WASHINGTON, D.C. – Four of Prince George’s County’s 14 school board members are calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to investigate claims of widespread corruption in the district aimed at inflating graduation rates.
The board members alleged in a May 30 letter to Hogan that “widespread systemic corruption” in the district since 2014 contributed to grade rigging and unearned course credits for students to inflate graduation rates, The Washington Post reports.
The board members – Edward Burroughs III for District 8, David Murray for District 1, Raaheela Ahmed for District 5 and student Juwan Blocker – based the allegations on evidence provided whistleblowers that shows students received credit for courses they didn’t take, grades were changes with teacher approval, and students received service learning hour credits toward graduation that they did not earn.
“These actions, which alter the much touted student graduation rate, are occurring across the school system leading us to believe that there are accomplices and complicity at the highest levels of the school system,” the letter read.
“Whistleblowers at almost every level in (Prince George’s County Public Schools) have clear and convincing evidence that PGCPS has graduated hundreds of students who did not meet the Maryland State Department of Education graduation requirements,” the board members wrote.
Officials in the state’s second largest school district denied the allegations and pointed to a state investigation into similar allegations several months ago that did not reveal any shady business, NBC Washington reports.
The state investigation came after the federal Department of Education received an anonymous complaint last summer, and district officials provided the media paperwork showing the matter is now considered closed.
“We already feel this situation was thoroughly investigated and . . . the allegations were unfounded,” Deputy Superintendent Monique Davis said Monday.
If that’s the case, the district has made remarkable progress in boosting its four-year graduation rate, which increased from 74.1 percent in 2013 to 81.4 percent in 2016, the Post reports.
The board members asked Hogan to compel the attorney general and state education department to investigate the claims, and asked to seize records pertaining to the investigation.
A Hogan spokeswoman described the allegations as “very concerning.”
PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell, who constantly touts the rising graduation rate under his watch, said the allegations are “politically motivated” and denied any wrongdoing.
“These claims are an affront to the hard work of our teachers, administrators, students and parents over the last few years,” he said. “I categorically deny any systemic effort to promote students who did not meet state graduation requirements.”
Teachers and school employees who spoke with Fox 5 said Maxwell is full of baloney.
Several recalled when the CEO made a victory lap to schools with drastic graduation rate increases earlier this year.
“When Maxwell came up to our school with an entourage to celebrate our high graduation rates, we all howled with laughter,” according to a teacher who did not want to be identified. “Because we knew that they were completely fraudulent.”
“Most of the counselors laugh at it,” a counselor said. “Because we know that it’s not real.”
Another teacher said “there is incredible pressure coming from the central office onto all of the principals at all the schools to push kids through whether they really earned the credits or not.”
“It’s, ‘What are you going to do to make sure that they pass,’ rather than, ‘What are you going to do to make sure that they learn?’” a different teacher told Fox 5.
Others said principals or administrators either outright changed grades or forced teachers to.
A counselor told the news site tasked her with contacting teachers of failing seniors to push them through with passing grades they didn’t earn.
“Email them all and tell them, ‘Change all the grades.’ Whether it was a 30 or 50, change it all to passing,’” she alleged the principal said.
Fox 5 also recovered an email from a guidance counselor and assistant principal at DuVal High School to teachers that provided the names of 141 seniors “who need one last intervention with your assistance.”
“If there is any last minute, (rub a genie in a bottle), assistance you can help our future scholars, please assist (yes one more time)!” the email read.
Parents also backed up the allegations.
One mother told Fox 5 her son was on the list of the 141 seniors at DuVal, and his grade went from a 29 percent to passing with no effort on his part.
The mother, identified only as Randa, said the teacher told her “she had nothing else to justify a higher grade,” but “the guidance counselor for that grade said, ‘Do not worry he will pass with a 65.’”
The prediction came true, Randa said, adding that students are well aware of the scam.
“When I try to challenge him and say, ‘You need to give more with that essay, you need to study a little bit more,’ (he says), ‘Well what for? They’re going to pass me anyway,’” Randa said. “He is passing, no problem. Does he know the material? No idea. Am I going to be tasked to teach him that over the summer? I’ve already begun that process.”