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POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY AS A FIRST STEP TOWARD RESTRICTING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY

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POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY AS A FIRST STEP TOWARD RESTRICTING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY
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  1 POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY AS A FIRST STEP TOWARDRESTRICTING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY  This study paper describes a second phase of research that has looked at an assessment of theimpact that the illegal actions of a former superintendent of schools in an urban district have had onperceptions held by community members and professional staff had in terms of relational trust evidentin that district. The first phase found that the actions of a single educational administrator had an effecton the extent to which schools could develop and maintain a commitment to relational trust after therecognition by law enforcement agencies, courts, and an urban community discovered the activities ofa superintendent who engaged in illegal and unethical activity for personal gain prior to his arrest andsubsequent incarceration in a federal penitentiary. The initial research made use of field-basedinterviews with parents, community members, teachers, and building site administrators who hadcontact with the school district prior to and during the period of time when the actions of the formersuperintendent were designed to “game” the federal government, state education agencies, and localschool district officials with regard to student performance on annual state achievement testing,particularly at the ! th  grade level in high schools of the “"orderland” #pseudonym$ school district. Thissecond phase looks at the residual impact that illegal activity continues to have in terms of enablingstudents to achieve access to educational opportunities. Study Background %n &!!, the superintendent of schools in "orderland, an urban school district in thesouthwest of the 'nited (tates, was unceremoniously escorted out of his office wearing handcuffs by ateam of )"% agents, '( *arshalls, and officers of the local city police department for his actions in aschool district enrolling more than +,!!! students. Two charges of mail fraud were filed relative to thesuperintendents actions in office. ne involved the fraudulent practice of promoting a non-competitivebid consulting contract of more than /0!!,!!! on behalf of a woman identified as the superintendentsmistress during a long-term relationship. The second charge focused on the superintendents activeinvolvement in a scheme designed to defraud the federal government, the state education agency, andthe local district board of education and community regarding student performance on annual  2 standardi1ed achievement tests. The primary strategy used in the scheme involved “hiding” #or asdescribed in local media coverage, “disappearing”$ students in high schools who were assumed to belikely to perform poorly on state tests administered to all students in 2rade ! across the state. Theresults of the test are used to determine individual public school districts attainment of “3nnual 4early5erformance” in compliance with the terms of national “6o 7hild 8eft "ehind” #678"$ standardsinitiated during the administration of 5resident 2eorge 9. "ush. The ma:ority of these students wereimmigrants from *exico. 3fter less than a year following the district administrators arrest, he resignedfrom his position and pleaded guilty in a bargaining arrangement with the federal prosecutor. 3tpresent, he remains a convicted felon serving a three year sentence in the 8ewisburg )ederal 5rison in5ennsylvania. Background and Settng The superintendent was convicted of two felonies in federal courts. ne was a mail fraudconviction in the case of using public monies in the payment of a /0!!,!!! consulting contract to a woman who had agreed to carry out professional development program in the "orderland schooldistrict. 7ontrary to established school district policy, the contract was arranged under a non-competitive bid arrangement that was presented to the school board by the superintendent. 3fter thecontract was signed, only a minimum amount of work was actually done in the school district, despitethe fact that a large portion of the contract amount was used in frequent plane trips between the homeof the consultant and the school district which paid the established fees. %t was revealed in the courtproceedings that the consultant and the "orderland superintendent were involved in an extramaritalaffair that had been in progress for years before the superintendent arrived in "orderland. The 7;convinced the school board that because the consultants expertise could not be replicated by anyother source, the agreement did not require a competitive bidding process with the board of education.The second charge leveled was the result of an )"% investigation which found evidence of theimproper use of public monies used for the compensation of the superintendent for his performance inleading the school district to significant gains in student achievement data on examinations carried outto meet student performance benchmarks required to show yearly adequate progress, according tofederal No Child Left    Behind   legislation. 3ccording to the investigation, a scheme had been developedby the superintendent ad others in the central office to enable fraudulent data regarding studentprogress to the '( <epartment of ;ducation. %n addition, the test data were manipulated in ways to  3 suggest that the superintendent had been successful in leading reform measures in the districtsufficient to receiving a contract bonus payment to reward the superintendent.There are many additional issues associated with the extensive investigation that was carriedout by numerous organi1ations, including the )"%, the '( <epartment of ;ducation, local police, andthe state education agency. These actions provided evidence of a complex scheme that would enablestudents who were likely to have low or failing grades on standardi1ed tests in 2rade ! to be retain in2rade = for an additional period of time #usually one or one and one-half years$, then moved forwardto 2rade  after there was a review of performance to warrant skipping 2rade ! entirely. *ost of thestudents who were “disappeared” in this process were either residents of *exico who attended schoolin the '(, or students who displayed significant gaps in their ability to understand ;nglish, a naturalrequirement for success on annual tests which used only ;nglish language test materials. therstudents were said to have been “bullied” by district officials to create the belief that they could easilybe expelled from school or even be incarcerated if they chose to fight against the rather unusual gradeplacement process. 3 significant number of high school student affected by these actions from thedistrict administrators chose simply to drop out of school entirely.The point of these brief statements concerning what was going on in the "orderland schooldistrict under the direction of the superintendent #now completing concurrent sentences on both countsof the prosecutors indictment$ while serving time at the federal prison in 5ennsylvania is not to try toexplain every bit of the unusual practices that were being carried out in "orderland, but rather to notethat the arrest of the superintendent and related publicity created a massive outcry from the public andlocal media for more detailed information. %ncreasingly, it appeared as if the superintendentstransgressions were simply the “tip of the ice berg,” and that in all likelihood, massive terminations,arrests, and other actions would be forthcoming. This has not been the case, however. Thesuperintendent was arrested and his actions became public knowledge in &!!. )our years later, noone else has been indicted, although rumors continue to run rampant in the community concerningothers who may have been involved in the scheme that was apparently created by a singleadministrator acting solely for his own benefit. The question that has been investigated in the researchreported here was designed to determine what damages to the school districts reputation haveoccurred, and also, what damages may have been inflicted upon the level of trust and the community with regard to not only local school districts, but public education in general. %n all likelihood, the  4 superintendent did not act alone in carrying out the plan, but for the moment, we have been looking atthe impact that one single shocking event #i.e., a leader of a large school district being handcuffed andpublicly cast as a felon$ took place in one medium si1ed city. )or nearly four years, the community has been provided nearly daily front page storiesconcerning various and sundry school-related legal issues in the local newspaper, and in televisionreports on the progress of collateral criminal investigation associated with the scheme launched by theformer superintendent. %n addition to the departure of the offending superintendent, the school board was suspended by administrative fiat from the state education agency #which replaced the electedboard members with a board of managers>local citi1ens appointed by the state department of publicinstruction$, other administrators in the school district were fired, and several others have taken earlyretirement packages. ther school systems surrounding the large district have also been involved asadministrators in these other districts were implicated, if not in fact, but by innuendo. Gudng Conce!tua" Fra#e$ork 3s a measure of the status of the morale of teachers, parents, and others in the "orderlanddistrict and other school communities in the area, the concept of relational trust, as described by "rykand (chneider #&!!?$ and others #@ohnson A 2rayson, &!!B Cousseau, et al., ==+$ was selected asthe most appropriate construct that could be used to ascertain changes in perceptions of the decline ofpositive feelings about not one district, but also among stakeholders in neighboring communities. %nshort, this research sought to chart changes in the perceptions of local educators and communitymembers regarding their feelings of trust in educational institutions. "ased on research into the quality of programs developed in the 7hicago 5ublic (chools,"ryk noted that a consistent characteristic of successful schools was a high degree of relational trustevident in social exchanges between and among teachers and students, teachers with parents, andamong all groups in working with the school principal. “;ach party in a relationship Dof trustE maintainsan understanding of his or her roles obligations and holds some expectations about the obligation ofthe other parties. )or a school community to work well, it must achieve agreement in each rolerelationship in terms of the understandings held about these personal obligations and expectations ofothers” #"ryk A (chneider, &!!?, p. 0$. %t is assumed that this type of mutual understanding and trust would be absent in an environment where trusting relationships among parents, teachers, principals  5 and the 7; of the district would suffer severe damage in an environment such as the one created inthe "orderland (chools both before and now during the turmoil associated with firings, indictments,)"% investigations, sanctions imposed by the state education agency, and many similar distractions which have now become regular features of the communitys educational landscape. (ince theabsence or presence of relational trust in a school is a critical part of effective schools, this study wasconducted to determine the extent to which the activities now documented as part of the largest schooldistrict in the area have or have not had a discernible impact on trust, as understood and described bylocal teachers, parents and community groups, and others who have had a record of experience for aperiod of time from before the superintendent now serving time in a federal penitentiary until thepresent have witnessed the erosion of trust, or whether trusting relationships may have increased inpotency because of the presence of external, non-educational challenges in the school district.The model of relational trust proposed by "ryk consists of four elements, and these served toexamine in greater details the kinds of changes that may have been seen by different role groups asthe considered the period of time before, during, and after the superintendents plan went into effect.These four dimensions areF.  Re%!ect F Cespect in an organi1ation is defined as demonstrating evidence ofthe willingness people have to listening to and working to understand theperspectives of colleagues. %t is a commitment to give credibility to the views ofothers, even when those views may not represent the reality of othersconventional beliefs. %n other words, a climate is created where everyone hasan equal opportunity to influence others to accept competing views.&. Per%ona" Regard F The best way to provide insights into the existence ofpersonal regard among organi1ational members is to look at the extent to whichpeople go beyond minimal expectations and performance and commit regularlyto “going the extra mile” to enhance the success of an organi1ation and those who work there.?.  Co#!etence n Ro"e Re%!on%&"te% F ;mployees in any organi1ation arenormally expected to have the requisite training, abilities, and workplaceopportunities #i.e., needed resources$ to do an adequate :ob of carrying outassigned duties. (chool teachers are expected to use acceptable strategies toteach students, and school administrators are expected to have the capacity “to
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