Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More on the Cheating Scandals in Public Schools

Imagine if the response to Enron and WorldCom was to say that business leaders are set up to commit fraud because the market is too interested in accounting information so we should have businesses report less economic data about their performance. According to an article in The New Republic, that is essentially the reaction by some in education to the recently reported cheating scandals in Atlanta and elsewhere. Here are a few quotes:
When asked about Atlanta, noted school reform apostate Diane Ravitch pointed the finger at the federal No Child Left Behind law, saying that, when high-stakes incentives are attached to test scores, we are “virtually inviting” teachers to cheat. At the Daily Kos, readers were told that “the tests, and the stakes attached to them, are the issue. No rational person can look at cheating this widespread and decide its existence is about the individuals, however blameworthy their behavior may be.” One Atlanta-area teacher put it this way: “Anybody whose job is tied to performance, it is a setup.”
I agree that pressure to perform leads to fraud. Afterall, it's one part of the fraud triangle. The other two parts are being ignored here though: rationalization or character and opportunity. What these writers are apparently assuming is that opportunity will always exist and that teachers do not have enough integrity to resist rationalizing. If that is the case, our educational system is doomed for failure.

The New Republic also made the following observation:
Corruption, educational or otherwise, should be fought with strong law enforcement, the election of public officials with integrity, and the vigilance of citizen’s groups and a watchful press. The Securities and Exchange Commission exists because lawmakers correctly assume that the pressures and temptations of making money are so great that companies and financial actors can’t be trusted. Other than lunatic objectivists and Wall Street water-carriers, nobody reacted to Madoff, Enron, or WorldCom by calling for less enforcement and public reporting of information. Instead, they rightly called for more.
If there is a role for performance measurement, as there is in business, then there will be pressure to commit fraud. This leads to the need for systems to reduce opportunity for fraud such as internal controls, auditing, etc. and for means of improving integrity or reducing rationalization. Tone at the top goes a long way toward helping build integrity. In the case of the Atlanta school scandal, the tone was corrupt at the top and it filtered throughout the school district.

I'm not sure what is being done to reduce opportunity for cheating on educational performance but it doesn't sound like anything was done in Atlanta. This sounds like an area that is ripe for new assurance services to me...

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