Arguably, it has never been tougher to be a teacher in America - especially in poor, urban, crime-infested neighborhoods such as Philadelphia's Hunting Park, where too many children find it hard to focus their minds on learning.

Education is the most valuable commodity children from such environments can obtain. They should have the very best teachers. Too frequently, though, they not only lack fine educators; they are subjected to pedagogical abuse.

It's abuse when a teacher, prodded by a principal, cavalierly changes or provides the answers to a test rather than put forth the effort required to teach what the child needs to learn.

To commit such a crime, a teacher has to give up on the children placed in his trust. He has to stop believing his students are capable of learning and decide they should instead become tools in a plot to bolster the teacher's career.

Such a plot is alleged in grand jury charges announced Thursday by Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane against principal Evelyn Cortez and four current and former teachers at Cayuga Elementary School in Hunting Park. They are accused of "widespread and systemic cheating" on standardized tests.

The charges come more than a year after The Inquirer revealed Cayuga teachers' complaints of being coerced into cheating. Teachers said the principal told them to do whatever they had to do to boost the school's test scores, but Cortez denied that.

The grand jury alleges that cheating occurred from 2009 to 2011. Its report includes testimony by teachers who said students were instructed to put their answers on scrap paper so they could be checked before being entered. The jurors found some students were taken aside to receive assistance directly from teachers.

The allegations are similar to charges last year against 35 Atlanta educators, including former schools Superintendent Beverly Hall, who were accused of cheating to raise test scores and become eligible for performance bonuses. But it would be naive to think Atlanta and Philadelphia are the only districts where rules may have been broken to raise scores.

Cheating seems to have grown as the emphasis on standardized tests to assess school performance has increased. Amid the pressure for higher scores, some teachers and administrators in schools with the most academically challenged students have been tempted to cheat.

The courts will decide whether the accused Philadelphia teachers succumbed to that temptation. If they did, their actions have shortchanged the children who can least afford a smoke-and-mirrors education that limits their ability to succeed in life. Anyone who could do that to a child never should have become a teacher.