What can Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating scandal teach corporations?

Photo: CCarlstead

Quotes from the special investigation into CRCT cheating at Atlanta Public Schools:

“We found cheating on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in 44 of the 56 schools (78.6%) we examined, and uncovered organized and systematic misconduct within the district as far back as 2001.”

“We found that 178 teachers and principals were involved in cheating in 44 schools.”

“A culture of fear and a conspiracy of silence infected this school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct. From the onset of this investigation, we were confronted by a pattern of interference by top APS (Atlanta Public School System) leadership in our attempt to gather evidence. These actions delayed the completion of this inquiry and hindered the truth seeking process.”

All we want are the facts, ma’am.

I want to be very clear upfront: this post is not meant to assign guilt or innocence to any of the schools, principals, or teachers that were allegedly involved in cheating on the CRCT. I strongly believe that as soon as an investigator inserts his or her personal opinion regarding whether an individual “cheated” or “committed fraud,” his or her independence can be called into question. With that said, the authors of the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal have been quite definitive regarding who cheated and who didn’t. Clearly, that is their prerogative.

The report sets out three primary reasons why the authors believe that cheating took place:

  1. Targets set by the district were often unrealistic. The administration put unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals to achieve targets.
  2. A culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation spread throughout the administration.
  3. Dr. Hall, the school system’s former superintendent, emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics.

What can companies learn from the APS investigation? There are many, many lessons that can be learned, but below are my initial thoughts:

  1. Be very careful what you ask for; you might just get it – If a company demands performance but does so through fear and intimidation, there may be short-term gain, which will lead to long-term pain. The tactics employed may come back to haunt them.
  2. Nothing remains hidden forever – Eventually, employees will break and report their concerns to whoever will listen. It is almost impossible to keep a secret of this magnitude in any environment, never mind a corporation where employees have access to email, the Internet, instant messaging, etc. People love to talk, and when they do, what they say often ends up on the front page of newspapers nationwide.
  3. Tone at the top really matters – It starts with the CEO and rolls all the way down through executive ranks to the front-line supervisors. Employees need to know that the company’s senior leadership abides by the company’s code of conduct and expects employees to do the same. Don’t expect an organization to perform in an ethical manner if the leadership appears to be morally bankrupt.
  4. Even the best employees can go “bad” – As I have said before, not all fraudsters are bad people. Even the most ethical employee can commit fraud when the circumstances are right. Ensure that the “perception of detection” – the belief by employees that they will be caught committing fraud – remains high. Don’t allow your company to create a climate where employees can succumb to temptation.
  5. Deploy an employee hotline and follow up on all tips – Companies of all sizes can benefit from an employee hotline. It is by far the most effective method to uncover fraud. Just as importantly, every tip that is received should be investigated to its logical conclusion. As soon as employees believe that the company is not treating tips seriously, they will stop calling and become very disillusioned. In fact, it is not unusual for the tipster to become the fraudster when they see others “getting away with it.”

In my opinion, if all of the allegations detailed in the report are true, everyone loses, but the biggest losers are the children. They literally don’t know what they don’t know. As they enter college and eventually the workforce, they may never fully appreciate what a disservice they received by “passing” the CRCT.

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter, or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.



About Paul McCormack
I have over 20 years of experience in corporate fraud and intellectual theft prevention, detection and investigation. Unlike many fraud experts, I have both industry and professional services experience. To date, I have conducted over 800 interrogations of fraud suspects including numerous senior corporate executives. As a freelance writer, I have written over 1,000 articles on a broad range of topics. My areas of expertise include: • Asset Misappropriation • Big Data • Bribery, Corruption, and Collusion • Check, Wire, ACH, and Credit Card Fraud • Consumer Fraud • Corporate Security • Cybersecurity • Data privacy (Europe, Brazil, Russia, India, and China) • Drug Trafficking • Embezzlement • Employee Fraud • Executive Protection • Fintech • Financial Statement Fraud • FCPA • Healthcare fraud • Identity Theft • Intellectual Property Theft • Internal Audit • Interrogation Tactics • Loss Prevention • Mobile Fraud • Money Laundering • Operational Excellence • Organized Crime • Payments Fraud • PCI Compliance • Retail Fraud • Risk Management • Terrorism and Counterterrorism • UK Bribery Act • Workplace Violence

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