Rotten Apples in the Classroom

Published July 1, 1999

There is a point in almost all school choice debates where the public school advocate appeals to the emotions of the audience by giving examples of misconduct that has occurred in choice schools: financial mismanagement, fraud, unqualified teachers, or questionable curricula.

In fact, publicizing such stories is an integral part of anti-choice efforts, according to the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci, who noted last November that the National Education Association had asked its activists “to submit charter school and privatization horror stories for dissemination around the country.”

Although the rapidly expanding school choice arena is providing a small number of such horror stories, the much larger public school domain can more than hold its own. Last December, Education Week ran a three-part Special Report on teachers–primarily in public schools–who betrayed the trust of their students by preying on them sexually. (See “Reporting the Unthinkable: Sex Between Teachers and Students,” School Reform News, February 1999.)

Antonucci has provided a broader perspective on the issue with his report, Rotten Apples: School Crime from a Different Angle.

Gathering the details of public school employee crimes from newspapers, public documents, and other research, Antonucci discovered offenses in 1998 ranging from murder, attempted murder, and assault to embezzlement, drug dealing, and child pornography. The 359 cases he found represent only a small fraction of the total number of crimes committed in public schools each year.

In Cleveland, Ohio, Antonucci reports, 386 teachers were hired in 1997 without undergoing the required criminal background check. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer conducted its own investigation into the new employees’ backgrounds, at least 192 were found to have felony convictions. The Los Angeles Times found 50 employees with criminal backgrounds–including one convicted of child cruelty and attempted murder–out of 1,648 new hires by the city’s public schools.

“In New Jersey, one in every hundred school hires had a criminal record, including 49 murderers, seven kidnappers, 91 child abusers, and 171 sex offenders,” according to Sacramento Bee Executive Editor Gregory Favre. “In Memphis, Tennessee, there were 74 felons and an additional 1,500 employees who had arrest records, including a teacher on parole for drug dealing. In North Carolina, there were child molesters on the payroll. In Alabama, there were hundreds with criminal records, including some teachers with histories of child abuse.”

For more information …

Mike Antonucci’s report, Rotten Apples: School Crime from a Different Angle, is available in two 15-page parts through PolicyBot. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for old documents #2166414 and #2166415.