Richard Hyde, the investigator behind the July bombshell report of extensive teacher cheating in Atlanta's schools, expects to have the next installment of the unfolding saga ready by Thanksgiving.
At the request of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue, Hyde and his team are now investigating several suspicious test results from schools in Dougherty County, which surrounds Albany, Ga., and where one quarter of residents live below the poverty line. The investigative team also includes workers from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who have been quietly interviewing teachers in the district, sometimes with the aid of a polygraph machine.
As of Thursday, the team had investigated five schools and found evidence of cheating in all of them.
"We have evidence of cheating in every school we have been to," Hyde told The Huffington Post. The information, he said, would be enough for him to begin making arrests. He added that the investigation was far from over: He started investigating in Dougherty County in July and still has eight schools left to examine.
Calls made to the Dougherty County school district Thursday were not returned.
Hyde's team has been investigating statistically significant gains on the 2009 state standardized exam. In Atlanta, the result was a long report rife with evidence of how a "culture of fear and intimidation" led teachers and principals to erase and correct bubbled-in student answers on a massive scale. The report touched off a national debate on the merits and costs of high-stakes testing. Since the Atlanta report, similar revelations have occurred in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Analyses that detect statistically high numbers of test erasures aren't conclusive, so in Dougherty County, Hyde and his team have sought confessions to corroborate the data. When asked whether any specific confessions were particularly compelling, Hyde said, "I'm pretty hard to surprise." His team, after all, had uncovered "changing parties" in Atlanta, where educators would gather to change student answers from wrong to right.
While cheating teachers could lose their jobs, it's the students who had their answers altered that may have the most at stake. Regardless of their motivations, teachers who changed answers gave students the false impression of success. In some cases, these students were deprived of remedial education and graduated high school knowing less than they were told they did.
In Atlanta, Hyde uncovered a broader culture that encouraged teachers and principals to cheat: public humiliation in exchange for low scores and fat bonuses for high ones. So far, Hyde said, Dougherty County does not appear to have had the same problem.
"It's still early on, but it seems to be more school-focused as opposed to coming from the top down," he said. "It appears so far to start at the principal level. Maybe that'll change soon."
Hyde said his investigation has generally been easier this time around. He acknowledged that might be due to the drastic ramifications of his Atlanta report, which resulted in a school management shakeup and the termination of more than 140 teachers.
"The level of confessions we've received and the cooperation of parents we're getting here is greater than it was in Atlanta," Hyde said. The teachers who have confessed, he said, have generally shown remorse. "I don't know what their motives are," he said. "It could be anything from self-aggrandizement and praise to promotions."
Liars will face consequences: "The teachers who tell the truth will not be prosecuted," Hyde said. "The teachers who lied to us will be criminally prosecuted."
Hyde anticipates he'll release a report on teacher and principal cheating in Dougherty County by Thanksgiving. It will be in the same format as the Atlanta report.