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None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators


reviewed by Mari Banks - April 05, 2019

coverTitle: None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators
Author(s): Shani Robinson & Anna Simonton
Publisher: Penguin,
ISBN: 0807022209, Pages: 268, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com


In a searing indictment of Georgia education policy, Atlanta housing policy, and the neoliberal corporate interests that manipulate both, Shani Robinson, an Atlanta Public Schools (APS) educator, and Anna Simonton, an investigative journalist, have crafted a wide-reaching, detailed text about Atlanta’s racialized history of neighborhood economic disinvestment, gentrification, and Georgia's misguided efforts to cling to educational policies supporting charter schools and high-stakes testing. A history, narrative, personal reflection, and policy statement all at once, None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators provides a new, in-depth perspective on the APS cheating scandal of 2008-2013 through the eyes and experiences of Robinson, an APS teacher charged with collusion in altering her students' answers on second grade exams. In this 246-page text, Robinson, a novice teacher and Teach for America alumna at the time of the incident, explains the circumstances surrounding how she and 34 other APS educators were convicted, then sentenced to up to 20 years in prison through the misapplication of a RICO statute created in the 1970s for the purposes of prosecuting mob bosses like John Gotti.


Many will pick up this book because they simply want to know: did APS educators cheat, and did they learn a lesson by going to jail? However, the answers to those questions are far from simple. As comedian and political pundit Jon Stewart noted in a (2015) monologue on The Daily Show, any decisions made by APS educators, in addition to being clear examples of a response to the nationwide epidemic of unreasonable state and federal expectations generated by No Child Left Behind, were nowhere near as egregious or conspiratorial as the blatant fraud and theft displayed by bankers during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Yet, only one banker was charged with... well, anything, or spent any time in jail. Conversely, multiple APS educators were charged with a RICO statute and sentenced to serve up to 20 years in jail. Similar to Stewart’s ridicule, None of the Above details Georgia’s histrionic, disproportional response to the APS teachers’ alleged cheating, a response that would almost be funny if it weren’t so unjust.


Robinson and Simonton’s text is noteworthy because it provides an in-depth explanation of many complex, intersectional issues important to the development of the APS scandal, such as gentrification, redlining, standardized testing abuses, urban planning, racism, teacher workload, neoliberalism, NCLB, Atlanta’s Black=poor/rich=White dichotomy, the emergence of charter schools, and the failure of the justice system. Unfortunately, the strength of this book is also its downfall.


Believing for good reason that readers need to understand all the surrounding factors in order to navigate the true nature, genesis, and outcomes of the scandal, the authors simply provide TMI; far too much information for their audience to process. Further, because the issues discussed by this text are as intertwined as the lives of a couple reaching their 50th anniversary, unless one is already familiar with concepts such as the neoliberal dismantling of public education, its relation to racism, and the many local and federal players involved in such actions, it is difficult to distinguish how the many disparate factors addressed by Robinson and Simonton in the course of this text relate to, or resulted in, the unjust prosecution of APS educators.


When wading through the myriad issues presented in the text, three overarching themes emerge. The first theme, prevalent in Chapters One through Three, has to do with the racialized politics of housing in Atlanta. Here, the authors explore how a shadow government of Atlanta’s White business leaders, real estate developers, and ALEC, along with the state and local politicians in their pocket, have colluded to gentrify the primarily African American low-income neighborhoods ringing Atlanta, thus transforming formerly blighted areas, which they labeled “a ring of slums around the neck of the core” (p. 29) into “an emerald necklace” (p 85). This section also includes a discussion of how a large part of Georgia's, particularly Atlanta’s, push to expand Charter schools was driven by similar interests.


A second theme, explored primarily in Chapters Four through Seven, involves the story of Robinson’s life during the APS ordeal. Robinson takes us from the excitement and fear of her first day of school as a new teacher to, as a new wife, her first awareness of being unjustly charged with making false statements and writings (i.e. changing answers on students' tests and lying about doing so). She next details her experiences in the courtroom as a new mother on trial and laments the intense emotional and financial toll of the scandal. She declares her innocence as well as that of the others with whom she worked at the time, and provides some credible (and other debatable) explanations of her actions, inactions, and decisions along the way. She also decries the racist nature of the treatment of APS educators and shares information about how White educators in Georgia’s Dougherty County who were accused of identical crimes were not subjected to the same scrutiny, nor were they arrested or taken to jail. Further, Robinson notes that the Dougherty educators' cheating was overlooked and dismissed by the same Georgia governors and state board of education members who reacted with such shock and condemnation to APS educators.


A third theme, predominant in Chapters Seven through Nine, laments the anti-democratic outcomes of neoliberal school reform, such as the undue pressures placed on states and school systems, the many school budget cuts made by Republican governors, and the creation and proliferation of charter schools that drain funds from public school systems but lack successes to show for the money received. As part of this discussion, the authors offer a clear denouncement of the hypocrisy of the actions of Georgia governors Nathan Deal and Sonny Perdue, trial judge Jerry Baxter, and many others who registered shock and disgust regarding the possibility that APS educators may have cheated while at the same time using the “tainted test scores” in question to obtain over 400 million dollars in federal grants, promote local and state interests, and engage in self-promotion.


I was a Metro Atlanta resident at the time of the so-called cheating scandal and have spent part of my career studying the extensive damage inflicted by neoliberal education reform in Georgia. Nevertheless, this text provides a unique, insider perspective to the APS incident that explores new historical, emotional, financial, and racial elements surrounding the punishment of these educators and the manipulations of public education in Atlanta. Admittedly, one can easily get lost in the complex historical facts, in- and out-of-state players, and policies bandied about by the authors like balls on a tennis court, but Robinson and Simonton’s text is an important work and worth the extra effort. It makes a compelling case for local educational stakeholders, particularly low-income stakeholders of color, to remain diligent in protecting public schools. It also provides a disgusting and terrifying example of the mess that can be made of education when the institution is tampered with by those who are swift to place financial gain over human development.


So, did APS educators cheat and did they learn a lesson through their courtroom experiences? Jason Linkins, in a 2015 Huffington Post article entitled Some Atlanta Educators Just Learned A Cynical Lesson About Accountability in America, provides what I believe to be the best answer to these questions as well as the best statement possible to summarize the essence of None of the Above:


In the end, I think that these Atlanta teachers have learned a lesson: be a banker, or a polluter, or run a for-profit education scam, or snooker people with predatory mortgage agreements, or rip off people with penny-stock schemes, or run a college sports cartel, or create a super PAC, or torture some folks… Just don’t ever change the answers on a standardized test. (n. p.)


Throughout the APS ordeal, many media outlets, politicians, and judge Jerry Baxter himself lambasted the educators on trial for cheating students out of an education. However, as the authors note, if the populace really wants to see who’s been cheating students out of an education, we should look to Georgia’s Republican governors, who have been slashing education funding for the past 20 years while undermining public schools with charters; the Georgia state board of education, which insists upon mandating unvalidated and time-consuming standardized tests; and Georgia education policy, which insists upon linking teacher evaluations to poorly developed tests; and ourselves, for stopping None of the Above.


References

 

Albanese, R. & Stewart, J. (Producers), (2015, April 22). The daily show with Jon Stewart [Television broadcast]. New York, NY: Comedy Central.


Linkins, J. (April 3, 2015). Some Atlanta educators just learned a cynical lesson about accountability in America. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/03/atlanta-educator-cheating-scandal_n_7001214.html

 





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 05, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22746, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 9:17:04 PM

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