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By Willoughby Mariano July 15, 2011

Ex-Mayor Franklin says small percent of educators named in APS cheating

Former Mayor Shirley Franklin won’t let a cheating scandal of historic proportions darken her sunny assessment of Atlanta’s Public Schools.

Franklin said that ex-APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, whom investigators implicated in the cheating, left the district "significantly better than she found it." Pants on Fire, we ruled.

The day after our ruling became public, Franklin told WXIA 11 Alive that she stands by her comments, and critics need to put the controversy in perspective. Cheating took place at some 40 schools, she said, but an investigative report on the scandal implicated only a small percentage of the district’s educators.  

"95 percent of the teachers and the principals are not implicated in the report at all," Franklin told reporter Jennifer Leslie on Saturday. "There are 3,000 teachers and principals, and this report says that about 5 percent were involved in this."

Only 5 percent? What about investigators’ conclusion that the cheating was "widespread"?

PolitiFact Georgia hunted for answers.

The report, released July 5, found that cheating took place on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, or CRCT, a set of standardized tests administered across Georgia. Typically given in first through eighth grade, they’re designed to determine how well students meet state curriculum standards.

The report implicated 178 educators, including 38 principals, in the cheating scandal. Investigators confirmed cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined. Time magazine called it "likely the largest cheating scandal in U.S. history to date."

We contacted Franklin, who told us in a voice mail that the numbers she used in the TV interview were from news accounts, but did not give specifics.

The Truth-O-Meter soldiered on. PolitiFact Georgia used an internal Atlanta Journal-Constitution database, state and federal data, and information from APS’ website to check Franklin’s claim.  

According to the AJC’s database and state and federal figures, there are some 4,000 educators in the district, which means that about 5 percent of the district’s educators were implicated.

Franklin’s arithmetic is correct, but we noticed some holes in her approach.  

Franklin’s calculation includes high school educators, but the CRCT is given only to students in grades 1 through 8. Also, Franklin’s number lumps teachers with principals and does not consider the number of schools involved.

We took these factors into account and made our own calculations. They led us to very different conclusions.

Cheating may have been limited among the rank and file, but the numbers show it was commonplace among school leadership.

Some 2,370 teachers handle students in grades 1 through 8, according to AJC’s database. The report implicated 140 of them, or about 6 percent.  

Principals are a different story. A recent APS list shows 70 of them at the district’s elementary and middle schools. Thirty-eight of them were implicated, or 54 percent.

Investigators found cheating in 44 out of 70 elementary and middle schools, which amounts to 63 percent.  

It’s also worth noting that a top cheating investigator warned Monday that the true percentage of educators involved is very likely higher than the numbers in the report suggest. A "wall of silence" among school employees made it difficult to identify all of those involved, former Attorney General Mike Bowers said.

This news makes Franklin’s claim that only a small percent of educators were implicated "at all" appear too clear-cut.

So, how do we rule?

The arithmetic behind the number Franklin uses in her claim that "95 percent of teachers and principals are not implicated . . . at all" is accurate.

But the impression she gives -- that if you put the cheating in perspective, only a small percent of the district is tainted -- ignores crucial context. More than half of the district’s middle and elementary school principals were implicated, and cheating took place at nearly two-thirds of APS schools.

These percentages may be lower than the true number of cheaters.

Franklin cherry-picked a number that supported her point, leaving out important details and taking things out of context. Her claim therefore meets PolitiFact’s definition of Half True. 

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

WXIA 11 Alive, "Exclusive: Former Mayor Franklin on APS Cheating," July 9, 2011

Georgia Department of Education, Atlanta Public Schools 2009-2010 report card, accessed July 12, 2011

Atlanta Public Schools, list of schools, accessed July 11, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Four APS superintendents removed in scandal fallout" July 11, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, internal Atlanta Public Schools database, accessed July 12, 2011

Atlanta Public Schools cheating investigation, June 30, 2011

Georgia Department of Education, Atlanta Public Schools report card, 2009-2010, accessed July 12, 2011

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Atlanta Public Schools district details, July 12, 2011

Emails, voice mail, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, July 11, 2011

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More by Willoughby Mariano

Ex-Mayor Franklin says small percent of educators named in APS cheating

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