As if lying, cheating, and academic dishonesty were not bad enough, the Atlanta public school scandal may cause serious problems outside of the classroom. According to The Atlanta Post, “The Atlanta Public Schools scandal will deeply hamper the city’s efforts to attract new businesses and jobs, perhaps for years, business and company site selection experts say.”
When a company makes a location decision, it usually takes into consideration the area’s quality of education. This is especially true among larger companies with an employee base that has a large number of families.
But if an area once deemed a prime location for setting up business is discovered to have something as low-class as a scandal involving principals and teachers falsifying state standardized tests, that area will be viewed as unfit and it will generally be avoided.
Atlanta must handle this problem carefully. State leaders must resolve the issue, punish the offenders, and restore the integrity of the education system. If they do this successfully, then the impact should be short term.
However, Atlanta’s problem is a big one. 178 Atlanta Public School (APS) teachers and principals have been accused of cheating on state standardized tests, and the fallout will most likely involve drawn out lawsuits and ugly public battles. This may permanently impede growth.
“All things being equal, this one scandal will make a difference on whether a company will move or not,” said Ed McCallum, senior principal of the Greenville, S.C.-based site selection firm McCallum Sweeney Consulting, in the Atlanta Post report.
“This doesn’t mean they won’t consider Atlanta,” he said, “but they will read about this and take a much harder look at the city than they might have before.”
The appointment of APS interim Superintendent Erroll Davis to replace retiring district head Beverly Hall is a prime example of the direct efforts to deal with the scandal. What may also help with APS’ tarnished image is the swift firing of four area superintendents.
“We think it speaks well that the state took action in a pretty deplorable situation,” said Alison Tyrer, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the state’s main business relocation recruiter, the Atlanta Post article.
Tyrer’s boss, Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey, said: “K-12 education has been a challenge for this state, and the situation at Atlanta Public Schools is abhorrent, but the aggressive response that is being put in place will turn this challenge for the state into an advantage in the long run.”
Chris Clark, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber, said leaders of Georgia companies who have discussed the scandal with him say the believe the state is handling things well. But they will continue to watch.
“We have got to deal with this quickly and show that we have a plan,” he said.
The scandal could not have come at a worse time. Recently, Atlanta has struggled because major companies keep relocating outside the city limits. According to The Atlanta Post, “Instead of going downtown, the job growth of late has been with companies such as NCR Corp., which moved to Gwinnett County from Ohio, and in the numerous technology firms that now call Alpharetta home.”
“The city of Atlanta faces much stiffer competition than it did a decade ago,” said Ron Starner, general manager of Site Selection magazine, an industry periodical.
Scott Taylor, president of the real estate firm Carter, thinks the scandal’s impact will be short-lived because the severity of it will not allow city, state or business leaders to ignore the problem.
“People may not like the truth, but they always want to know the truth,” the Atlanta Post quoted him saying. “It’s going to be a challenge, and there will be bumps in the road. But you’ve got to be transparent, and you have to address the challenges. And more importantly, you have to talk about the opportunities, and I think they are there.”
What we know right now is that 178+ teachers and principals have been accused of cheating hundreds of students out of a good education. What we have yet to discover is whether or not their dishonesty will also cheat them out of a good job.