Recently-convicted Atlanta educators who conspired for years to fraudulently boost the city’s scores on standardized tests were slapped with lengthy prison sentences of up to seven years Tuesday.
Sharon Davis-Williams, Michael Pitts, and Tamara Cotman were all regional directors with the Atlanta Public Schools throughout the cheating scandal, and were slapped with the toughest penalties by Baxter. All of them were sentenced to seven years in prison, to be followed by 13 years of probation and 2,000 hours of community service. They were also fined $25,000 apiece. Several other educators were slapped with shorter sentences that still sent them to prison for as long as two years.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter said this widespread cheating was far from a victimless crime, and warranted a tough response.
“These stories are incredible. These kids can’t read,” Baxter said at Tuesday’s hearing, according to CNN. “It’s like the sickest thing that’s ever happened in this town.” Baxter also said he was upset by an apparent lack of remorse or willingness to accept responsibility among the educators being sentenced.
The seven-year sentences given the regional directors are tougher than the sentences received by many violent criminals across the U.S.
During the first decade of the 2000s, Atlanta’s public schools were held up as a national model for their rapid gains on standardized tests. However, investigations by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and later the state government revealed that much of this improvement was a sham, enabled by systematic fraud carried out by dozens of educators, who were motivated variously be fear of losing their jobs or the desire to receive performance bonuses. During the trial which ended two weeks ago, prosecutors painted a lurid picture of corruption where teachers would meet for “cheating parties” where they would eat fish and grits while fixing wrong answers on students’ standardized tests.
The scandal was so widespread and entrenched that the teachers were ultimately convicted under Georgia’s racketeering law, normally intended to prosecute gang members.
The ten educators sentenced Tuesday were only a small portion of the 200 educators who are believed to have participated in the cheating, and they were less than half of the 35 people indicted last year. Most of those charged with crimes took plea deals in order to avoid jail time.