Education Opinion

On The HotSeat: Scott Reeder On Teacher Misconduct

By Alexander Russo — October 22, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Every couple of years, Springfield Illinois reporter Scott Reeder (pictured) puts out a big package of news stories that includes lots of new data and some surprising findings. This year, it’s about teachers who stray off the path and should -- theoretically -- not be allowed to teach any more. In reality, Reeder finds, they just find a job somewhere else.

In the email interview below, Reeder describes what he found, how he found it, how Illinois compares to other states, and why his little paper can pull off this kind of investigative report when others stick to day-by-day reporting with a lot less depth or intensity. Want to know what it’s like to interview a teacher who molested children? Check it out. So all teachers are sexual predators, right?

SR: The number of sexual predators in the teaching ranks is quite small. But the number of children who are victimized by this small percentage can be rather large.

Did you do any face to face reporting -- meet the fired teachers, for example?

SR: Yes. I found myself interviewing a teacher serving 30 years in Menard Correctional Center for sexually abusing a student. I talked to many victims and have interviewed many teachers who have been disciplined.

What was it like talking to the offenders? creepy, normal?

SR: What I found most disconcerting is how ordinary these offenders are. The fellow I interviewed in prison had been convicted of doing horrible things to a child. But he was clean cut and well spoken. He has a master’s degree and 10 years experience in the classroom. Before these allegations came to light, he was on track toward becoming a principal. There was nothing about his background or demeanor that would lead one to believe he was a child molester.

What was the most surprising finding or fact that you found in your reporting?

SR: I found it stunning that none of the tenured teachers fired in the last decade have had any action taken to revoke or suspend their teaching certificates. An even more frightening fact is that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services found that 323 abuse complaints over the last eight years were credible. But not one of these findings resulted in the teacher certification board suspending or revoking a teaching certificate. But by far the most stunning thing to me is how prevalent the problem of sexual abuse is in our schools.

How hard was it to get information -- the right information -- via FOIA?

SR: It was quite difficult. I obtained information on disciplinary actions from all 50 states. Some states such as Oregon, Texas and Nebraska are quite open about the disciplinary process and even post their actions on the internet. Some states such as Maine, Colorado and Alabama are quite secretive. Maine claimed it couldn’t even give the number of teachers disciplined each year. (Through a lot of persistent questioning, I was able to get the numbers for 2006, but not for any of the prior years.) Alabama and Colorado just provided year-by-year numbers. But almost all of the other states provided much more detailed information.

Did you copy the Associated Press, or did they copy you?

SR: My investigation was published before the AP had moved its stories on the wire. I first began gathering this information in 2006, well before the AP began their investigation. But regardless of who was first, both investigations are strong and complement each other. They highlight a significant problem in our schools – educator misconduct.

What did your stories cover that theirs didn’t, or vice versa? same conclusions?

SR: My stories are focused on Illinois, where the AP’s investigation has more of a national focus. I sought data from all 50 states to see how Illinois compared. They sought data from all 50 states to do an overview on a national problem. Their data looked specifically at sexual misconduct. My data looked at a broader spectrum of misconduct. I don’t see any contradictions between the two investigations.

How come more folks don’t do big investigative education pieces like this -- or do they?

SR: As newspapers downsize staffs, investigative reporting often is the first casualty. I’d love to see more investigative reporting in education. In fact, I have traveled all over the country in the last year and a half lecturing on investigative reporting techniques in hopes of spurring more reporters to consider such in-depth projects.

How do you pull off these pieces and other folks think they can’t or don’t?

SR: I work long hours and manage my time well. (During my last investigation I fond myself conducting interviews and inputting data in a hospital maternity ward as my wife and newborn daughter slept nearby.) The president of our newspaper chain has been quite supportive of my investigations.

Did you encounter news of any teachers who had been wrongly accused or removed?

SR: That’s a tough one. The Illinois Federation of Teachers contends such false allegations do happen. And I would admit that it is not outside the realm of possibility.But the sex abuse investigators I’ve interviewed say such allegations against a non-family member are exceedingly rare.These cases often hinge on the word of child against that of an adult. They are exceedingly difficult to prosecute. Just because a case is not prosecuted or a conviction is not obtained, does not necessarily mean that the child is lying – only that there was not enough evidence to convict.

What if anything happened in response to your 2005 story about tenure in Illinois?

SR: Legislators are considering a measure that would prohibit secret settlement agreements in which teachers are quietly paid to resign. A bill to require school districts to reveal teacher evaluation data was killed off in a legislative committee. Shortly after the series ran, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan called for reforming teacher evaluations.

The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)