The book that lay on Beverly Hall’s desk through years of acclaim and reproach at the Atlanta Public Schools contained neither business-school bromides nor educational platitudes.
It was “The Art of War.”
The millennia-old, pre-Machiavellian classic, by the Chinese general Sun-Tzu, lays out strategies for prevailing in any conflict through ruthless efficiency. Its eternal presence on her desk underscores Hall’s approach to her dozen years as Atlanta’s school superintendent: Schools were a battlefield. Test scores were weapons. Defeat was not an option.
An indictment issued Friday charging Hall and 34 other Atlanta educators with racketeering and other crimes sends the former superintendent into a new battle — this one in a courtroom. The case asks the court to render judgment not just on Hall and the other defendants, but also on the aggressive, sometimes-intimidating management style that she, her top advisers and their subordinates propagated for years.
Even setting aside criminal culpability, the indictment portrays a workplace with a toxic culture in which leaders routinely sacrificed their integrity to preserve the district’s image, not to mention Hall’s. Desired results, no matter how unlikely, drew little skepticism, grand jurors found. Truth-telling, on the other hand, could result in severe punishment. Employees who reported cheating put their jobs in jeopardy, and the indictment recounts an episode in which Hall lightly punished a cheating teacher but fired the whistleblower.
Through her lawyers, Hall denied the charges, as did other defendants, and the indictment provides no direct evidence that Hall ordered district employees to cheat on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT. But it states that Hall did little or nothing to ferret out cheaters, and it alleges the superintendent and others took extreme actions to cover up wrongdoing.
“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu wrote.
If the indictment is accurate, Beverly Hall took his words to heart.
Rhee, Henderson, Klein, Bloomberg - they've all created workplaces with toxic cultures in which leaders routinely sacrifice integrity to preserve a district's image as well as their own.
If New York City and Washington D.C. were given the same going-over that Atlanta received under Governor Sonny Purdue, there would be lots of people carted out in handcuffs on RICO charges.
Does anyone really think Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson were unaware that administrators and teachers, under tremendous pressure from the feds and the city, were funking with the numbers in D.C.?
Does anyone think Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg were unaware that administrators and teachers, under tremendous pressure from the feds, state and city to increase test scores and graduation rates, were funking with the numbers in NYC?
For that matter, does anyone really think Bloomberg and Ray Kelly are unaware that the precinct officers, captains and central office brass, under tremendous pressure from the mayor, are funking with the crime stats?
The pressure to continuously get better stats NO MATTER WHAT creates that toxic workplace culture that leads to cheating and funking with the numbers.
This is not to excuse the behavior, only to say that the people REALLY responsible for the toxic culture that leads to cheating and numbers-funking - the policy makers and politicians - are being spared the perp walks.
Do not think for a minute that the people who set up these policies - get the numbers up AT ANY COST - are not aware that they have set off a rash of cheating under them.
But they will not be held accountable in this mess.
George W. Bush, Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings, George Miller, Ted Kennedy, John Kline, Tom Harkin, Lamar Alexander, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and all Wall Streeters and hedge fund managers and other corporate reform functionaries will skate accountability (in Kennedy's case, his memory will remain unsullied, at least by NCLB if not by Chappaquiddick.)
From the stories that are emerging of how Beverly Hall ruled by fear, punished whistleblowers in the system and let cheaters get off lightly, she ought to be held accountable for the cheating.
But so should all the policy makers and politicians and corporate funders and malanthropists who have engineered the education reform movement that created this toxic mess in the first place.
Just as the banksters who raided the economy and continue to engorge themselves off the Federal Reserve printing press have skated accountability for the financial collapse of '07/'08, the people responsible for the cheating of the children in Atlanta will skate accountability.