Arthur Camins has written numerous thoughtful essays about the current ruinous trends in American education.

Here he reflects on some important lessons from the Atlanta cheating scandal.

He writes:

“I’m waiting for the national editorials, leading policy makers and major foundations to speak out honestly about the lessons learned from the Atlanta cheating scandal. I’m waiting for them to change course. But, I am not holding my breath.

“From Enron to Arthur Anderson to the sub-prime lending debacle we have unambiguous evidence of a lethal combination. Unquestioned hierarchy, the arrogance of power and a singular focus on short-term metrics yield no integrity and subsequent cheating. When fear and financial rewards are combined honesty is lost.

“Cheating, especially of the erasure kind, is not new and was certainly known to Beverly Hall. Back in the 1990’s, when she was rising through the ranks, I worked as a District Science Coordinator in New York City. One day during the annual spring testing period we were summoned to the District Office and sent out to proctor testing in the classrooms of teachers who had been identified by the Central Board’s testing division as having an unusually high percentage of erasure marks on previous tests. The pressure was high then even without the threat of job loss or the promise of bonuses. Even then, there was no “speaking truth to power.”

“I was struck in the reporting this morning that Beverly Hall’s reign in Atlanta was characterized by fear. In the end, it is the absence of democracy, the primacy of bureaucracies over learning organizations that allows and encourages cheating. To paraphrase Isaac Asimov from one of his Foundation Trilogy novels, “Despotism is the last refuge of the incompetent.” I think some people rise to power for many reasons and at a certain point realize they really don’t have answers, but do not have the courage to admit it either to themselves or others. That’s when the cover up and self-righteousness take over.”