A recent report on the Atlanta Public School System concluded 178 teachers at 41 schools were involved in a cheating scandal where “the educators, including 38 principals, were either directly involved in erasing wrong answers on a key standardized test or they knew–or should have known–what was going on”.1 Better scores on standardized testing would mean better funding for the district. The scandal was brought to light after a 2009 mark in the district’s improvement along with erasing patterns on scantrons. Back in January the district was notified that it had until September 30th to make changes or face losing their accreditation.2 Jennifer Oliver, vice president for communications for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, noted in an email interview with CNN at that time that “a loss of accreditation could mean that ‘graduating seniors may be limited in scholarships and college admissions if a program requires students to come from an accredited institution and/or uses accreditation of the high school as part of the criteria for evaluating students'”.
This is merely a side effect of the dogma of rewarding districts that perform well on examinations proctored by the districts themselves. Although this in itself would be difficult to fix as too many proctors are needed. Perhaps for smaller districts, adjacent districts could swap proctor personnel for test duration and exam submission, and larger districts could bring in an army of state proctors; however, this seems like it may be impractical. We could also ask the question about why students are not doing sufficiently well on the exams in the first place. This problem seems to be twofold: teacher quality and environmental circumstances.
Two possible reasons why teacher quality is poor are funding and pay requirements. Better funding for salaries could attract better, qualified faculty, but alas, the poor performance on tests makes this a cyclic problem. There is also the issue requiring higher payment for applicants with graduate degrees. This makes no sense whatsoever. If the requirements for a teaching position are constant, what difference does the degree make? All that matters is if the applicant can teach. Removing this requirement could allow the education industry (among others) to hire applicants with advanced degrees (who may be more qualified) at the same pay. This would increase industry demand for Masters/PhD applicants (since they would have no additional hiring cost) and in turn increase consumer demand for such degrees.
There is also the environmental factor. Neighborhood violence can certainly impede the success of education. This seems difficult to address, particularly while gun laws remain a joke. Who cares about future academic prospects when gun/drug hierarchies saturate a district and offer an immediate sense of autonomy and control–or a distracting threat for that matter?