When the Punishment for Cheating is Far Less Than the Consequences for Failure

I am a single parent, so, hell yeah, I have the motivation to want to have good scores. I don’t want to lose that money.

Think about the teachers who are monitoring their own students who are taking those state exams that they must pass or they cannot graduate or they go to prison – the Barometer is not really sure of consequences for students, just that they are serious.  If the consequences were not so grave, why else would teachers cheat?  And cheating they are, according to a study released by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, David Berliner, and Sharon Rideau, “Cheating in the First, Second, and Third Degree: Educators’ Responses to High-Stakes Testing,” 18 Education Policy Analysis 1 (2010).   An excerpt:

We know that many educators are discouraged by high-stakes testing and fearful of their

results – results that are used to make consequential decisions, largely determined by state and

federal policies, specifically the stronger accountability policies written into the No Child Left

Behind Act of 2001. In effect (Haver, 2004; Nichols, Glass, & Berliner, 2005), not only have

educators admitted that they have “cheated” on high-stakes tests, they have acknowledged knowing colleagues who have cheated as well. Share a tale of cheating with another educator and in return expect a “Have I got a story for you!”


And a quote from a teacher:


I am a single parent, so, hell yeah, I have the motivation to want to have good scores.

I don’t want to lose that money. I have a kid to raise. I think that we need to be held

accountable, but when you tie our money to that [test results] and every set of kids

you get is different, it is so frustrating… I was told by a principal I get all the

problem children, and I get all the low kids because they know that I will work with

them. Is that fair? [And] the principals don’t care. If you can do it and get away with

it, they want you to do it. I don’t care what anyone says. I have gone and talked to

two principals in the past about it, and they don’t want to hear it.


Of course the teachers are cheating.  You get the results that match your incentives – regardless of how you get those results.  As difficult as it may be to believe, teachers are no different from the folks who brought us the subprime mess.  If you “incent” them, they will deliver.  But, be sure you define the goal correctly.  If it’s numbers you want, it’s numbers you will get.  Lehman was a remarkable performer in terms of its return on equity.  Heck, yes!  What the folks there didn’t tell us because they were so rewarded was that they were spinning debt off the books.  When you have little to no debt, your ROE does climb.  And if you give kids the questions in advance or coach them during the exam, you will get your test scores and the rewards for your school and teachers.  The problem is Lehman eventually collapsed.  So it is with the test scores – it all eventually comes out.  A child who performs at the 70th percentile in second grade with the help of a teacher will land in third grade performing at the 20th-30th percentile.  The 3rd=grade teacher has two choices: (1) work with these students to get their performance up; or (2) help them cheat on the exam.  The second is easier and the downside slight.  A five-day unpaid suspension may not be enough to deter cheating.  The loss of a license to teach for 3 months (and not in the summer) may do it.  If the principals and other administrators do not enforce the rules on cheating, they can hardly be surprised that, according to this study, it is rampant. See THE SEVEN SIGNS OF ETHICAL COLLAPSE for more information on what pressure does to organizations and individual employees.  The schools are just a tad behind the business world in learning the lessons of incentives and performance results.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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