame NCLB the reason is that NCLB made educating kids professionally consequential to the likes of Dr. Allen and, being liar and a thief, she chose to cheat and to force her subordinates to cheat.

          Justice demands this loathsome individual, who not only forced her subordinates to commit crimes but also stole from the tax-paying public and the kids put in her charge, ought to get a good, long stretch in jail. That outcome might have a beneficially educational effect on all the other superintendents who believe they also are above the law.

          • My larger point was certainly not to excuse Dr. Hall–I agree with you that she sounds, from the news accounts, pretty loathsome. My larger point was that the prosecutors have not been able to find any evidence that she, to use your words, “chose to cheat and to force her subordinates to cheat.” The evidence they have found is that she created a climate of fear and pressure by demanding the impossible. I agree that this is loathsome and should be punished; but I see it as very similar to what NCLB did. Demanding that every child be at grade level is impossible, and punishing people for not achieving it may well be, yes, criminal.

          • Since there wasn’t, until NCLB, any systemic requirement to educate kids being certain of what is and isn’t possible would be based on what? Your sincere, heart felt certainty?

            Sorry, not good enough.

            I’m of the opinion that every kid ought be at grade level and can be. I don’t even think it’s asking all that much of professionals to achieve that result.

            If I’m wrong then some adults lose their jobs. Big deal. Welcome to the real world where pitiful whining isn’t an acceptable substitute for results and ever so unfairly, some people are required to do what in retrospect turns out to be an impossible job.

            Life’s like that. Sometimes it’s just unfair. Deal with it.

            But if I’m right then a lot of kids get a decent education.

            NCLB put the responsibility where it ought to be, on the people being paid to do the job.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            “I’m of the opinion that every kid ought be at grade level and can be.”

            allen, I’m sure you didn’t mean that. There are lots of kids who are, to use the old term, retarded, who can never be at the grade level for their age. There are also lots of kids who don’t care much. And there are kids who enter a school year so far behind that no teacher can get them up to grade level in nine and a half months.

            As far as I can tell, one of the great unknowns in education is just what it is reasonable to expect in terms of young people’s learning.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            allen, perhaps you meant that all students can perform up to the standards of the grade they are in. Putting aside people with severe “developmental disorder”, that is true, and it could be accomplished by never promoting a student to the next grade until he or she has demonstrated proficiency in the skills and knowledge that were supposed to be acquired in the present grade.

            That, however, is going to result in a lot of kids being “retained” multiple times, and I feel pretty certain that an astoundingly large number wouldn’t make it past 8th grade. That would be a gut-wrenching reality check for the American people, which is one reason it will not happen.

          • Oh Roger, the notion that the results currently obtained from public education are as good as anyone can reasonably expect is nonsense. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out no professional in the public education system has any responsibility to educate kids so it can hardly be much of a stretch to infer that results we’re getting are not the best results possible. Or within a country mile of the best results possible.

            After all, why should we be getting the best, possible results? The people who are inherently motivated to want to get the best education for the kids – parents – are systematically excluded from acting on the motivation and the people who are paid to do the work are neither rewarded for doing it well nor have any reason to concern themselves if doing it poorly. It would be an odd set of circumstances indeed if kids got a good education in such a system.

            And since there seems to be some misunderstanding about what I meant, I mean that NCLB set ridiculously low standards, depending as it does on state standards that were themselves vitiated.

            We, the people, have a right to expect a certain minimum level of education be attained by the kids required to attend public schools.

            If the current crop of professionals feel that’s just too difficult a task then I’d invite them to look for another line of work and let a different set of professionals take a crack at it. Society’s responsibility is to the kids who a required to attend school and the tax-payers who are required to fund those schools. Society’s only responsibility to the professionals is to make sure their pay checks clear.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I completely agree that the “results we’re getting are not the best results possible.” What I am unsure about is what is *reasonably* possible.

            Kids differ in how “ready” they are for school. Some have parents who read to them, ask them questions and cultivate their curiosity, emphasize the importance of school, etc. Some don’t. Some have “good genes” and a good prenatal experience. Some don’t. Are there things that “the system” should do to make kids more ready? Require universal all-day pre-school beginning at age 1? Would that work? A little? A lot? Even if it “worked”, would it be “reasonable”?

            Once kids are in first grade, I am unsure how much schools can do. I feel fairly sure that some sort of well-applied Direct Instruction-like system of advancement, coupled with removal of disruptors, would raise the achievement of a lot of kids (though there is then the question of what to do with the disruptors). But is it “reasonable” to expect all or nearly all students, no matter how they started first grade, to be reading and doing arithmetic at a fifth grade level five years later? I just don’t know and I don’t think anyone does. We all have hopes but as far as I can tell, that is all we have.

            A tremendous problem arises by the time young people reach middle school. Much of what they are supposed to learn are things they are just not that interested in. Right now we have a three pronged plan to try to motivate them. One, grades. Two, stories of their future: “If you drop out, you’ll never get a good job.” Three, ed school pedagogy; teacher training programs market themselves as providing techniques to get students engaged and interested. However, all three prongs have limited effect. Are there better ways to motivate them? Give every kid an immediate $10,000 bonus as soon as they pass 6th grade, 7th grade, etc.? Require a high school diploma in order to get a drivers license? Would those actually work? Are they “reasonable”?

            Even if the problem of motivation is solved, there is the question of just how much different people can be expected to learn. No one expects 6 year olds to learn calculus. Is it reasonable to expect half of twelfth graders to learn basic calculus? A quarter? Ten percent? No one knows.

            In most places today , teachers and administrators do not suffer directly when kids don’t learn. So it is easy to think that they have little motivation to teach well. I think that substantially underestimates how much they want their students to learn, and substantially overestimates how much could then be accomplished by a system of more direct rewards and punishments for the adults in the system.

            One reason I think this is the results for charters so far. For example, students in KIPP schools generally score better on standardized tests than their peers in traditional schools. But the difference is not that large, not even one grade level. Charters are still pretty new, but if there really was a lot of low hanging fruit, I think there would be schools with much better success records.

          • “What I am unsure about is what is *reasonably* possible.”


            What you can, however, be assured of is that the current system is structurally indifferent to determining what’s reasonable. At least as the word “reasonable” is generally defined.

            Enjoying monopolistic indifference to the needs of those whom the current system of public education ostensibly serves the definition of “reasonable” is founded in that monopolistic status. Performance will gradually descend over time, as it has, until the lowest level of performance, at the highest possible price, is attained.

            Far from being inclined to explore the heights of what’s reasonable the motivations embedded in the structure of public education encourage the plumbing of the depths of performance. How much parents and the tax-paying public are willing to put up with, in terms of fiscal and professional irresponsibility, is the “reasonable” that the public education system is motivated to explore.

            So the question, within the context of the current system, isn’t how many kids is it reasonable to expect to learn calculus but how few. It’s my belief that that state of affairs has damaging repercussions all through public education and damaging repercussions on everything public education impinges upon.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Three thoughts. Economics tells us that firms respond to competition, both actual and potential. Anything that could cause the firm to lose customers keeps it from acting like a pure monopolist. How effective the alternatives are is, of course, another question.

            1. Public schools are not monopolies. Different places have different schools. People decide where to live partly based on the local schools. Every major metropolitan area has at least one suburb where parents expect to get, and put pressure on the schools to get, the “best” education.

            2. Public schools are not monopolies. There are private schools. Of course, most people will have to “pay double” to go to a private school, which means that the average family income of kids going to private school will be relatively high. High income people tend to be more demanding. We can expect them to put pressure on private schools. To the extent that private schools can respond to that pressure, we can expect them to be different from and better than public schools.

            3. Private schools aren’t all that different from public schools. The same age/grade system. The same textbooks. Pretty much the same methods of instruction. When public schools started looking for “pay for performance” systems, there weren’t any already-developed private school ones that they could adopt.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    I believe her previous gig was in Newark. Might be some folks there staring at the ceiling these nights.

  3. If the charges hold up in court then this certainly a case of individual malfeasance on a massive scale. It is also an indication of a profoundly corrupt educational system in Atlanta.

  4. What IS it about Dr. Hall that allowed her to get away with this for so long? I just keep looking at her picture and wondering. . . .

  5. I’m sure that Dr Hall can’t be the only superintendent that got away with this sort of cheating. I wonder how many other superintendents around the country are wondering just who will rat them out when the time comes?