VDOE on School Cheating: It’s Not Our Problem

by John Butcher

We have seen that a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County Public School (RCPS) system alleged wholesale cheating on non-SOL high school tests in the system. And we have seen that the President of the Board of Education, Billy K. Cannaday, Jr., ducked the issue, responding, in essence, that RCPS is doing something about the cheating… and, besides, the State can’t do anything.

So, of course, I filed a Freedom of information Act request with VDOE for the underlying public records.  The response: A collection of emails and drafts of the Cannaday letter but no report of a serious inquiry into the cheating.

If you’ve ever dealt with the bureaucracy you know that functionaries don’t make a trip to the water cooler without writing a memo to file. Even though Virginia Department of Education administrators handled a letter from the aforesaid Latin teacher, Robert Maronic, largely by word of mouth, they left a paper trail.

Elizabeth – I am going to review the draft letter with Dr. Cannaday over the next two days while he is here for the Board meetings. Can you give me some notes (either written or verbal) that provide more specifics about who you talked with, what they are doing about the concerns, etc. so that I can share those informally with Dr. Cannaday?

  • Morris replied the same day:

Just in case you need it, here is the contact info for the person I spoke with from Roanoke County Public Schools:

Ben Williams
Associate Director of Testing & Remediation
540-562-3900

  • The June 22 Luchau email chain includes a June 20 from Eric Von Steigleder, the Special Assistant for Communications in the office of our Secretary of Education. He wrote:

    FYI ‐ Mr. Maronic wrote a similar letter to our office as well. With input from DOE and our office, I mailed the attached letter to the constituent encouraging him to work with his local Superintendent as well as his school board to address his concerns.

They didn’t produce the “attached letter” but Maronic has provided me a copy:

holton_letter2

Note her response: “I encourage you to share your concerns with your local superintendent’s office as well as your local school board.” (Maronic had brought up the issue to the School Board and Board of Supervisors, but no action was taken.)

So, there you have it: The few records that exist suggest that the VDOE inquiry into Maronic’s charges of widespread cheating amounted to a single phone call by one mid-level VDOE functionary to a mid-level Roanoke school functionary. The Party Line, running up to the Secretary: “Nothing we can do about it.”

Well,  let’s look more carefully at the state’s authority to intervene.

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  “The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . . “
  • 8VAC20-131-50: Graduation requirements for a standard diploma include twenty-two “Standard Units of Credit.”
  • 8VAC20-131-110.A: “The standard unit of credit for graduation shall be based on a minimum of 140 clock hours of instruction and successful completion of the requirements of the course” (emphasis supplied).
  • Va. Code § 22.1-65:  “A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.”

In short, the Board has “general supervision” of the public school system.  In the exercise of that authority, it has specified graduation requirements that include “successful completion” of course requirements.  The Board can fire the local Superintendent.

Never mind the natural supposition that cheating undercuts the system and should be anathema at every level.  The Board’s regulation says, with the force of law, that “successful completion” of the coursework is prerequisite to graduation.  And, by the board president’s own letter, we know that some students in Roanoke County have cheated to complete their coursework.  Even in City of Richmond schools, cheating to pass a course cannot lead to “successful completion.”

So we have the Secretary of “Education,” the President of the Board of “Education,” and the Department of “Education” resolutely refusing to deal with cheating and dissembling about their ability to do so.

Unfortunately, this nonfeasance is part of a pattern:  In 2009 VDOE conducted an investigation of misuse of the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA) to boost pass rates in Buchanan County.  The County that year had the largest VGLA participation rate in the state, ahead only of Richmond.  The VDOE report said: “The Superintendent stated the he had encouraged the use of VGLA as a mechanism to assist schools in obtaining accreditation and in meeting AYP targets.”  Instead of firing the Superintendent for deliberately cheating (on SOL-equivalent testing!), VDOE required that he prepare a corrective action plan.

The folks in Roanoke County can vote out their School Board for allowing (and, probably, covering up) this cheating. We cannot vote out our mendacious bureaucrats or our term-limited Governor; at most we can hope the Governor will do his job to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” For sure, there is lots of room for him to do that in our “education” establishment.

This column was published in a slightly different form on Cranky’s Blog.

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5 responses to “VDOE on School Cheating: It’s Not Our Problem

  1. more goofiness here. these are non-SOL , locally-funded and locally administered courses. Why do we want more centralized top-down control from VDOE?

    Do you REALLY want VDOE putting more top-down requirements on local, non-SOL curricula?

    I thought folks wanted less top-down from govt and more local control of education – right?

    We hear folks who would turn over local education to choice schools with even less oversight from VDOE – right?

    I think we have Cranky’s number here. Yet another anti-govt rabble rouser… who just likes to stir things up – and now ironically because there is not enough “top-down” control of local education.

    gadzooks!

    • I agree. Cheating on non-SOL tests is a matter for the teacher, principal and local school system. Absent some credible evidence that the school division is enabling cheating, I don’t think the State DoE should be involved.

  2. Leftie Lucy,

    Pretty sure you have missed the point of this post. Seems to me this is about “cheating” and the “law”

  3. John – your work on this issue is very revealing as to how the government “reacts” to real live daily problems affecting out children. Why do we pay the government any taxes at all, if this be the results we get for a problem at our public schools that is crying out for a solution. I wonder how charter and private schools deal with this epidemic of dishonest kids.

  4. If it is against the law to cheat – then the complainant should contact the local prosecutor , no?

    my problem here is that Cranky and others these days play this anti-govt danged if they do, danged if they don’t” game with no constructive suggestions on how to fix it.

    Because that’s not really the point which is to impugn government no matter what they do – as some kind of “proof” that govt cannot fulfill what it promises to do.

    I’d ask Cranky , Jim and those that agree with Cranky what they would have the VDOE do . Do you want them to set up a program where they overseas and set rules for all schools in Va for how they handle non-SOL courses?

    Would you make all schools in Va use the state-provided process for SOLs for all other courses also?

    don’t blame VDOE for doing what it is supposed to do – oversee the SOL process and, until the General Assembly says otherwise -leave the locally-funded and administered currical to the localities unless and until the GA says otherwise and gives the funding to VDOE to expand their role.

    Do folks want the central govt in Richmond to do this or not?

    and if you want Richmond to do this – then admit you do and that you do want more tax dollars given to VDOE to exert more control over local school systems.

    In other words – come out and say what you support instead when you level criticisms.

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