With the criminal indictment of 35 Atlanta school officials and teachers in the nation's biggest test cheating scandal, there are several lessons for American public education and civic life. The most obvious is a moss-covered cliché: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The fact that test scores in some of the city's poorest schools were improving dramatically in a few months' time was the red flag that launched an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation. The newspaper's reporting led to official state investigations, a scathing report documenting how test scores were changed and, eventually, to the round of indictments on March 29. (Full disclosure: my wife was editor of the newspaper when the probe was launched.)
Atlanta is not unique. There have been allegations of cheating in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and El Paso, among others, some uncovered by this newspaper. But the scope of the cheating in Atlanta and the range of indictments should encourage every education reporter and board of education in the country to take a closer look at the trend of standardized test scores in local elementary and middle schools.