Why Did These Black Educators Get RICO Charges?

back of yellow school bus
Zain Murdock
October 25, 2023

On April 1, 2015, 11 Atlanta educators were found guilty of RICO charges after lead prosecutor Fani Willis' investigation. Of the 34 initially charged, 33 were Black. The educators were accused of receiving excessive bonuses and cheating on tests for Average Yearly Progress (AYP) metrics. 

But, years later, they still maintain that they are not guilty of conspiracy.

One myth they debunked was that only Black Atlanta teachers cheated, which allowed for a widespread anti-Black, reductive narrative. Teachers of other races and other parts of Georgia were also flagged for cheating. And most indicted did not meet AYP targets.

The few who actually received bonuses made $79 extra a year.

Despite misinformation, prosecutorial misconduct, and the case nearly getting dismissed, media outlets and legal officials scapegoated Black educators. But criminalizing them doesn't address why educators, or students, cheat in the first place.

Since the Bush administration, standardized testing has become the norm. But the pressure it puts on teachers and students cannot be understated. Underpaid and under-resourced teachers fear losing their jobs. Black students are frequently devalued, commodified as data, or threatened if they don't meet specific goals. 

But who sets those goals? Who decides how we learn best?

The exaggerated criminalization of Black educators may give us someone to blame for adverse outcomes in the American education system. But this isn't justice.

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