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City embraces transparency in recent cheating revelations

When we broke the news Thursday that two more Baltimore city schools cheated on state assessments, the response was notably different than when the district announced last year that George Washington Elementary, a national Blue Ribbon school, had cheated.

The level of cheating was arguably more egregious this time around--it included a gamut of violations and attendance tampering--but it seemed that the school system mitigated the fallout in the very public way it went about acknowledging the scandals at Abbottston and Fort Worthington elementary schools.

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The Sun, which had been following the investigations for the last year, broke the story on Thursday morning after learning that the announcement was coming. City schools CEO Andres Alonso and State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, held a news conference Thursday afternoon where they released even more details about the investigations and publicly denounced the cheating.

The Sun's editorial board joined many education stakeholders in the city in concluding that  "Evidence of integrity, not widespread problems" was the moral of the story this time around.

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The fact that the district also went to great lengths to prevent cheating this past year--hiring external monitors to be placed in every school--was also at the forefront of many conversations and reactions to the fact that schools had been caught cheating two years in a row.

At least from the reactions I received, everyone agreed with our editorial board's conclusion--with one exception.

The only person who was publicly critical of the situation was mayoral candidate, Otis Rolley. As we've covered before, Rolley has a rather aggressive education platform that includes returning the school system to mayoral control.

According to our City Hall Reporter, Julie Scharper, Rolley said that the cheating scandal implied serious shortcomings in the school system--and that the mayor, among others, should be held accountable. You can read our coverage of his press conference, held Thursday morning, here.

Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings-Blake's campaign also responded to Rolley's, emphasizing the progress in city schools.

Bebe Verdery, education reform director of the ACLU, said she remembers a time when these types of transgressions would have never come to light. She said she was also encouraged by the recent security measures put in place.

"It was not always this way (close monitoring and accountability for any wrongdoing) and any time scores went up dramatically, there were whispers and rumors about whether the gains were real," Verdery said. "I think the message from the top is now clear that cheating will not be allowed."

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