Assessment

N.Y.C. Union Report Blasts Cheating Probe

By Karla Scoon Reid — January 10, 2001 3 min read
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A 1999 probe that found more than 50 New York City educators had helped students cheat on tests was “flawed, unreliable, and unfair,” according to a union-commissioned investigation of the allegations.

The United Federation of Teachers, the 140,000-member union which represents the city’s teachers, hired a private firm run by a former assistant district attorney to evaluate the fairness and accuracy of the cheating report. The special commissioner of investigation for the New York City schools prepared that report (“N.Y.C. Probe Levels Test-Cheating Charges,” Dec. 15, 1999.)

The union-hired investigator maintains that critical exculpatory evidence was ignored, that children were questioned without parental permission, and that many of the teachers involved were never interviewed. His report, released last month, says that while the city’s schools are vulnerable to cheating, there is little evidence that a systemwide problem exists as was alleged in the first report.

For More Information

The investigator’s report, “Setting the Record Straight: Anatomy of a Failed Investigation,” is available from the United Federation of Teachers. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“I was very surprised at the extraordinary lapse of fairness and thoroughness in the investigation, compounded by significant overstatements and misstatements in the report itself,” said Thomas D. Thacher II, the president of Thacher Associates, a New York City-based management and investigative-services firm.

But Edward F. Stancik, the watchdog official who conducted the original review of cheating in city schools, called the UFT’s own 140-page report biased and incomplete.

In his report, Mr. Stancik found that before an exam, some teachers gave students questions that appeared on the test. In other instances, he found, adults did the children’s work.

While he acknowledged that his investigation had interviewed one child without parental consent, Mr. Stancik said that the union report had quoted him selectively and had exaggerated his findings. He asserted that the union had simply hired a firm to contradict and undermine his review of educator-assisted cheating.

“They did what they accused me of doing,” he said. “They went out to poke holes into the report.”

‘Branded as Cheaters’

Mr. Thacher denied that the teachers’ union influenced his firm’s probe. Randi Weingarten, the president of the UFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said the union had requested its own investigation because the original report included broad and overreaching allegations.

“They branded all these people as cheaters,” Ms. Weingarten said. “To do that to a teacher who spends her life helping kids ... it’s a horrible thing to do.”

Still, Mr. Thacher said that there was evidence of cheating in some situations, but not in others. He said some teachers used old standardized tests for practice, which contained questions that they did not realize would be recycled and used on the new test.

Students who had said that teachers told them to change answers were addressing work they did on practice tests, he said.

Mr. Thacher’s findings led the union to ask state, city, and school board officials to evaluate the special investigator’s office, which is independent of the school system and the city government.

“No one is above the law, and nobody should misuse their power,” Ms. Weingarten said, adding that the union has supported the special commissioner’s office in the past. “There has to be some checks and balances.”

After the union called for the board of education to re-examine the educators’ cases, Harold O. Levy, the chancellor of the 1.1 million-student district, asked his staff to review the UFT report. It is unclear when or if he will make recommendations following that review.

In a second report that will be released this spring, Mr. Thacher will make recommendations intended to ensure the integrity of the testing process. Mr. Thacher said that the district has no clear rules for testing and that the guidelines that do exist aren’t communicated to teachers.

Mr. Stancik, however, believes the union is being disingenuous about its efforts to curb cheating.

In his report, Mr. Stancik recommended that up to nine educators be fired and that the rest receive other strong disciplinary action. He said no educator identified in his investigation had been cleared of all wrongdoing.

The union claimed that 17 educators resigned, retired or were fired. At least two fired educators were reinstated after employment hearings.

“UFT can stick its head in the sand if it wants,” he said. “Cheating is a problem here.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2001 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. Union Report Blasts Cheating Probe

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