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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 07/08/2011

Limp D.C. cheating probe exposed

I am typing this at 8:30 a.m. Friday, my earliest blog post ever, because I don’t want anyone to miss the last four paragraphs of my colleague Bill Turque’s story in the Post this morning. Turque revealed the latest on the investigation of test tampering in the D.C. schools, and made the most important point at the end of the story on the bottom of page B5.

Turque exposed the utter fecklessness and lethargy of the D.C. investigation of unusual numbers of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets for the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests. He compared what D.C. has been doing to what the state of Georgia did to expose cheating by nearly 180 educators in Atlanta. The D.C. activity seems to me like my digging holes so my wife can plant her vincas. The Georgia effort by comparison is dredging the Panama Canal.

Here is what Turque reported:

“Some D.C. observers said the Atlanta probe, ordered in 2010 by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) after he declared a local investigation ‘woefully inadequate,’ should be a model for the District. The Georgia inquiry was headed by two former district attorneys and staffed by nearly 60 agents and other personnel of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Investigators had subpoena power to compel testimony and offer immunity from prosecution to those who cooperated. According to the 800-page report, they conducted more than 2,100 interviews and reviewed more than 800,000 documents.

“By contrast, the District’s inquiry has been much smaller in scope. [Roger] Burke [spokesman for D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby] would not disclose how many investigators are assigned, but he said the office has conducted 10 interviews, with at least eight more scheduled. He added that investigators have been slowed because of the summer break.

“‘Our disadvantage was that it was the end of the school year when this came up,’ Burke said.

“Burke said that while the office does have administrative subpoena power, it has not been used in the five years he has worked for the agency.”

In his blog version of the story Turque added one more distressing fact: Burke said there is only “one agent specifically assigned” to the D.C. test tampering probe, although that person can call in other agents if necessary.

Do we need to know any more to see that D.C. is on a path to kiss this issue off big time? Is it not equally clear that if the city does that, it will be one of the great embarrassments of Mayor Vincent Gray’s administration?

Imagine the future press conference where the D.C. Inspector General reveals he is satisfied that just a few schools were involved in the cheating and that all that is necessary is to fire some rookie teachers and provide some additional training. He says his investigators talked to some principals but they all said they didn’t do anything wrong.

The reporters will ask if he used his subpoena power. He will say no. They will ask if his investigators talked to everyone at all of the schools involved, including secretaries and janitors who often know much. He will say no. The reporters will ask if they interviewed students. No again. The reporters will point out that Atlanta showed proportionally no more erasures than D.C. did at the beginning of its probe, and yet when they began forcefully turning over rocks they found scores of worms.

It is sad that the children of Atlanta had to suffer that massive outbreak of educational malpractice, administrators and teachers changing answers on the score sheets. But at least the resulting Georgia state investigation has shown beyond all doubt what has to be done in D.C. and other school districts where cheating has occurred.

[I should disclose here that my wife Linda conceived and edited a USA Today series that exposed the scope of the D.C. erasures.]

I understand school is out. People are on vacation. But somebody must be at work in the mayor’s office who can see how bad this is. It is time to get serious before this becomes an even bigger disaster than it already is.

By  |  12:48 PM ET, 07/08/2011

 
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