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Ohio State students react to scandal within Columbus City Schools

Courtesy of MCT

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As news continues to break involving the Columbus City Schools’ data altering, The Columbus Dispatch reporters who first broke the story continue to reveal the truth about the situation. But some of the district’s affiliates and alumni at Ohio State aren’t happy about their coverage.
Columbus City School principals were directed to change data to improve the state report card by altering attendance records and withdrawing students who were not preforming to standards, then re-enrolling them, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“The principals had been basically told to cheat, to go in and change the data to improve the state report card,” said Bill Bush, a Columbus Dispatch reporter, during a March 22 presentation to OSU journalism students.
The series of stories Bush and Jennifer Smith Richards have written on the scandal are known as “Counting Kids Out.”
“This story was probably a long time growing but we didn’t know it was this big,” said Dispatch reporter Smith Richards.
Bush and Smith Richards requested data from the district to find out how many students’ records had been manipulated, including grade logs to see what administrators were changing grades to help students graduate .
The Ohio Department of Education began investigating the schools shortly after the first story was published in the Dispatch in June, followed by the state auditor and the FBI.
Jacqueline Baumann, a fifth-year in strategic communication and a Columbus City Schools graduate, said she had inaccuracies in her attendance records and transcripts after applying to OSU.
“I missed six classes and nothing was held against me,” Baumann said. “They would call my house and say, ‘Your student wasn’t in class today,’ but that was it.”
Baumann said she was not at all surprised that the data manipulation became public.
“The data didn’t match up so it makes sense to investigate,” Baumann said.
Nora Gerber, a third-year in public affairs and Spanish and a graduate of Columbus Alternative High School, said that despite the controversy she still supports the school system and plans to send her children there someday.
“I do know that the superintendent of Columbus City Schools has done great things whether she made these discrepancies or not,” Gerber said.
Gene Harris is the current superintendent, however she plans to retire in July. Her contract isn’t set to expire until mid-2014.
And Gerber said the district is still filled with passionate teachers.
“I trust my teachers as teachers and as people. Although this looks badly, I don’t want anyone to think about Columbus City (Schools) differently,” Gerber said.
OSU associate English professor Elizabeth Hewitt has a son in the Columbus City School system and said the school’s report card would not dictate where she sent her children to school.
“I’m of mixed minds about those school gradings,” Hewitt said. “I think they tend to punish schools that have lower income kids.”
Although Hewitt said the school grade card does not matter to her, she knows it matters to other parents.
Hewitt said she believes there was purposeful misrepresentation on the schools’ part, however she doesn’t think The Dispatch was motivated by good intentions.
“As a mom, I’m really mad at The Dispatch,” Hewitt said. “I feel like they constantly trash Columbus City Schools, and it ultimately hurts our kids.”
Hewitt said The Dispatch‘s reporting could lead to the levy failing, which will negatively affect the students.
Hewitt also said The Dispatch sensationalized the coverage of Columbus City Schools, however Smith Richards said the facts are in the data.
“The truth is, we can point to the numbers and say ‘no, this happened,'” Smith Richards said.
The state auditor began to investigate the whole state of Ohio, and since then nine school districts have been implicated of similar data manipulation, including Toledo City Schools. Smith Richards said there is a possibility of criminal indictments for those involved in data manipulation.
“Nobody wants to believe that their schools were cheating … that their school isn’t as good as that report card says they are,” Smith Richards said.

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