Rampant fraud at a National Blue Ribbon School

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about school districts in Florida that were allowed to post near-perfect graduation rates because they were fraudulently classifying high school dropouts as homeschoolers and even falsifying official records on their behalf.

Academic fraud and other bad behavior are often used by public (and private) schools to attain special status within the education system – being an “A-rated” school in their state, a National Blue Ribbon school, etc. Local officials (and even parent organizations) who fully understand there are serious problems at a school often will go along because highly ranked schools are big business in local government and recruitment in economic development programs. The fastest path to higher real estate values (and thus higher local government tax revenues to spend on political priorities) is a top-rated school. There’s zero political or economic incentive to look under the hood or kick the tires.

Grade-fixing and test score-fixing schemes are something to seriously consider if you find yourself in the position of moving to a specific neighborhood for top-ranked schools. If the statistics look too good to be true, they probably are.

The New York Post has done a series of shocking articles this week about academic fraud at Maspeth High School in Queens, which is now under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office. From the first piece in the series:

At highly rated Maspeth High School in Queens, students know they can play hooky, skip course work, flunk tests — and still pass.

They call it the “Maspeth Minimum,” meaning everyone gets at least the minimum grade or score needed to pass or graduate, no matter what.

Whistleblowers call it fraud. The secret to the school’s 98% graduation and 90% Regents pass rate, they say, is simple: “Cheat!”

Four teachers told The Post that the 2,100-student high school — awarded a prestigious National Blue Ribbon in 2018 by the federal secretary of education — has an unwritten but iron-clad “no-fail policy,” even for kids who repeatedly don’t do the work or even show up.

“Teachers are not allowed to fail students,” a staffer said.

One recent Maspeth graduate posted on Instagram about taking Mandarin in 11th grade, writing, “there was no way I should of passed that class.”

But in the end, someone raised the student’s failing grade just high enough to earn a credit.

“At the time, I didn’t believe in the ‘maspeth minimum’ thing but I almost never showed up to class and vividly remember having multiple 0’s on quizzes I never took,” the student wrote. “My average was a 45 and then magically turned into a 65 when my report card came in.”

Teachers at the school explained that they faced retaliatory action from administrators for not passing all students, even students who *never physically showed up for class*. Students fully understood this, and blew off make-up work.

Some of the “classes” were scheduled during phantom periods 00, 9 and 10, records show. Students didn’t attend the nonexistent sessions, but got credits toward graduation, the teachers said. Pachter and Singh did not reply to emails.

Last school year, at least four students were marked absent all day for four to five months, records show, but were allowed to join the June 26 commencement ceremony.

The school brokered arrangements with children that were regarded as “hard to handle” to allow them to graduate early and get them out of administrator’s hair.

This even included teachers helping students cheat on standardized tests:

They accomplished this in different ways. For instance, kids with special-ed plans can have the questions and answer choices read aloud to them, but some proctors signaled the right answers by their tone of voice, teachers said.

One student wrote in a statement that Maspeth teacher and dean Danny Sepulveda reread the questions at the end of the exam.

“But while he was reading it he was only saying the right answer choice, and this made me uncomfortable because it showed he didn’t believe in me to pass the exam,” the teen wrote.

In another statement, a student wrote that during the math Regents exam in June 2018, Sepulveda and math teacher Chris Grunert “helped me and other kids in my room with answers.” ….

“I’ve seen teachers literally change answers on a Regents exam,” one said.

In other public schools in New York City, you have teachers pressuring families to opt out of standardized testing because tests are racist. At a nationally ranked school in Queens, they just give kids the answers. And you thought Felicity Huffman was evil? This is a whole school and it’s school administrators who are doing it. And of course, the parents here knew as well.

Unsurprisingly, kids at the school rampantly cheat on classroom and homework assignments, turning in work done by others with zero consequences.

In another article, the Post interviews a former student who says he never attended class and spent two years of high school drunk or stoned in the school library. The school approached him with a plan to help him graduate early:

Thomas Macalaran Creighton admits he spent most of his junior and senior years at Maspeth High School in Queens drunk and stoned out of his mind, often asleep in the school library. He rarely attended classes and completed no homework assignments his senior year.

How did school administrators handle his chronic misbehavior and truancy?

They promoted him to the head of the class and let him graduate — six months early, in January 2015.

“They handed me a few work sheets for each subject, and told me if I completed them in a week, I could graduate six months early,” Creighton, now 21, told The Post. “I knew I didn’t deserve it but I thought, ‘Why not?’ I had another kid fill in the work sheets, and they gave me a diploma.”

His mother said the school became her nemesis in trying to stabilize her son’s extreme behavioral issues. (This has become something of a theme in public education, actually: Parents having to fight schools, even take them to court, over their kids participating in high-risk behavior at school. In California, it is now the law that a school must provide cover via attendance records for minors seeking an abortion, sexually transmitted disease checks, mental health treatment, or drug treatment. This has been spotlighted in recent cases where kids wanted to transition to a new gender against the authority of their parents.) The mother would try to discipline him, but then he was going to a school where anything goes:

Instead, her son — known to his friends and family as “Mac” — spiraled downward, addicted at first to alcohol then a medley of different drugs. He hung out with about five friends who were constantly stoned and ran away from home. His mother said he was mostly homeless, at times living out of an ATM lobby and a beer can-strewn flophouse in Ridgewood.

“He stunk like a homeless person and only went to school to hang out with his friends,” said Annmarie, an office manager and mother to two older daughters. “I kept expecting a truant officer to show up at our door. But nothing happened. My husband and I were stunned when he graduated early.”

Creighton transferred to the school in the fall of 2013. He had already been expelled for carrying a knife from Xavier High School, an elite Catholic high school in Manhattan where his father, a civil engineer who works on projects for the MTA, was an alumnus. He briefly attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst before enrolling in Maspeth.

“He had friends who were going to Maspeth, and he told us he would kill himself if we forced him to stay at Newtown,” his mother said. “By the time he got to Maspeth, all hell broke loose.”

Some of the teachers tried to help her son out, by bringing him food and clean clothes. Another teacher gave her son a pot pipe as a “graduation” gift, as if his addiction was something to be encouraged.

(Imagine how you’d behave if a teacher at your kid’s school gave your kid drug paraphernalia as a gift. Would you ask more questions about their relationship?)

In a third article, the Post highlights comments from teachers on a platform for NYC educators. They suggest this sort of behavior is commonplace at all NYC public schools.

It’s not difficult to believe that what the teachers are saying here is true, either. This sort of culture cannot succeed for generations of students without widespread participation, not just in the school or neighborhood, but in the system that created it and credentializes it.

Outliers are not audited before they are rewarded. Why? Ultimately the same behavior that is taking place within the school is taking place within the school system. The Department of Education likely does know where the crappy schools are. They don’t care that the problem schools were promoted to the head of the class any more than the folks at this high school cared that problem children were treated as being at the head of their class.

Shirking genuine accountability makes everyone’s life easier in the end.

4 thoughts on “Rampant fraud at a National Blue Ribbon School

  1. When civil institutions are failing, civil society is at risk. Btw, not advice, shared my horrible experience. I initially thought that I was extremely unlucky in my pharmacogenetic endowment and my choice of doctors, but I have since encountered directly and second hand others who suffered serious adverse effects from statins. Everyone experienced resistance to discontinued use to a lesser or greater degree from their doctors. Makes me wonder what is in the Physician’s Desk Reference and who wrote it.

    Liked by 1 person

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