Death trumps all, including justice, in Beverly Hall case

Curtis Compton/AJC

Curtis Compton/AJC

Justice — at least in the narrow legal sense — will remain permanently suspended in the case of former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall, who died Monday of breast cancer at age 68. And I’m not quite sure what to say about it all.

Somewhere along the line, the story of Hall’s life — a poor childhood in Jamaica, a gritty march to success through hard work and intelligence, a rise to stardom in a national education-reform movement, and then a stunning, tragic and all-too deserved fall — somewhere along the line it turned into a complex and quite public morality play that must forever lack a closing scene.

It doesn’t help matters that some of Hall’s subordinates are still being judged in an ongoing trial from hell, and may end up paying a heavy price for their surrender to what appears to have been an inherently corrupting system. Hall, the person who designed and controlled that system, never appeared a minute in that courtroom, and frankly I’m not certain that jurors can fully understand the environment that she created without having witnessed her presence. Context is everything in the type of decisions that they will soon be asked to render.

Rather than rail on the dead, however, I’ve decided to take the unusual step of rerunning a piece from April 2013, written right after Hall’s indictment and before her diagnosis with terminal cancer. The details and testimony that have since emerged in court have bolstered rather than challenged its conclusions, including the important observation that the blame does not halt with Hall herself, but can and should be traced further up the rungs of power.

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“If you know about lying and cheating, and you are afraid (of blowing the whistle), I really have to question your character. You’re covering up (for) the liars and cheaters…. When you cover it up, you are as much liable as the person who is doing it, in my humble opinion…. How can I even have some sympathy for people who have no courage when children are being hurt, and the system is being hurt?”

— Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall
in a 2010 interview

It is impossible to reconcile the aggrieved, passionate frustration expressed by Beverly Hall in the 2010 interview cited above with Hall’s actions as described in the 90-page indictment issued this week by a Fulton County grand jury.

The Hall described in the indictment, like the Hall in an earlier report by state investigators, not only turned a blind eye to repeated, documented allegations of cheating. If the facts as alleged in the indictment are true, Hall took an active, knowing role in suppressing evidence of cheating, and took an active, knowing role in protecting those who perpetrated it.

I’ll leave it to the justice system to decide whether Hall acted criminally, but at the very least, and to use her own terms, she lacked the character to even entertain the notion that her proud accomplishments might be tainted. When evidence arose, she refused to see it, and she refused to let others see it as well. By every definition that matters, she covered it up.

In addition, Hall created the system in question. She exerted the pressure, brooked no excuses and demanded that the numbers be made, handing out lucrative awards to those who achieved them and harsh penalties to those who did not. She also failed to establish safeguards against the temptation to cheat that such a harsh system will inevitably create.

However, if we fault her for those things, honesty requires that we ask a second question that perhaps strikes closer to home. If we judge Hall harshly for the system that she created, are we willing to do the same as we move even higher up the chain of command?

After all, Hall and other education leaders operate within a structure of reward and punishment every bit as real as that within APS. And as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets have reported, similar cheating problems have popped up in school districts around the country. Most have occurred in poverty-stricken districts where the educational challenges can be overwhelming, the pressure to improve is immense and the needle is very hard to move.

Hall did not enact the federal No Child Left Behind policy mandating a strict regimen of testing, including a menu of rewards for success and harsh punishment for failure. She did not wave hundreds of millions of dollars in private foundation money in front of school districts to encourage them to hire, fire, promote and pay almost exclusively on the basis of standardized testing. Hall didn’t treat academic progress as an economic development tool too useful to Atlanta’s “brand” to be questioned, as some in the business community did. Like her APS underlings, Hall merely responded, somewhat rationally, to a system that was designed by others and that demanded results too good to be true too quickly.

That is an underappreciated aspect of this tragedy. By other standards, including untainted National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, Atlanta public schools did make measurable, sustained progress during the Hall era. But in an environment that demands a scale of improvement that only charlatans can deliver, it wasn’t enough.

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822 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"Hall didn’t treat academic progress as an economic development tool too useful to Atlanta’s 'brand' to be questioned, as some in the business community did. Like her APS underlings, Hall merely responded, somewhat rationally, to a system that was designed by others and that demanded results too good to be true too quickly."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


This is altogether true.  I have stated for years that testing should be done only to diagnose correctly students' areas of strength and weakness, much as a physician uses diagnostic tests to better diagnose the illnesses of his/her patients.  Testing results could not be valid in comparing teachers' results or schools' results with one another, because every teacher and every school will have a different population of students.  Moreover, having that kind of fallacious intimidation hanging over teachers and schools, in itself, creates fear and unwise practices.


"Judge not that you not be judged."  RIP, Beverly Hall.

Brosephus
Brosephus

 "And, as many people know and readily acknowledge, politicians, and Dem politicians in particular, tend to have their interests aligned with the teachers unions that support them. Denying that would be like denying that the sun rises in the east."

And exactly which party was in control of Congress and the WH when NCLB was voted on and signed into law?  Let's see you deny that one, O' Great Wise One.  Go ahead and blame Obama while you're at it...

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@Brosephus


"And exactly which party was in control of Congress and the WH when NCLB was voted on and signed into law?"


So. Is there a point you are trying to make. 


"Let's see you deny that one, O' Great Wise One."


Exactly what is there to deny?- That Repubs wanted to try and solve the problem? 


"Go ahead and blame Obama while you're at it..."


You're sounding like a broken record with that one. Typical of you guys to try and attribute an argument to us that we're not even making with the "blame Obama card" that I'm not even making. 

Brosephus
Brosephus

@Doom Classical liberal 

"Interesting that the same type of people who raise hell about school vouchers and choice are usually the same people who have no problem with indirectly funding abortions through planned parenthood- and with taxpayer money no  less. If there's one thing we can consistently count on its the consistent inconsistency of the progs."

Interesting that you would double down on your lies to try to make a point.  I don't believe taxpayers should pay for private schools just as I don't think taxpayers should pay for abortions.

Got anything else, are are you out of strawmen.

I've stated time and time again that I am personally against abortions.  I do, however, understand and think people should have the right to make that choice for themselves.  If they make that choice, then they should pay for it themselves as it's their decision.  That's no different from my stance on education.  If you want your kid to attend a private school, then pay for it yourself.  You're making the decision, not me or anyone else. 

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@Brosephus


"Interesting that you would double down on your lies to try to make a point."


interesting that you have to claim a lie when one was never made. 


" I don't believe taxpayers should pay for private schools just as I don't think taxpayers should pay for abortions."


I did not refer specifically to you since I don't know your personal views. If you will work on your reading comprehension and re-read you will note that I wrote the "same type of people"- very careful not to mention you specifically. The general implication is that progs in general, not all progs, tend to oppose school vouchers while having no problem with planned parenthood being funded with taxpayer dollars. 

"Got anything else, are are you out of strawmen."


Got any help with your reading comprehension problems yet?


"If you want your kid to attend a private school, then pay for it yourself."


Fine. Just give that person back their share of the tax dollars that they themselves pay into the system and let them use that for a private education. It is, after all, their money.  

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

What is Hillary hiding in her "private" email account?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Dems, not so much.

gotalife
gotalife

fox is depressed today because they are on a long losing streak.

gotalife
gotalife

OMG, a gop is talking about a budget on the house floor.


It is a miracle.

gotalife
gotalife

And then cries about the debt they built.

gotalife
gotalife

Obamacare is law.


Immigration order is law.


The gop can't do what they promised their voters but their voters don't care.


Politics as usual.

King_of_Kolob
King_of_Kolob

Republicans cannot claim National Security or Fiscal Conservatism anymore. The only thing they can claim now is the Religious Right. The Democrats will soon secure that too.

gotalife
gotalife

The dhs is now funded.


President Obama wins two on this one.


Add his immigration order will stand as predicted.

Thanks gop.

gotalife
gotalife

The majority of the gop house voted no on national security.


We should use that to restore all Americans freedoms after isis is crushed.

gotalife
gotalife

Think outside the box like Senator Warren and propose something cons.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Jackie_36:

Late response to your:

So, you extrapolate to say Ashanti Alston's thoughts are reflective of all the thoughts of blacks, in general?

The second question, who the heck is Ashanti Alston and what does she know about anything?

From where I sit, she knows about as much as Sara Palin.

Not to put too fine a point on this little jab, but Ashanti Alston is a guy....a black anarchist. A unique individual from my perspective.

Never did I imply his thoughts were reflective of ALL blacks. That was an assumption on your part. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Yes_Jesus_Can

Can someone point out what this has to do with Netanyahu's campaign stop today?

(To point out the obvious--ISIS would be fine with Israel nuking a bunch of Shiites.)

Penses
Penses

Okay, peeps...it's "getting hot in here" (with "conflagrations" and such) and I've things to do. A good afternoon to all!

gotalife
gotalife

80 gop said no to funding the dhs.


Start the ads on they are weak on national security.

gotalife
gotalife

151 gop no's. The vote passed with all dems voting yes.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

If policy makers were to listen to educators – and to students and parents – they would hear that the real crisis in public education is the loss of our collective commitment to the common good. If we continue to make the kinds of choices that steer resources away from our neediest students, the false narrative of failing public schools will become a sad reality.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article9499466.html#storylink=cpy

(or, don't, and go on assuming that Neil Bush's needs should come first.)

gotalife
gotalife

Schools and the USPS are fine. The banking idea for the poor at the post office is a good idea.


Who proposed this good idea?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@gotalife

The banking idea for the poor at the post office is a good idea.

Yes. Yes, it is.

Doggone_GA
Doggone_GA

@gotalife The real question is: who took it away?  The post office used to have that service, but now they don't.

Penses
Penses

@Tuna Meowt 


"Consider that the only things hobbling the USPS are the fact that it funds *itself* as a for-profit entity and that it's required by law to set aside VASTLY more funding for retiree pensions and benefits than its non-governmental competition is. Very poor example you picked, Penses." (emphasis added)


I think you've essentially validated my point. We are propping up what would otherwise be failing systems. That includes our public eductaional system. 

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Penses @Tuna Meowt You *completely* missed the point.  You're contending that government support is sustaining the USPS, when it's government *burdens* that are hobbling it.


Attention to detail, Penses.  Give it a try.


Doggone_GA
Doggone_GA

@Penses @Tuna Meowt to do away with the USPS would require a Constitutional amendement...let us know how that campaign goes

Section. 8.

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;