Someone cheated. Who's responsible?

See all posts

Over the past few months, allegations of cheating seem to be a dime a dozen. In Atlanta, 17 educators have pled guilty in a court of law and the former superintendent is on trial. Accusations have dogged DC Public Schools for the last few years and allegations have recently surfaced in Philadelphia. So, what gives? Whose fault is it when a educator cheats?

Here at NCTQ, we've had more than a few lively discussions on this topic so we thought we'd bring the discussion to the blog.

First, the easy call: a teacher or administrator who alters a child's test responses is directly responsible for those actions and should face appropriate consequences. 

We wonder though, why would a teacher make such a decision?

The threat of getting fired for poor classroom performance? Well, maybe. But it's highly doubtful. In the years under investigation, neither Atlanta nor Philadelphia used test scores as a part of their evaluation process at all. In fact, our district study of Philadelphia showed that very few teachers were fired for any reason, much less ones that involved classroom results. The risks of cheating are manifest, however: a clear path to termination in most places; potential license revocation; and, possible criminal charges, like racketeering.

For individual teachers their classroom results do not appear to be a strong motivation especially in the context of the risks. However, it gets more complex when cheating occurs in many classrooms in a building or many schools in a district. Building-level results matter to the administrators leading the building and district. 

Whose fault is it when a conspicuous number of classrooms are implicated in a wrong-to-right (WTR) erasure analysis in a single building? 

Here's where our thinking diverges. 

Rob thinks scale indicates responsibility and building leadership should be held responsible. Are there many classrooms in different buildings throughout the district that have questionable WTR results? If so, the investigation should go all the way up through the district leadership from principals to their supervisors and to the superintendent.

As Samuel Bacharach noted in a recent Inc. magazine  article"Leaders may not be able to monitor everything, but it's a leader's job to make sure there's an organizational culture in place that assures that what happens on their watch is consistent with their intent."  Few would say that their intent is to raise measured student achievement by having adults change answers.

Nancy believes that clusters of cheating definitely call for attention on the school as a whole and its leadership, but it doesn't necessarily call for an indictment of the adminstration (or any specific teachers, for that matter). If a stock broker engaged in insider trading would we lock up her boss and throw away the key? Setting the tone is an important part of the leadership's job but it is insulting to think that an expectation of higher test scores is code for condoning cheating.

Districts and schools are complicated bureaucracies, and effective leadership and management must be measured by both means and ends. Does that mean good leaders never have to deal with cheating? No, but when leaders throughout the organization suspect cheating, a swift and serious response is warranted, not a presumption of guilt. 

What do you think?