November 25, 2012

Months-Old, Three-State Teacher Certification Test Cheating Scandal Gets Major AP Story — on a Slow News Weekend

From what I can tell, a major scandal involving teachers in three states has received almost no national press coverage since CNN first broke a story about it in July. Among the non-participants or nearly non-participants (again, from what I can tell based on archived news search attempts) is the Associated Press, which decided early this morning on a slow news weekend when few are paying attention to publish Adrian Sainz’s 1,200-word story on the topic.

What follows are portions CNN’s original report, today’s AP item, and a “edu-blog” post, in wondering why the conspiracy hasn’t received more attention, identifies a sadly predictable likely reason.

First, from CNN on July 10 (bolds are mine throughout this post):

A Memphis, Tennessee, man faces a 45-count indictment after prosecutors say he took money from teachers who paid to have other people take their certification exams.

Clarence Mumford, 58, allegedly made tens of thousands of dollars from the scheme, which operated between 1995-2010 and involved teachers and aspiring teachers in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

… According to the indictment, dated Monday, Mumford charged teachers between $1,500-$3,000 per exam. As part of the scheme, he allegedly collected teachers’ IDs and made fake driver’s licenses.

The purported scam involved approximately 70 teachers, according to Kristin Helm, spokeswoman at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. None were mentioned by name in the indictment.

It’s not like there hasn’t been any subsequent news relating to the case. The U.S. Department of Justice added another man, Dante Dowers, to a revised indictment in August. In late October, former National Football League player and Memphis City Schools teacher Cedrick Wilson was indicted; a related local news report indicates that “He’s the 14th person indicted in this fraud scheme.”

If the AP ever covered the story, I highly doubt that it did so in a comprehensive way — until this morning, where one finds that some implicated teachers are still on the job and the beginnings of excuse-making in the final two excerpted paragraphs:

It was a brazen and surprisingly long-lived scheme, authorities said, to help aspiring public school teachers cheat on the tests they must pass to prove they are qualified to lead their classrooms.

For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. – himself a longtime educator – to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis.

… Mumford faces more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges that claim he created fake driver’s licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.

The hired-test takers went to testing centers, showed the proctor the fake license, and passed the certification exam, prosecutors say. Then, the aspiring teacher used the test score to secure a job with a public school district, the indictment alleges. Fourteen people have been charged with mail and Social Security fraud, and four people have pleaded guilty to charges associated with the scheme.

… Among those charged is former University of Tennessee and NFL wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who is accused of employing a test-taker for a Praxis physical education exam. He was charged in late October with four counts of Social Security and mail fraud. He has pleaded not guilty and is out of jail on a $10,000 bond. He has been suspended by the Memphis City Schools system.

If convicted, Mumford could face between two and 20 years in prison on each count. The teachers face between two and 20 years in prison on each count if convicted.

Mumford was fired after news of the investigation came out, and others, like Wilson, have been suspended. But at least three teachers implicated in the scandal remain employed with their school district.

Kingston, the university professor, said prospective teachers may not be confident in their knowledge base to pass the test. Or, the cheaters may believe they are smart enough to pass on their own but also know they are poor test takers.

About two weeks after the July story at CNN, “education realist” wondered aloud at the lack of story coverage in the establishment press or even in the education blogosphere, and identified what’s likely at work in the “radio silence”:

Radio silence on Clarence Mumford

… I understand why the media is reluctant to touch this story, but the eduformer silence is deafening. Here’s devastating, damning evidence of an organized crime ring passing tests in the name of teachers aren’t actually qualified, proving a demand for teachers too weak to pass the credentialing tests, and…..nothing.

Me, I’m thinking race.

None of the articles I’ve seen mention that Mumford is black, although most articles provide the picture. (Today’s AP story does neither — Ed.) The U.S attorney (also black) who brought charges against Mumford doesn’t provide the names or races of the teachers who gained or kept credentials. I will be extremely surprised if it does not turn out that most if not all of the teachers who bought themselves a test grade are black. …

if this Mumford story were about white teachers, they’d be all over it. Look! Those damn teachers are morons! Burn them! See! Teachers are stupid!

But black teachers? Thud. Silence.

the mostly white population of eduformers certainly can’t afford to openly acknowledge that their demands for an improved teaching pool means a near decimation of the African American and Hispanic teaching pool–even without the unsettling lack of research to support their teacher quality fantasies. Because the optics, to put it mildly, suck.

Which is why they’re probably all secretly, desperately hoping the teachers are white so they can scream and point fingers. Because it’s fine to call white teachers stupid.

Today’s AP story at its national site does not carry a picture of Mumford, instead opting for “Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas,” who commented in Sainz’s story about the “never-ending war between those who try to maintain standards and those who are looking out for their own interests.” Kingston is white.

I wish I could be confident enough to be able to say that “education realist” is wrong. Unfortunately, it seems far more likely that he or she is right. That the AP didn’t publish the story until a light-readership weekend supports the idea that the press is quite determined to ensure that the story doesn’t become widely known.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m glad this story has come to light; I hadn’t heard of it until today.

    So why wasn’t this story covered better?

    I’m not sure the reason is race.

    “Dog bites man” is what I’m inclined to believe; sadly, variations of this story are simply too common to be “news.”

    Cheating is endemic in our primary educational system, in school districts encompassing all socioeconomic levels and every mixture of ethnic groups.

    Primary school systems have many incentives to ignore cheating. Here are three:

    (1) The teaching applicants who cheat boost the available teacher pool, easing pressure on payroll costs for school districts (fewer years in service = lower pay scale);

    (2) The students who cheat (and the teachers who “correct” their students’ answers and otherwise cheat for them) boost the NCLB-related scores of the class, its school, and its district, with kudos and funding following;

    (3) Honest teachers and administrators reporting lower (genuine) achievement of their students, because of their lower scores, jeopardize funding and certification for their schools and districts as well as their own careers.

    As one (honest) teacher put it, “On test day, my whole career hangs on one day in the life of the children I’m teaching.” That’s a lot of pressure for the most honest among us, let alone those whose resistance to temptation is not so strong.

    Comment by CW — November 26, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

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