Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teaching by Example: Fraud in Public Schools

NPR is reporting that over 50 schools in Georgia have been found manipulating students' test scores by erasing erroneous answers and replacing them with the correct answers. As in any fraud, pressure and opportunity have become too much for teachers and administrators in the Georgia school system to resist making these changes. Here is a quote from the article:
 The tests are given to children in grades 1-8. The results determine whether schools meet federal benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act. Good scores mean high praise and cash bonuses. Failure to meet standards could mean losing hundreds of thousands in federal dollars, and could cost teachers and administrators their jobs.

The article goes on to explain that some believe there was a coordinated effort to commit this fraud. Interestingly, the superintendent of the Atlanta school system was awarded superintendent of the year in 2009 for bringing up the school system's test scores! Maybe that award ought to be looked at again...

As I've said before, where there is money there is fraud and where there is a lot of money there is a lot of fraud. The problem here is that there were little controls so we had to rely on the integrity of the teachers and administrators to prevent the fraud. My guess is that Georgia is not the only place that this fraud is being committed.

When government funds are based on performance, there is a need for controls and/or audits or else the integrity of individuals will be tested and often strained. I would hope we could rely on integrity among teachers and school administrators, but, unfortunately, integrity is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity in today's world. Here is a quote from a parent with children in some of the schools found cheating in Georgia:
"What is happening? Are our teachers cheating? Is the administration cheating? Have we created a cheating culture? You know, it's so many things to think about as a parent," Hayes-Tavares says. According to (this mother), her own children knew there was a problem, telling her that it was common for teachers to give students test answers. 
This is doubly sad when the children are being taught by the teachers that cheating is okay! Wow--is there no integrity among these teachers?!

Unfortunately, I suspect that integrity will continue to be in short supply as families fail to instill it in children. If we're counting on the school system to instill integrity in children, well, need I say more?!


  1. Unfortunately, the current trend in society right now is to demand quantitative data to represent what boils down to what is really a qualitative problem. We want our schools to "perform" better, but they only way we're willing to assess that performance is to use standardized testing.

    My friend's daughter is in 3rd grade, and for the past 2 months, the teacher has been leaning on them about the standardized test that they're about to be given. She's broken down in tears at home, not able to cope with the pressure being put on her. If we're going to use standardized testing as some kind of benchmark, then we have to leave the kids alone and just honestly assess them.

    Myself, I think we did fine as a nation without relying on standardized tests. What about measuring the long-term results of how many students enroll in college, etc?

  2. "As I've said before, where there is money there is fraud and where there is a lot of money there is a lot of fraud."

    When there is something to gain and something to lose, there is fraud. But we do not need to create a situation where fraud is always imminent. I know one of the ways a good CFO prevents fraud is to create policies that prevent opportunity to commit it in the first place.

  3. Rhid, I agree that we could have some policies to prevent fraud and that is what we need in this type of situation. Either strong controls or some auditing or both.

  4. Tying teacher compensation to test performance of other human beings (like is done in Tennessee) will serve only to motivate one of two possible outcomes:

    1) Teachers will attempt to manipulate the test results to help secure their own individual financial security

    2) Teachers will neglect other areas of education not specifically covered by the tests, in favor of increasing their own odds of looking good to those who evaluate the "results". Again, this is an attempt to defend one's own security. And anyone would do it if not doing so would impact them directly in a negative way.

    Mark, you are an educator. I assume you have a tenure process at BYU (or I hope you do). You've got the pressure to publish and (or) establish a great reputation for your department through other means such as grants, studies, publicity, etc. But the public school teachers are now combating this insane pressure from both the Bush AND Obama administrations to use quantitative measures for what should be evaluated in a qualitative way.

    We should focus more on who gets to BE teachers and less on numerically based results.

  5. If you're really interested in this there is a chapter in Freakonomics that talks about this same issue in relation to No Child Left Behind. It's really fascinating.

  6. Rhid, you are highlighting a longstanding problem in education of measuring or assessing learning. How do we measure a good teacher? That is a very challenging question that has no simple answers and, you're right that if we boil it down to some quantitative measures, we are bound to end up missing the boat in some areas.

    Sarah, I need to read that book. I like his blog posts...Thanks for pointing out that he has a chapter related to this topic.

  7. "A camel is a racehorse (designed by committee)". I think it applies well to NCLB,