Editorial: Memphis teacher-test scandal hurts far more people than it ever could have helped

May. 16, 2013 @ 11:42 PM

The cheating scandal that has rocked the Memphis school system does not speak well for the quality or integrity of that public school system. Public schools needs the best teachers they can find. What they don’t need are teachers who needed to resort to cheating to get certified.

A longtime Memphis educator who helped teachers cheat on certification exams over a 15-year period was sentenced this week to seven years in federal prison. Clarence Mumford, 59, pleaded guilty in February to arranging for people to take Praxis certification tests on behalf of aspiring teachers in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Teachers paid Mumford up to $3,000 each to hire people to take reading, writing, math, physical education and other exams on their behalf. That fee included fake driver’s licenses Mumford made for the test-takers, who showed them to proctors at examination centers.

Mumford had a lot of time on his hands, time that would have been better spent helping the students he was paid to educate. Instead he cooked up a scheme that likely led to unqualified or substandard teachers being allowed to get certified and accept jobs who hadn’t really earned that right. The teachers used the passing scores to get jobs in public school systems.

Mumford, a former guidance counselor and assistant principal in the Memphis City Schools system, paid the test takers hundreds of dollars for each test. Federal prosecutors said he made $120,000 in the scheme, which ran from 1995 to 2010.

Prosecutors called the case unique because of the length of the scheme and its wide-ranging consequences. Prosecutors said the scam affected thousands of public school students who ended up being taught by instructors who never qualified for their positions. Some teachers involved in the scheme had repeatedly failed the tests on their own.

This was a failure, a major scandal that enriched Mumford while hurting those he served. Time in a federal prison to think about it will be time well spent. Now if we can do something to help those kids taught by cheating teachers....