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2 Atlanta educators step down; 176 others also face ultimatum

By Vivian Kuo, CNN
  • A quit-or-be-fired warning was issued last week to 38 principals and 140 others
  • Wednesday is the deadline set by the interim superintendent
  • The federal education secretary says his department has "been in conservation" on the scandal

Atlanta (CNN) -- Two Atlanta Public Schools educators stepped down Monday after being issued an ultimatum last week to quit or be fired.

One resigned in person and another went into retirement, said Keith Bromery, director of media relations for the school system.

They were among 178 Atlanta Public Schools employees, including 38 principals, whose jobs are on the line after allegedly being involved in a widespread standardized-test cheating scandal that has caught the attention of federal officials.

"We've been in conversation with the inspector general about these cheating scandals and I believe they are looking at them," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday.

Duncan spoke with Atlanta Public Schools Interim Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. at length about the cheating revelations, and current response plans, Bromery said.

"They have been very helpful in providing advice and counsel as our schools go through this," he said.

The Department of Education has the power to withhold or add preconditions on federal funding provided to states if it believes efforts to rectify corruption aren't enough. So far, no federal investigation of Atlanta Public Schools has been launched, but officials say they are weighing several options to support state-led measures to protect against cheating.

Davis has given the 178 educators implicated until Wednesday to resign or face termination proceedings, Bromery said. The notice was sent to teachers listed in a report about the state Criterion-Reference Competency Tests as having confessed to or having been implicated in testing improprieties.

Bromery said educators have the option to resign in person or online and to turn in their keys, access badges and other materials provided to them as employees of the schools.

Earlier this month, investigators revealed the systematic falsification of standardized test results, concluding that dozens of teachers and administrators in 44 schools were involved.

Last week, Davis replaced four area superintendents and a school principal. He told CNN then that children had been failed and "we can't allow that to happen, and we can't allow anyone who was involved with that remain in our system."

The school board has given Davis approval to mandate ethics training for employees and provide remedial help to perhaps thousands of Atlanta Public Schools students who may have improperly advanced because of the cheating.

"We will identify those children, and we will make the requisite investments to remediate the wrongs that were done against them," Davis said.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said prosecutors will decide whether to bring criminal charges against those involved. The state investigation confirmed widespread cheating in city schools dating as far back as 2001, and said 82 employees acknowledged involvement.

Investigators said the educators implicated were either directly involved in erasing wrong answers on a standardized test, or they knew or should have known what was going on.

Six principals declined to answer investigators' questions and invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Deal said.

The state's report indicated there was a climate of cheating and a performance-at-all-costs atmosphere during the tenure of previous Superintendent Beverly Hall. Hall has denied the allegation.

Davis said there had been "a culture of fear and intimidation" that needed to be changed.

"People felt that it was easier to cheat than to miss their goals and objectives," he said. But he also agreed with board members who said it was important to remember that many Atlanta teachers did their jobs well.

"There were so many teachers who have not made ethical compromises who were doing wonderful things on a daily basis," Davis said.

The cheating was brought to light after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported about unusual test-score gains at some schools. Investigators discovered a pattern of incorrect test answers being erased and replaced with correct answers.

In a bid to increase stability as it seeks to overcome the scandal and receive full reaccreditation, the board extended Davis' contract through June 2012. He recently retired as chancellor of the University System of Georgia