Documentary filmmaker Bob Bowdon – whose celebrated movie “The Cartel” probed deep into failures at New Jersey inner city schools – released a new internet video today about the Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal. His video report can be viewed on ChoiceMedia.TV which debuted just one week ago. The new site is aggregating education stories from all over.
Bowdon’s report begins with WSB-TV’s Monica Pearson: “Late this afternoon a statement on behalf of Superintendent Beverly Hall insisted she was not aware of widespread cheating.” An off-camera voice says, “Answers changed to right ones by teachers after students had turned in their tests.” NBC News anchor Brian Williams says, “There is disturbing news out of Atlanta, Georgia tonight about a major academic cheating scandal in the city’s public school system.”
Disturbing, yes, and possibly corrupt. Over the past two years Atlanta was thrust into headlines first by the Atlanta Journal – Constitution newspaper and later by other media for the worst reasons. Prosecutors in three Atlanta metro counties will decide whether to indict any of 178 persons named in a special prosecutors’ investigation. Former superintendent Hall is among those who might one day face criminal charges linked to the massive test cheating scandal.
Bowdon asked Georgia Public Policy Foundation President Kelly McCutchen whether increased emphasis on standardized testing created too much pressure on not just students, but also their instructors. “If you get rid of testing the other extreme is just as damaging,” McCutchen says. “We’re going to leave teachers in schools that continuously over time let students fall through the cracks. That is just as damaging as the cheating scandal. This is the real world. We are graded and bench marked every day in everything we do.”
When we spoke Friday I asked Bowdon for his take on what happened in Atlanta schools. “My takeaway is that (teachers) for a generation were never held accountable so there were great ones, mediocre ones and bad ones. Excellence was not rewarded and failure was not dealt with,” Bowdon said. In recent years, student tests became a larger part of teacher evaluations.
Teachers “felt they were being unfairly evaluated because there was no evaluation baseline,” Bowdon said. “That’s why they felt a certain kind of righteous indignation about it and moral permissiveness such that cheating on these tests would be okay because, after all, these people don’t have any right to measure me.
“The mentality that drove that was a very small percentage of teachers,” Bowdon said. “It must always be explained that way and people must always be reminded of that but nevertheless, it was not a small number of teachers.”
One of the film’s poignant moments is a segment with Atlanta schools parent Molly Bardsley:
“I don’t know what was worse, the whole scandal or the way the scandal was covered up and denied,” Bardsley tells Bowdon. “There was denial after denial after denial. There were even accusations of racism that if you discounted these achievement gains somehow it was because you didn’t believe poor minority students could achieve.”
Bowdon is best known for last year’s New Jersey schools film “The Cartel” that explains how unions and other entrenched forces collaborated to bring down the quality of Camden, New Jersey public schools. “The Cartel” will be screened this fall at film festivals in Colorado Springs and Indianapolis. Thousands of DVDs have been sold and it continues to book theater dates.
ChoiceMedia.TV – his new project – was launched because Bowdon said education in general and reform in particular is under covered by most news media. “This is our attempt at its simplest level to address the failure of traditional news media to give attention to education.”