America has a history of dictating that Black prosperity, excellence and empowerment must never be allowed to see the light of day. The latest possible story of this is emanating from Prince George’s County, Md., as many questions arise about Black educational achievement, and accusations that evidence of such achievement in this particular school district was the result of fraud. At the urging of Black school board members and Democratic state lawmakers, Republican Governor Larry Hogan has called for an investigation in this predominantly Black county–which is among the most prosperous Black communities in the nation– over allegations of grade inflation and rising high school graduation rates.
In a letter, the governor has asked Maryland State Board of Education President Andrew Smarick to look into potential wrongdoing in the Prince George’s County school system amid allegations students’ grades were fraudulently altered in order to boost graduation rates, as AP reported. The county has an 81 percent graduation rate, which some state board members and local officials claiming it was due to manipulation of grades and credits, according to WTOP.
Precipitating Hogan’s inquiry was a May 30 letter to him from four members of the Prince George’s County school board, as The Washington Post reported. In their letter, the members made claims of “widespread systemic corruption,” including the changing of students’ grades and crediting them for classes they did not take, resulting in inflated graduation rates and graduating hundreds of students who did not meet state requirements. The board members–Edward Burroughs III, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed and student member Juwan Blocker–say whistleblowers have “clear and convincing evidence” of the fraud. The four represent a minority bloc on the 14-member body.
State lawmakers representing the county have weighed in as well, calling for an investigation into the matter. In a letter to state Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon, Dels. Jay Walker and Geraldine Valentino-Smith, both Democrats, requested the Maryland State Department Education conduct “an in-depth audit and further investigation of such serious allegations.”
The grass-roots organization Progressive Maryland held a demonstration calling for an investigation into the allegations, as The Washington Post reported, with support from Ben Jealous, former national NAACP president and a current Democratic candidate for governor, and Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP. Ross has asked Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County Chief Executive not to renew the contract of Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of the county schools, according to fox5dc.com. State Sen. Anthony Muse, also a Black Democrat, has called for Maxwell’s resignation.
Maxwell issued a statement maintaining the allegations are false, but welcoming an investigation. “From the beginning, I have maintained that politics lie at the root of the accusations,” Maxwell said in a statement, calling the claims an affront to teachers, administrators, students and parents over the past few years. “There has been no systemic effort to promote students in Prince George’s County Public Schools who did not meet state graduation requirements in order to inflate our graduation rates.
“We look forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter.”
Other school board members and school officials also denied the allegations.
Gov. Hogan’s office noted that the State Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of moving ahead with an investigation, which will be conducted by an outside party and without any input or oversight from his office. “The governor has never weighed in on the substance of the claims, and has specifically said that he was directing this independent entity to investigate in response to the multiple requests from local officials,” said Amelia Chassé, Deputy Communications Director for the Governor’s office in a statement.
Black Democratic support for the investigation notwithstanding, some argue, however, that Maxwell makes a valid point when he argues there is a political motivation behind the governor’s actions. After all, Hogan is a white conservative Republican going after a Black county, that voted against his election as governor. As Stephan Neidenbach wrote in The Method, Prince George’s County is home to 7 of the 10 of the wealthiest Black communities in the U.S., and among the best educated in the country. More importantly, Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County Chief Executive, recently announced his run for governor against Hogan just days before.
Under Baker’s leadership and due to a neighborhood initiative, violent crime has dropped 36 percent and homicides 40 percent. This, as graduation rates have increased. If Hogan’s motivations were sincere, Neidenbach argues, he would have prompted an investigation of the overwhelmingly white Carroll County, which is at the head of the class in state graduation rates, yet has witnessed a troubling spike in crime. More crime and more graduations are an unlikely combination that raise suspicion.
Elsewhere in the country, many white politicians have perfected the art of scapegoating Black populations, conjuring the image of Black fraud and incompetence to justify neocolonialist policies that usurp the rights of Black people, depriving them of democracy and autonomy. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder invoked his state’s emergency manager law, signed into law in 2011, to take over financially struggling cities and school districts such as Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor and Ecorse. Coincidentally, the municipalities targeted for state takeover have been majority Black. Assigning unelected officials to control these Black-controlled cities amounted to reversing and eliminating the electoral process for voters. The Flint water crisis, in which the city’s residents have suffered from the lead poisoning of their drinking water, was an outgrowth of the emergency manager law.
Concerns about open hostility Black interests and reaction to signs of Black prosperity and success are longstanding and based in reality. A prime example of this mentality is the destruction of the booming Greenwood community in Tulsa, Okla., —also known as Black Wall Street — by a white mob in 1921.
It is established that many officials regard the high academic achievement of Black children with great consternation, seeking to steal our children’s thunder and downplay their intellectual capabilities and educational achievement. They often accomplish this by changing the rules of the game after the fact. For example, the mother of the first Black valedictorian at a Mississippi high school has filed a lawsuit alleging her daughter was forced to share her title as “co-valedictorian” with a white classmate who had a lower GPA.
The recent inquiry into the high graduation rate of Prince George’s County — the county with the highest concentration of Black wealth in America — has broad support and should proceed. People need to know the truth, with the interests of the children first and foremost in their minds. If the investigation begins to smell like an assault on Black excellence, then it deserves our collective side eye.
The content, opinions and views expressed in this article are that of the writer and not of Atlanta Black Star. ABS gives a platform for many different views and opinions in the Black Community.