State prosecutors from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office are conducting a criminal investigation into the state wide allegations of cheating among several teachers and principals in Philadelphia schools after receiving information from the state Inspector General’s Office.
The state Inspector General’s Office began its own investigation in 2011, as reported by Jeff Gammage and Kristin Graham of The Philadelphia Inquirer, when allegations concerning cheating began to emerge involving three city charter schools and fifty three district schools in Philadelphia.
The schools implicated include 11 out of the 25 schools that were praised as high-achieving “vanguard” schools, a designation by Philadelphia school districts for its highest-achieving schools, and one that gave them flexibility with curriculum and budgeting.
Mayor Nutter of the city stated that while the scandal reveals “immoral behavior,” the district had made legitimate improvement in recent years.
As reported in 2011 by the Inquirer, a state-commissioned analysis of 2009 test scores identified suspicious patterns of erasures at schools across Pennsylvania leading to investigations which resulted in forty current district employees and 29 former employees being implicated. Twenty were administrators, 46 were teachers, and three worked in other capacities, including as counselors and a police officer.
News of the criminal probe, which one source said involves a grand jury, comes as 138 educators have been implicated in the citywide scandal. The revelation comes a day after three Philadelphia school principals were fired for alleged cheating. The School Reform Commission removed the principals, Deidre Bennett, Michelle Burns, and Marla Travis-Curtis, as of Friday, and officials said further investigation and more discipline was to come.
In recent years, testing scandals have erupted in Washington; Cincinnati; Baltimore; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; and Newark, N.J., among other cities. Since 2009, cheating has been confirmed in 37 states and in Washington.
The cheating scandal currently being looked into in Philadelphia has garnered comparisons to one that took place in Atlanta last year where a Fulton County grand jury indicted 35 educators including former school superintendent, Beverly Hall, who was identified by prosecutors as a leader driven by bonuses and federal funding tied to better tests results. The allegations concerned a total of’ 44 schools and the individuals were charged with racketeering, conspiracy, making false statements and other related offenses. Since then, another 17 educators including 6 former Atlanta principals have recently pleaded guilty to the offenses.
A high fueled debate has begun over using high-stakes classroom tests to judge the performances of teachers, administrators and schools due to the now public cheating scandals. Some teachers in Atlanta who cheated blamed the extreme pressure to meet district goals.
Robert McGrogan, head of the union that represents Philadelphia school administrators, said he does not condone cheating under any circumstances. But, he said, during the years of the alleged cheating, the district was a pressure cooker.
“Do you know how many of us sat in meetings with our bosses and were told, ‘You have to bring your scores up’?” said McGrogan, a principal at the time. “There was no how-to book given to us.”
Supervisors warned principals that if they did not meet state standards, “you’re not going to be a principal next year,” McGrogan said.