Editorial: Punishment absent for school cheaters

The Columbus Dispatch

The Ohio Department of Education’s lackadaisical progress in holding accountable Columbus City Schools’ administrators who cooked the books on student test performance feeds suspicion that the state was negligent — asleep at the wheel — in a cheating scheme that extended to other districts.

None carried out a plan as calculated and devious as the state’s largest urban district, as revealed by a Dispatch investigation more than five years ago. The district retroactively altered thousands of student attendance records to make kids with low test scores disappear, hoodwinking parents and taxpayers by making it appear schools and the district were more successful. Top administrators, including former Superintendent Gene Harris, were convicted.

It now has been more than a year since dozens of district administrators swept up in the scandal were mailed letters from the state education department offering a sort of plea bargain — including temporary license suspensions accommodated over summer break. Since, just 16 of the 64 have been disciplined.

In any business, an employee suspected of fraud would be out the door before day’s end, either fired or placed on paid leave. Incredibly, the standard of protection for those entrusted with our children doesn’t rise to that level.

Thirty-five of the 64 administrators suspected of falsifying data are still working as Columbus administrators. Most earn six-figure salaries. Two are top aides to the superintendent: the chief of staff and chief academic officer.

State Auditor Dave Yost’s probe ended more than three years ago. ODE’s tortoise-speed approach to resolving discipline and its lack of transparency is headshaking. Failing kids deserved remedial education services. Taxpayers deserved truth. State tests and report cards are meaningless if districts can cheat without consequence. This scandal shakes the foundation of the state’s school-accountability system.

 

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