Punishment doesn't fit crime in case of cheating teachers

When a principal and more than a dozen teachers in Waterbury were caught changing the answers on the Connecticut Mastery Test, I naively assumed that tenured or not, they'd be fired, maybe even charged with a crime.

I thought, again naively, as it turned out, that parents would be furious and demand that the teachers who cheated would never teach their children again.

The law says so. Educators found to cheat on tests or violate testing rules, as these teachers did, are subject to dismissal and having their teaching credentials revoked. The elementary school's principal and a reading supervisor were let go but after enjoying what amounts to an extended summer vacation with pay, a dozen suspended teachers have returned to the school.

There was a sweetheart deal of 20 days without pay for changing so many test scores that one of the worst schools in the state magically became one of the best. In a similar cheating scandal in Atlanta, there were two-year suspensions.

The cheating Waterbury teachers will also have to provide the school system with 25 days of community service by tutoring students who need extra help.

What a comfort it will be to the parents of these students to know the kids are going to get individual attention from the cheaters.

The supervisor has decided to retire with a full pension and benefits, including half of her unused sick days but the principal, Maria Moulthrop, is fighting her dismissal.

An independent investigator hired by the state Department of Education said the principal and supervisor intimidated the teachers into making a joke of the CMT. The teachers were portrayed as dupes of the domineering administrators, which may account for, but surely not excuse, the school system's decision to let them keep their jobs.

The report said the principal's emphasis on test scores was so intense, the school dropped art and music classes and library time to allow for more test drilling.

It also said the principal was terribly afraid the school might become subject to a new law that would allow the creation of a parents' committee with decision-making authority at low performing schools. Imagine parents having a say in how schools are run. Oh, the humanity.

Cheating raised the reading scores of third graders from 56 to 90 percent. Reading scores for fourth graders went to 94 percent and to a virtually impossible 100 percent in math. As I noted in an earlier column, the problem wasn't exclusively with students who aren't too smart.

The report prompted suspiciously swift action by the school system and the Waterbury Teachers Association, which came up with the awful punishment of a 20-day pay penalty and 25 days of after-school tutoring. Superintendent David Snead asked the state education commissioner not to revoke the teachers' credentials. All this received very little attention statewide.

As the Waterbury teachers' union was making a deal with the complaisant superintendent, the state's largest teachers' union, the Connecticut Education Association, was asking the General Assembly to give more power to the teachers.

The CEA wants the legislators to transfer the licensing of teachers from the Education Department to a committee composed of teachers.

"You'll find teachers are harder on other teachers than anyone else will ever be because they know the job," said the CEA's executive director, Mary Loftus Levine, in a column by Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer.

And CEA President Phil Apruzzese added, presumably with a face as straight as Levine's, "We hear regularly from our members that they want a voice in decision-making through a new board because they know what it takes to deliver excellent teaching and learning and they want to be accountable for excellence."

"Of course," wrote Powell, "Connecticut's experience with professional regulation, with teachers and others, is exactly to the contrary."

We can only hope someone brings up the Waterbury cheating scandal next year when this "reform" comes before the teachers' union's best friend, the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury.

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