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America is Criminalizing Black Teachers: Atlanta’s Cheating Scandal and the Racist Underbelly of Education Reform

Former Atlanta Public Schools school research team director Tamara Cotman, center, is led to a holding cell after a jury found her guilty in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial, Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Atlanta. Cotman and 10 other former Atlanta Public Schools educators accused of participating in a test cheating conspiracy that drew nationwide attention were convicted Wednesday of racketeering charges. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

Former Atlanta Public Schools school research team director Tamara Cotman, center, is led to a holding cell after a jury found her guilty in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial, Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Atlanta. Cotman and 10 other former Atlanta Public Schools educators accused of participating in a test cheating conspiracy that drew nationwide attention were convicted Wednesday of racketeering charges. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)

(Salon) – Last week, an Atlanta jury convicted 11 teachers and school administrators of racketeering in a system-wide cheating scandal. Yes, you read that correctly. Teachers and administrators inflating student scores on standardized tests is now considered “organized crime” in this country, and is punishable by more 20 years in prison, in these cases.

I am an educator. I am a Black woman who may someday mother a Black child. I have taught other Black mothers’ children. Much of my educational success in elementary school is directly attributable to high performance on standardized tests that caused my white teachers to notice me and intervene on my behalf to get me “tracked” into higher-achieving classrooms. I believe all children deserve access to a good, high-quality, public education.

Therefore, I don’t have to condone cheating in any form (and I don’t) to assert that what has happened in Atlanta to these teachers is a travesty. The pictures that emerged last week of handcuffed Black schoolteachers being led out of Southern courtrooms in one of the country’s largest urban Black school systems were absolutely heartbreaking.

Scapegoating Black teachers for failing in a system that is designed for Black children, in particular, not to succeed is the real corruption here. Since the early 1990s, we have watched the deprofessionalization of teaching, achieved through the proliferation of “teacher fellow” programs and the massive conservative-led effort to defund public education in major urban areas throughout the country. There is no longer a consensus that a good public education — a hallmark of American democracy — should be considered a public good.

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America is Criminalizing Black Teachers: Atlanta’s Cheating Scandal and the Racist Underbelly of Education Reform