The indictment last week of 35 teachers and administrators in Atlanta for manipulating test scores is just the latest chapter in that city's long festering "teacher cheating" scandal. In turn, Atlanta is just one of many cities where evidence has surfaced that educators fudged testing data.
Perhaps the best way to think of these cheating scandals is that they are the result of a natural experiment: What happens when you change incentives so that low test numbers translate into pain and high test numbers translate into rewards?
Effectively, this is the experiment that policymakers created when they enacted No Child Left Behind, as well as various state-level changes, starting in the early 2000s.
No Child Left Behind ushered in an era of high-stakes standardized tests where low performing schools and their administrators faced negative repercussions and high performing schools and their administrations received significant rewards, including cash bonuses. The specific mix of carrots and sticks vary from state to state. As a conservative state, Georgia has favored performance pay more than other states -- and harsher sticks.