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New York City
June 2001

From Accused to Redeemed: Fighting Cheating Allegations

by Anita Patil

There 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.

“There 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 of hope.”

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 again.

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.”

“It’s 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 like that.”

This is the second in a series of articles about Ballantine. Ms. Patil just graduated from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
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