A more general point is in order. Atlanta is the culmination of destructive national trends and failing to mention Houston in the story was unfortunate. First, the “reinventing government” movement decided the public sector was bad and the private sector was magnificent and said that the public sector should adopt private sector approaches including quite specifically “performance pay” based on quantitative measures. This brought to the public sector the perverse incentives that were ruining the private sector and about to bring on Enron-era fraud epidemic and then the most recent three fraud epidemics. Second, we were assured by proponents of the change that a concern for “reputation” would trump any perverse incentives. What the proponents failed to see, of course, was that in both the private and public sectors the way to create a superb reputation was to report inflated data. Reputation, instead of the “trump” ensuring good conduct, was a leading motive to engage in bad conduct. Third, we were told that giving public administrators far more power to squash teachers was the key to success in education. Lord Acton warned that absolute power leads to absolute corruption whether in Atlanta or Citi’s C-suite.
Houston should have been mentioned because the modern movement toward educational fraud began in Houston under Rod Paige – who became Secretary of Education based on massive fraudulent misrepresentation of data. Paige kicked off the testing insanity, claiming it would produce objective, fact-based policies based on what educational measures actually worked. As a famous takedown of Paige’s claims ends – the lesson is that it was too good to be true. President Bush, however, bought it hook, line, sinker, bobber, rod, and the boat Paige rowed out in.