Time to Hand-Out Whistles in America’s Schools


It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.

Henry David Thoreau

The New York Times recently published a story detailing 14 cases of New York City high school teachers and principals who aided students cheating on tests. The City's special commissioner investigating the schools substantiated the story. Unfortunately, this New York City story is only of many stories of cheating scandals in America's schools. One effective tool to combat the cheating is to enhance the whistleblower protections for teachers and school officials.

Cheating is rampant

The stories alleging cheating in U.S. schools are too numerous to count. Here is a sampling of stories that broke after midsummer 2013:

  • In New York City, claims of test-tampering and grade-changing have tripled.
  • In Atlanta, a teacher expresses regret for blowing the whistle on a colleague's cheating because she remains unemployed since suffering retaliation from the school district.
  • In Flint, Michigan, a teacher complained of retaliation after reporting incidents to authorities.
  • In Tulsa, Oklahoma, an employee reported improprieties.
  • In New Orleans, Louisiana, a state education official was terminated after revealing misconduct.
  • In Florida, a superintendent allegedly created a hostile work environment for an employee who expressed concerns about budget cuts. 

The largest school cheating scandal

What may be the largest school cheating scandal broke earlier in the year, but the legal fallout continues. In July 2013, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal released a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) on cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools that identified 178 teachers and school officials who participated in the scandals — 82 of the 178 confessed. The news tarnishes the image of the Atlanta Public Schools, which had won awards for their increased test scores over the last decade.

Former principal of North Atlanta High, Mark MyGrant, blew the whistle on the scandal when he informed the GBI of the "Go to Hell" memo plan. Former regional schools director Tamara Cotman organized a meeting of principals and gave each one a memo titled "Go to Hell." The memo instructed school officials not to cooperate with GBI investigators when questioned. MyGrant drafted an anonymous letter to the GBI informing the agency of the meeting.

Whistleblowing may be the way to reduce school cheating

The Atlanta Public School cheating scandal reveals not only the seriousness of cheating, but also how whistleblowing can help. Currently, there are no whistleblowing laws specifically drafted to protect teachers, principals and other school officials. Additional protections for academic whistleblowers would undoubtedly increase reports of illegal and unethical behavior.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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