Thursday, July 7, 2011

More Teaching Scandals in the News

Last October, I wrote about a teaching scandal in Georgia schools where teachers were apparently erasing and correcting students answers on standardized tests so as to obtain funding and accolades. Yesterday, Freakonomics discussed this and linked a news report showing that Atlanta has had massive teacher fraud going on for several years. In addition...
today, Freakonomics is reporting evidence that teacher fraud is an international problem. The blog shows some very compelling evidence that teachers in Poland are also fudging their students' performance. They show a distribution of scores on an important language test administered in Poland that suggests that students who are just under the passing grade of 21 were given a boost to get them over the failing point. Here is the distribution:

It appears that in both these cases, the cheating by teachers was widespread. In the Atlanta case, administrators were organizing, encouraging and even silencing whistle-blowers as the cheating went on for years. I found it particularly interesting that some of the people caught up in the scandal said that the school district was run like the mob. Fear of retaliation by school district officials was a major motivating force that kept the scam going.

Using fear to motivate subordinates to go along with a scam seems to be a common thread that runs through fraud cases whenever collusion is required. For example, cyclists who were caught up in the doping of the past decade or two said that there was a cycling mafia that they feared. Similarly, here is a quote from yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution from one of the teachers who cheated out of fear:

For teachers, a culture of fear ensured the deception would continue. “APS is run like the mob,” one teacher told investigators, saying she cheated because she feared retaliation if she didn’t. The voluminous report names 178 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating. More than 80 confessed. The investigators said they confirmed cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined.
These articles on teacher fraud are full of insights into how the fraud triangle led to cheating by teachers. Pressure to achieve higher test scores so as to receive funding and recognition was too much for the leaders of the school district.


  1. The culture of fear reminds me of your previous article about Lance and the Colorado confrontation.

  2. Interestingly, because passing students in Poland is not tied to funding, the graph seems to suggest altruism to be the motive for inflating grades (as suggested in the Freakonomics post).