Rotten Apples in the Classroom

Published April 1, 1999

There comes a point in nearly all debates over school choice when the advocate of public schools appeal to the emotions of the audience by giving examples of misconduct in choice schools: financial mismanagement, fraud, unqualified teachers, or questionable curricula. Publicizing such stories is an integral part of anti-choice efforts, according to the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci, who noted that the National Education Association last November had asked its activists “to submit charter school and privatization horror stories for dissemination around the country.”

Although the rapidly expanding school choice arena provides ammunition for such anti-choice efforts, the much larger public school domain can hold its own when it comes to horror stories.

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

Relying on newspapers, documents, and other research, Antonucci gathered information on criminal activity in 1998 by public school employees. He discovered offenses ranging from murder, attempted murder, and assault to embezzlement, drug dealing, and child pornography. The 359 cases Antonucci found represent only a small fraction of the total number of crimes committed in public schools each year. In 1997, for example, there were 4,000 rapes and 11,000 weapon fights in schools.

While some observers have raised concerns about schools lowering academic standards used in hiring in order to fill their growing demand for new teachers–spurred by increasing enrollments, replacing retiring teachers, and reducing class sizes–school officials must be equally wary not to lower their ethical standards in this hiring process, warns Antonucci. If officials take school crime so seriously that they suspend little boys for bringing little plastic axes to school, he argues, they should take it seriously enough to determine if there are child molesters, thieves, and scam artists among the teachers.

“These employees are not just teachers, aides, custodians, and principals,” he says. “They’re people who spend upwards of six hours each day alone with your kids.”

In Cleveland, Ohio, Antonucci notes, some 386 teachers were hired in 1997 without undergoing the required criminal background check. At least 192 public school employees later were found to have felony convictions when the Cleveland Plain Dealer conducted its own investigation. 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, 7 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,” he added.

Together with 45 cases of false accusations,
Antonucci’s findings break down into the following categories:
Type of Crime Number of Crimes Number of States Involved
(including Washington DC)
Sex 170 38
Money 74 28
Violence 45 25
Cheating 45 20
Drugs 25 17
Total 359 43
False Accusations 23 14

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

Rotten Apples: School Crime from a Different Angle is available from the Education Intelligence Agency, PO Box 2047, Carmichael, CA 95609; phone 916/422-4373; fax 916/392-1482; email [email protected]. The 30-page report is also 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.