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Why the Atlanta Schools Cheating Scandal Is Important

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Nearly a dozen teachers in the Atlanta Public School System have been taken into custody. They were convicted of leading their students in a cheating scandal crafted to boost standardized test scores. Initially, 35 educators were indicted but 23 of them pled guilty to lesser charges instead of going to trial. Only one teacher was acquitted of all charges while 11 others who stood trial were convicted for violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

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Prosecuted under a law designed to crack down on mobsters, these former educators are now convicted felons awaiting their sentence dates. Charges were filed after an investigation into the test scores was prompted by a local newspaper. Dozens of witnesses were interviewed and the web of deceit was unraveled as witnesses reported teachers erasing answers, prompting students during exams and warning children not to tell anyone about their actions.

What would cause these educators to craft such a malicious plan? It may be the fact that under President Obama's Race to the Top initiative, student test scores were linked to teacher evaluations and pay. Under this initiative, public schools also use standardized test scores in the race for federal funding.

While some argue that the punishment is too severe for teachers who are fighting a losing battle against a standardized testing system that is ill-equipped to measure the aptitude of students, I happen to have mixed feelings about this case.

Not only were these educators cheating the system, they were harming their students by teaching them that it is OK to bend rules in pursuit of the all mighty dollar.

On one hand, taking away a person's freedom for decades does seem a bit harsh for a non-violent crime, however, considering the impact that a crime like this would have on a child's future, the consequences would be equally as devastating.

If these educators had gotten away with this crime, the children who were instructed to lie and cheat would likely face a similar punishment later in life. Not only were these educators cheating the system, they were harming their students by teaching them that it is OK to bend rules in pursuit of the all mighty dollar. These educators had no confidence in themselves or their students and blatantly expressed disdain for the students they were committed to serve by dismissing the simple act of teaching them to try their best, ultimately undermining their confidence.

Children are watching. They are always watching. They pick up on clues for how to interact in the world by watching the adults who are charged with their care. These public school educators serve as role models and an introduction into how to function in society and in the workplace. Students who participated in this cover up learned that they were not smart enough to pass these tests on their own and that cheating is the best way to get ahead. If this misdeed had gone unpunished, the Atlanta Public School System would have had to build more prisons to count for the wave of future criminals it had groomed with this act.

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I think serving two decades in prison for teaching children that they are incapable of achieving success on their own and grooming them to be liars and cheaters is a fair punishment for attempting to destroy budding minds who have yet to develop the fortitude to understand the difference between achievement through perseverance and progress through misdeeds.

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