Defendants reported to the Fulton County Jail today for booking on charges of racketeering, theft and making false statements. And because I’m deeply immersed in a management course this semester, I guess I have been led inevitably to wonder: Did the test-score scandal now unfolding in the Atlanta Public Schools (and, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution data analysis, likely going on in other large school systems as well) result from public schools trying to perform too much like a business — or not enough?
My sense is that under the No Child Left Behind Act (which was never funded at anywhere near the levels the Bush administration assured Sen. Edward Kennedy it would be; without that assurance, Kennedy and other Democrats would never have supported the act), test scores, which used to be used as only one tool in assessing students’ academic progress, became an actual proxy for learning. Legislators convinced themselves that they were buying learning by buying test scores, and so that’s what they paid for. And the Atlanta Public Schools, at least, decided to supply what its customer had said it wanted.
This was not a victimless crime. In one case, a child who changed schools was found to be unable to read. His counselor eagerly awaited his test scores, assuming they’d be low enough for the child to be given special help catching up. Instead, when the scores arrived, they showed not just scores too high for help, but scores classifying the child as gifted.
Did teachers and administrators break the law to do what they were trying to do? So they stand accused. Did they misuse money for personal gain in the process? So they stand accused. Did they lie to officials in the process? So they stand accused.
Is this different from what happened when nonbank mortgage lenders, security ratings agencies and investment banks blew up the economy in 2008? Only in that in the Atlanta Public Schools case, dozens of people stand accused.