District Dossier’s Year in Review: Scandals and Superintendent Moves

By Christina A. Samuels — December 30, 2011 3 min read
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In 2011, readers couldn’t get enough of blog posts about test tampering and superintendents making dramatic exits from their school districts.

The most-read blog post for 2011 was about the revelations uncovered in July as part of an investigation into state test-tampering in Atlanta.

I’m not surprised at the attention this story received. Because law enforcement officials were involved in this investigation, they could compel educators to speak in a way that newspaper reporters and school-based investigators cannot, and they appeared to use every law-enforcement tool at their disposal. But the heated tone of the 800-page report, which excoriated Atlanta educators by name, also stood out. This was much different from the reserved and mild reports that school districts generally produce.

Interestingly, a similar report from the same investigators on cheating in Dougherty County, Ga., has received only a fraction of the attention that Atlanta got. Dougherty, with about 16,000 students, is much smaller and less high-profile than Atlanta. But the district also benefitted from having the report drop during a holiday week.

Here’s a list of the remaining times on the blog’s top ten most-read list:

2. Ackerman Blames Her Departure on Political Missteps: Arlene Ackerman, the former superintendent of Philadelphia schools, received a nearly million-dollar buyout of her contract. On the way out, she chose to speak to only a few media outlets, Education Week among them. She said that her departure was because she refused to “play ball” with the mayor and other powerful figures in the city, but that didn’t stop Philadelphians from being incensed at the size of the buyout.

3. KIPP Charter Network Receives $25.5 Million from Walton Family Foundation: An interesting choice for the top ten, as it is a fairly straightforward story. Clearly, there’s a lot of interest in charter schools and education philanthropies like the Walton Foundation.

4. USDA Releases Proposed Nutrition Standards for School Meals: Another straightforward story, but hugely important for the number of children that would be affected. My colleague Nirvi Shah has followed this story closely, and you can read how Congress put a crimp in the plans of those who wanted to change the composition of school lunches.

5. Districts Report Bad News on Finances: If there was a common thread in education last year, it was money (the lack of it.) This blog post gave the results of a survey of school district leaders, who indicated that they were running out of ways to cut spending.

6. Focus on Building Character Turns Around A Struggling School: Nirvi wrote a guest post for the blog on one school’s attempt to create a favorable climate for learning.

7. Publicity Misstep Costs Pearson Chance for L.A. Textbook Bid: The moral of this story is, don’t distribute a press release saying you’ve won a lucrative contract before the school board has voted.

8. Rhee’s Record on Academic Gains Questioned: Alan Ginsburg, the former director of policy and program studies for the U.S. Department of Education, used scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress to examine the record of former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. His conclusion is that test scores in the city were on an upward trajectory before she assumed leadership.

9. Rochester, N.Y. Superintendent Moves to Chicago: Jean-Claude Brizard, who was a lightning rod for some during his tenure in the New York district, moves to the Windy City.

10. Broad Foundation Announces New Prize for Urban Charters: The Los Angeles-based philanthropy, continuing in the path it created by awarding high-performing urban districts, decided to expand its reach to urban charter schools.

Happy New Year, everyone!

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.