A judge’s fury. Likely appeals. And big picture questions.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter made two comments today that explain the severity of the sentences he imposed on eight Atlanta Public Schools administrators and teachers.

He sentenced the three highest-level administrators, Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis Williams and Michael Pitts, to serve seven of 20-year sentences for their roles in the APS cheating scandal. And he imposed $25,000 fines on each of them.

Five other educators — Angela Williamson, Diane Buckner-Webb,  Tabeeka Jordan, Theresia Copeland and Dana Evans — got five years, with one to two to serve.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter presides over the sentencing Monday. Sentencing of 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court, Monday April 13 2015. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter passed down some tough sentences today to educators in the APS cheating trial.  (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

Baxter’s wrath stemmed from two issues. The first was what he considered misplaced sympathies. The focus should not be on the harm to lifelong educators who held positions of power, he said, but on the lives of students who were powerless.

“Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime…The only chance they had was the school. When you are passed and you can’t read, you are passed and passed on, there are victims that are in the jail that I have sentenced, kids.”

His second concern was the failure of defendants to acknowledge they cheated.

“All I want for many of these people is to just take some responsibility, but they refuse. They refuse,” he said in court today.

In the end, only two of the 10 convicted educators, Donald Bullock and Pam Cleveland, received lesser sentences today because they waived their right to appeal, admitted their guilt and apologized in court.

The other eight defendants who declined the deal can appeal, and most likely will, ensuring this drama continues.

The lawyers will be laying out their legal grounds for appeal in the next few months. Based on points raised today by attorneys, the issues may deal with:

1. Is there a difference in being guilty of RICO or guilty of conspiracy to commit RICO? RICO is an odd bird because in and of itself, unlike any other crime, is the element of conspiracy. Can you conspire to commit a conspiracy? And, if so, is there a difference?

2. When there are two statutes at play, there’s another legal argument that the defendant must be sentenced under the lesser statute. That issued was raised by a lawyer today but shrugged off by Baxter.

There is also the crazy nature of this trial – 12 defendants with different circumstances, culpability and evidence. Anyone who watched the sentencing over these last two days saw the inevitable chaos that comes with crowd sourcing a trial.

In a big picture reflection on the case and on the related education issues, two points are worth our time:

1. Did these defendants take the blows for the dozens of others Atlanta educators whose cheating was far more extensive but took plea deals? Several of these educators were minor players compared to, for instance, the Parks Middle School cheating cabal. Because they were the only educators to go to trial and because the district attorney failed to indict top APS leadership, did these 11 pay  price for all the cheating and conniving?

2. Judge Baxter maintained these 11 educators caused kids to be passed on without the skills necessary for the next grade. And he was agitated by that, declaring it a grave injustice to advance kids who lacked the required skills.

Despite the judge’s shock, isn’t this commonplace?

I talked to a high school teacher at one of the best schools in the state two weeks ago, and she expressed dismay at some of the students arriving in her classroom. She could not believe her middle school colleagues could pronounce these students ready for high school.

When the AJC looked at Georgia promotion data, we found very few kids ever held back. In 2007, for instance,  92 percent of the nearly 9,500 eighth-graders who couldn’t pass the math CRCT were promoted.

Of the kids who should have been retained based on math and reading scores in 2007, only a small percentage were ultimately retained: 2.5 percent of eighth-grade testers,  1.7 percent of fifth-graders,  and 2.9 percent of third-graders.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

128 comments
Beverly Hall
Beverly Hall

Lawd Jesus, look at that bald-headed fool, Judge Jerry.  Look at his hands, he thinks he's preaching like my friend Bernice King or Creflo "Dollar Bill" Dollar.  

Belinda51
Belinda51

I believe there were 2 educators who took the (original) plea deal and testified, but Judge Baxter deemed their testimony less than honest. He indicated that these 2 would be hearing from him after the trial. One witness was Armistead Salter, but can't remember the other one. Any update on these 2? I would think the remedy would be revoking their plea deal.

bu2
bu2

Thank goodness for the judge.  The DA did get a lot of pressure.  In the AJC he says he got many calls from those wanting him to back off.  His number was made public and  "I listened to our community leaders.  Some spoke softly.  Some screamed."


Sad, sad group of community leaders we have here, from Andy Young to Sam Cassell.

Starik
Starik

I was hoping for a place to look up a teacher's academic credentials.  A graduate of UGA or?  What major?

frogg
frogg

Tamara Cotman's GA adminstrators certificate expires on 6/30/2015. Wonder if she'll try to renew....and if the PSC will let her. 


If I have the right Sharon Williams (b/c none have Davis as middle name), then hers expires in 2019. 


Michael Pitts on 6/30/2015. Again....will be interesting to see what happens here. 


You can check the certification status of anyone in GA at:

http://www.gapsc.com/Certification/Lookup.aspx


Includes a field that indicates "Overall Ethics Status/Action." It will be interesting to see what shows up there in time. 


Astropig
Astropig

@frogg


Nobody's going to hire her anyway for any job worth having. First of all,she notorious.She's radioactive to any business that can read a newspaper.Second,she's been convicted of a felony.That means that she need not bother applying to any job with a position of trust. Her only hope is that she has a friend or two that own a business or some weird situation where she mops floors somewhere out of the public eye.

PatandMike
PatandMike

@frogg Try using "Davis" for the last name of Sharon Davis-Williams.  We find that usually works for these hypenated last names.  It is unfortunate -- and a huge credibility gap -- that the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GAPSC) does not list colleges/universities where degrees were earned (or bought, as the case may be).


Also, it is very interesting and instructive to look up salaries of these people.  Go to www.opengeorgia.gov. You will find that they were overpaid at half their salaries.


We have never seen anything indicating an ethics issue with any certificated personnel list with GAPSC.  The GAPSC is the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) of the education industry in Georgia which is all about enriching administrators and staff, NOT about successfully educating children.

Lorac7371
Lorac7371

Don’t forget the part students and their parents play in lack of academic success.  The parents who are complaining the most probably did not do one thing to help their children with their educations.  Also, quite a few students never do homework, school work, and show any interest in their education.  How can you blame teachers and the school system for the students and their parents’ lack of effort?  What the educators did was wrong, if they changed the tests.  But the punishment certainly does not fit the crime.  It appears that the judge’s sentences are cruel and unusual punishment, and I am hoping and praying these sentences are overturned on appeal. 


Lorac7371
Lorac7371

@Astropig @Lorac7371 Why should anyone own up to something you feel you are not guilty of?  A jury found them guilty, but they can still maintain their innocence.  The jury could be wrong.  Ever heard of that?

TBTeach
TBTeach

@Astropig @Lorac7371


Unfortunately, the punishment does not fit the crime.  There are people who have actually commited crimes where their victims were killed and the perpetrator received a lesser sentence.  These sentences scream bias!

Astropig
Astropig

@Lorac7371 @Astropig


Court proceedings are not about "feelings". They are a finding of fact in the most equitable way possible. The rules of evidence,testimony and procedure are stacked in favor of the defendant in our jury system.If they still "feel" innocent,then they need to work to change the law that found them guilty.

Astropig
Astropig

@Lorac7371


The sentences are not cruel and unusual. They were set by statute in the RICO act. He offered them extreme leniency if they would just own up to the crime that the jury found them guilty of. The educators have no one to blame but themselves for their predicament.

Astropig
Astropig

@TBTeach @Astropig @Lorac7371


So you want to let these people get away with a crime because somebody else got away with a bigger crime? That,my friend, is not justice.

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

@Lorac7371 @Astropig 

They are now convicted by a jury of their peers and will get to spend some time in prison where 90% of their neighbors also maintain their innocence. Ever heard of that?

POV1948
POV1948

According to the logic of this column, the defendants are the real victims.  Just goes to show how absolutely nil the expectations are of public education in poor neighborhoods.  I smell a book in the works.  



KHarpe
KHarpe

These teachers did not take a deal, because they don't think that they have done anything wrong, and I tend to agree with them. If you honestly and truly believe that this behavior is restricted to APS, then I have got a deal for you.  An oceanfront condo just 10 minutes away from downtown Atlanta real cheap. I can even take your bid on the only bridge that connects to this mystical land. Why, just charging a dollar per car load will pay for your property in no time flat...  But if you want to start a real conversation about the real culprit here, then you need to start with the idiotic notion that class promotion rates defines whether a school is successful or not. There has been a consorted effort to dumb-down public education for 25+ years. We're going to grade on the curve, we're going ensure more students pass, we're going to... What has this amounted to ?  A high school diploma means absolutely nothing any more. Go apply for a job flipping burgers with one, and the manager is subject to ask what other qualifications do you have. The whole notion that teachers were at fault because graduation rates started to go down was a fallacy. Graduation rates began to suffer about the same time as the tech-boom inception. Yes, more needed to be learned in shorter periods of time. It's called competition folks. Take a group of our kids from anywhere USA and a group of kids from another industrialized nation. Then set up a challenge of any type of critical thinking. What you would have is not a competition, but rather a slaughter. Why ? Because our kids are taught how to take a year end test, while the other kids are taught how to think critically. This is not a problem limited to APS, or Georgia, or The South. Ignorance is not prejudiced in the least bit. It will take the young, the old, the rich, the poor, anybody whose willing. The very first thing we need to do, is remove the notion that grade promotion percentage rates are a sign of a school meeting it's obligations. We don't have to wake up tomorrow and commit the same sins as we did today. Somebody has to stand up an say "Maybe we made a mistake. Yeah, I pretty sure we messed up real bad." Then start working to fix this abysmal system of public education. Oh, and yes it is a sin to fetter away these kids future just to avoid hurt feelings and allow everyone to graduate from HS. If we keep this up, just when are the students going to start learning ?? By the way, did you hear about the cheating scandal at the University of North Carolina. 19 and 20 year olds reading on a 5th to 8th grade level and making grades good enough to keep playing basketball. Do you think they are the only division 1 school passing students along ?? Really... Really ?? Let's go take another look at that beachfront property - I just got a better bid and you're going to have to come up on your bid. Bring some cash along as a down payment to prove you're serious this time.                      

bu2
bu2

@KHarpe 

Sounds like you were taught by these teachers.  A little relativistic morality.  They didn't do anything wrong?  Seriously???????  You get an F for Ethics.

Astropig
Astropig

@bu2 @KHarpe


Too many enablers in the crowd today. I'm glad Judge Baxter wasn't influenced IN THE LEAST by the special pleading in the media. 

NealBoortz
NealBoortz

Anybody wanna take a bet on How many talk shows "Paul Howard" will be on in the next 2 days ?  Kudo's to him, but he's settin himself up for a "Post" DA gig......Unfortunately, this will probably end up being his legacy.....but Alot of perps/criminals/people in his past Got off because of the DA's Many times Incompetent Attorneys....no disrespect, just pretty much facts.

He seems to have a revolving door of hires down there also....

NealBoortz
NealBoortz

Thank you, Next...."Turn to the RIght"......"Now turn to the Lefff"......Thank you , Next..... 

NealBoortz
NealBoortz

Let's hear it for that "Common Ground"......Jessie and Al will be in Town Tomorrow.....To strike down and Denounce what the Teachers did for letting the students down in the eyes of their fellow AA brothers and sisters and the entire Atlanta Community  ; )  


Lexi3
Lexi3

My advice:


Refrain from legal analysis. The gravamen of RICO violations is a criminal enterprise, and these defendants were engaged in the enterprise to produce fraudulent test scores.


The defendants got what they deserved, and blew incredibly favorable chances to unring the bell-and stupidly declined

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lexi3 

Question by a layman: the sentence will be upheld even if there is an appeal of the DA's decision to pursue the defendants under RICO?

bu2
bu2

@OriginalProf @Lexi3 

If the RICO conviction gets thrown out, that impacts the sentence even if there were other guilty verdicts.


I vaguely remember a case where they threw out a RICO conviction because they were found not guilty on one of the underlying charges.


I'm not a lawyer, but the limited number of charges other than RICO concerned me.  I would have expected more.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

It absolutely amazes me that ANYONE is surprised by these sentences. These "educators" violated every known ethical consideration and, in the process, broke the law. Phooey on them and enjoy jail you losers.

Mike
Mike

Southerners just aren't that book taught, that's why these federal programs need to go. We need to be judged by our own talents not some Yankee scale. The judge has no clue what it means to be poor.

Belinda51
Belinda51

@Mike  Poor has nothing to do with it.  Unethical behavior does.

CmdrR1962
CmdrR1962

This was all a cash-in on a tragically flawed FEDERAL system that blackmailed educators into raising scores or risk losing millions in federal funds. Accountability should not stop here. 

redweather
redweather

If any of these educators decide to appeal, I hope they have sense enough to hire new counsel.

Beverly Hall
Beverly Hall

@redweather Unfortunately, they are all claiming they are "indigent" now.  So you and I (the taxpayer) will be footing the bill for their defense.   These con-artists just need to take the plea deal and STFU.  LAWD JESUS, it's HOT DOWN HERE ! 

Dismuke
Dismuke

If we cared about "the children," we wouldn't have put so much emphasis on a standardized test.  We wouldn't sacrifice weeks of valuable class time to test prep, practice tests, and the test itself.  Hall put pressure on educators, the school board and others put pressure on Hall, and the Test, the one and only measure not only of a child's success but also of a teacher's success and an administrator's success, became everything.  I have yet to see any evidence that any of the handwringers in positions of power have anything more than a passing concern about the success of "the children." 

I don't condone what these teachers and administrators did, but so much focus is put on peons that the bigger picture is missed--that blame for this dog and pony show extends beyond and above Beverly Hall.  And it was never, not for a second, about "the children"--not to any great extent.  It was about the appearance of success, by whatever means necessary.

GwinnettTeacher
GwinnettTeacher

The educators got what they deserved.  We should be focused on the students who were cheated out of an education by these people instead of the "educators" who broke the law.  To get lighter sentences, all they had to do was admit their role and take responsibility which they didn't do.  Glad to see them out of my profession.

WholeTruth
WholeTruth

@OriginalProf @WholeTruth @GwinnettTeacher Your answer would be correct; however, you used common sense to answer the question. See the teachers are not allowed to know what's on the test and they usually don't get the results until the following year.  Even with the results they don't know what questions were answered correctly or incorrectly.  They can't use this data to help the students. The irony in this whole situation is, in order to help the students with the test data as an educator you would have to cheat. I create content lessons for over 1 million students a month and to this day I have yet to see a true test question from Pearson or McGraw Hill. Here is a great example of how corrupt the educational system has become.  If you look at the fifth grade standards in Georgia and isolated how long it would take to teach these standards to an average student.  You would find that it would take a minimum of 2,700 class hours.  The average teacher in Georgia at most has 900 hours of teaching time in a year. The teachers in the inner city have no chance to succeed under this system. To find the truth AJC, instead of investigating teachers, investigate where the money is going?????????

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@WholeTruth @GwinnettTeacher 

When these teachers erased the failing test scores of their students, there was no record that the students did not know the subject matter (reading, Language Arts, mathematics) and so the student did not receive any remediation or help. He or she simply was passed onto the next grade level. So many of them graduated without ever learning how to read or do mathematics.
.

popacorn
popacorn

@OriginalProf

Plus, when one has cheating to fall back on, will he/she give 100% effort day after day, with ZERO accountability? I think not. The kids were cheated coming and going. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@WholeTruth @OriginalProf @GwinnettTeacher It goes to FOB like Pearson or McGraw hill, who are the Halliburtons of education.  See, you set up and massively fund a program like NCLB or Reading First, and it "just so happens" that your family friends and contributors gear up to dominate the field in supplies that "just happen to" meet the criteria set by the program.  Billions of buckets of money get dumped on your friends'  company.  AND NO ONE SAYS A WORD!

dreema
dreema

The judge's attitude will figure into the appeals. The harm he cites (which, as this article points out, is mis-attributed) is not worthy of the steep sentences. He's just PO'd they didn't grovel before his mighty powers. These sentences, and charging the teachers under RICO are a misuse of public funds. 

DeaconBlues
DeaconBlues

@dreema The misuse of public funds was in the bonuses the Atlanta BOE paid to these "educators."  Speaking of which, why weren't any BOE people charged?  Or any members of the "Blue Ribbon Panel Business Community" that did such a poor paint job that the whitewash came off with a focused water hose?

gapeach101
gapeach101

@DeaconBlues @dreema If you were to read the report that Mike Bowers et al wrote, you would know that they absolved the Blue Ribbon committee of doing a bad job.  With limited time and no subpoena power they had no possibility of uncovering this conspiracy. 

LookbeforeIleap
LookbeforeIleap

@dreema 

I think anybody who was involved in telling thousands of students they are too stupid to learn and handing them a 3rd strike before they even reached puberty deserves some jail time.

bu2
bu2

@gapeach101 @DeaconBlues @dreema 


That's surprising.  Anybody with half a brain knew it was a whitewash job.


The Chamber IMO came real close to going beyond cheerleading and into obstruction of justice.

Astropig
Astropig

@dreema


"The judge's attitude will figure into the appeals. "


No it won't. A trial judges the defendants,an appeal judges the trial. All the appeals court will look at is whether the trial was flawed procedeurally  or applied the law in a defective manner. They could care less about the judge's attitude. I have a lot of experience in this area and I thought that he was tough,but fair.

WholeTruth
WholeTruth

The question that needs to be asked and answered by the DA's office is: Why did you have to charge these teachers with racketeering? It's a very dangerous time to be living and working in this community if the DA can create these charges.  Good luck on finding anyone who wants to work in the educational community after this trial.  History will look back on this trial, judge and DA as the generation from the fifties looks back on the McCarthy Hearings. (Guilt by Association!)

popacorn
popacorn

It's been a very good day. Time to relax, kick back, put on the high boots, and wait for race cards to be played. 

popacorn
popacorn

'...and look at everyone in your trailer park community'

Yep, and welcome some former educators to their new rental home.

tinala
tinala

@popacorn Well I can give you some examples of where the race card was played. However, I would want to waste my breath on you explaining. I'm sure those who were convicted will  have their appeal hearings and they will be exonerated once it goes to a higher court. So then you can kick back and sit out on your porch and dip your snuff or tobacco and look at everyone in your trailer park community.

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

Yes, social promotion is happening! They come to college without the ability to use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, or perform basic math. And many come to class unprepared and needing work on their soft skills as well. As an open admission campus, approximately 60% of our students (at a minimum...I believe the number has increased in recent years) require remedial classes. How does anyone graduate from high school unable to write in complete, coherent sentences without social promotion?

tinala
tinala

@atln8tiv You can't blame the teacher for students not being able to read in the 10/11th grade. That starts at home before they go to school, if you are a good parent,.You will know if your child or children need additonal assistance with their school work. My husband and I knew we didn't want our children to attend public school and therefore, my husband took on an extra job to ensure that we could afford the tuitions. Also, we read to our children, taught our children their numbers, names, colors, address and telephone numbers. I could read before I went to school and that was years ago; because, my mother read to me and then I wanted to read to her. One of my children needed a tutor for math and do you think we didn't get that for our child. Some of the blame should be placed on parents who send their children to school unequipped and they don't want to take any responsibility for not parenting and teaching their children the basics before they attend school. Once these people appeal, they will all be exonerated.

TBTeach
TBTeach

@atln8tiv


'How does anyone graduate from high school unable to write in complete, coherent sentences without social promotion?'


Bingo!  There is so much pressure placed on teachers to pass everyone that it's ridiculous. Many parents today only want their kids to pass . Administrators do not want to deal with unhappy parents, so guess who is burdened with the task of ensuring that kids and parents remain happy?  Unfortunately, education has turned into mindless regurgitation.  Students actually request mindless worksheets so that they may simply earn an easy grade.  Very few people are interested in developing critical thinking skills.


I do not agree with what the teachers or administrators in APS did, but I do not feel that the punishment fits the crime.  I feel that they should lose their jobs, their certification, and be forced to make restitution for any money that was earned using the false test scores. I do not feel that prison is warranted when we have murderers in our society that have received little to no jail time.  The sentences scream bias!

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

@tinala @atln8tiv I don't blame the teachers for students not being able to read in 10/11th grade. I blame them for cheating to protect their money, which is basically what this boils down to. I understand not wanting to risk your job by rocking the boat, but many teachers did just that, and did lose their jobs. But they still have their freedom because they weren't willing to take part in the unethical activity required for them to keep their jobs. I'm glad to see that those in higher positions who used fear and intimidation to get the other defendants to do their bidding received the harshest sentences, which in my opinion, are well-deserved.