Accused to Redeemed: Fighting Cheating Allegations
was a time when 30-year-old Rebecca Ballantine was shy about saying
she wanted to be a teacher. It was not until she was at the University
of Pennsylvania that she seriously thought about teaching. One
moment of clarity convinced her.
Ballantine recalled seeing two young kids being dragged out of
a huge academic building at Penn by a policeman. “I wondered,
‘Did they have a teacher this morning who was happy to see them?’”
Ballantine said. “I wanted to show kids that I was happy to be
there with them.”
But after securing her first teaching job in 1994 and becoming
settled in a school she loved, Ballantine never thought she would
be forced out of IS450 at East Side Community High School when
NYC investigators accused her of helping students cheat on standardized
tests in 1999.
At East Side, Ballantine had developed a reputation as someone
like an older sister with whom students could get along. “I just
wanted the kids to know that the school wanted them,” she said.
But during her fifth year at the school, city investigators accused
Ballantine of helping her students cheat on their 1999 reading
tests in order to raise the SURR school’s scores. Special Commissioner
Edward Stancik released a report in December 1999 called “Cheating
the Children,” which named Ballantine as one of the 52 educators
accused of cheating.
was a dramatic increase in the school’s scores,” said Stancik.
“Sometimes it’s a natural improvement where you have a good teacher,”
he added, saying that being on the SURR list has been motivation
to cheat. “There is a lot of pressure to produce results. Some
take shortcuts to get to that point.”
Ballantine denied helping the students cheat, but when the Board
of Education revoked her license, she said that was the “death
Ballantine put teaching out of her mind. “I did
n’t want to put myself back out there and have to
explain this,” she said. But in the summer, she was considering
a job teaching fifth and six graders at Calhoun, a private prep
school. “That night, I dreamt of having a classroom, how I was
going to decorate it, how I’d have my own kids and raise them
basically,” Ballantine said.
Thirty minutes after accepting the position, she learned the Board
had reached a settlement in her grievance case: she would get
back her teaching license. The Board had re-evaluated Stancik’s
accusations and decided to reinstate her as a teacher, said Doug
Ambach, the school representative for Ballantine. “The evidence
in Rebecca’s case was weak,” Ambach said. The Board’s settlement
on June 2, 2000 offered Ballantine partial back pay and a reversal
of her unsatisfactory rating in her file. It removed Ballantine
from the ineligible list, allowing her to teach in a public school
Regardless, Ballantine decided to stay with her job at Calhoun.
The Headmaster of Calhoun, Steven J. Nelson, said Ballantine was
very forthright and honest about what happened to her at East
Side. He said the allegations Stancik made were no indication
of Ballantine’s teaching ability. “The behavior she was alleged
to have committed represents no violation of Calhoun’s values,”
Nelson said. “She was a sensitive teacher in a system she thought
was running amok.”
hideous that a career could be ruined because of allegations by
a public administrator run wild,” Nelson added. “The Board is
doing itself a disservice when they force a teacher out of the
system. It’s their loss and our gain.”
Yet her students from East Side hope she’ll return. “I miss her,”
said 15-year-old Bernard Phillips. “I wouldn’t consider her a
regular teacher, you know? She’s like a friend you get along with.
When she left, I felt like we weren’t gonna have another teacher
is the second in a series of articles about Ballantine. Ms. Patil
just graduated from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
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