Educator Fraud and Disparate Impact

By: Tonya Mead, CFE, PI, MBA, MA Educational Psychology

State education agencies  have been under intense pressure to develop initiatives to detect, deter and investigate educator misconduct as a result of highly publicized cases (Bello, Marislo, & Toppol, 2011).   This environment negatively impacts African American students as they benefit the most from instructors exhibiting sound moral and ethical principles (Gore, et al, 2007). Based upon a review of articles appearing in the national media, a majority of the educators publicly alleged to have tampered with state assessments, manipulated student grades, demographic enrollment data, academic records and proxy cheating were African American and/or Hispanic.

Please see the following examples:

  • A  chair of the Afro-American Studies Department at a major public university  faced charges of obtaining property by false pretenses for teaching more than 200 “no show” classes over a period spanning 15 years. 
  • An El Paso district superintendent in 2012, was sentenced to four years imprisonment $56,600 in fines, and $180,000 in restitution for contract fraud and data manipulations.
  • An educator was indicted on 45 counts for mail fraud, fraud related to identity documents and identity theft for his role in leading a ring of proxy cheaters for teacher certification exams in three states. 
  • One-hundred and forty educators in the Atlanta Public School System were implicated while 35 were charged with 65 criminal counts of false statements, theft by taking, and racketeering.

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In addition to the negative publicity disproportionately effecting African American educators, educator fraud has a corresponding disparate impact on African American students enrolled in public schools and universities regardless of the race or ethnicity of the miscreant educator.

  • Headen (2014) demonstrated that inexperienced classroom teachers  populating public schools, particularly those serving Blacks, other minorities and the poor undermine stability, hinders reform and threatens student progress. 
  • Hanushek (2010) calculated that an ineffective teacher can cost a student as much as six months of learning every year. Or re-stated in another way, “in a single academic year, a good teacher will get a gain of one and a half grade- level equivalents, while a bad teacher will get a gain equivalent to just half a year” (pg. 84)
  • A survey by the U.S. Department of Education and cited in the New York Times found that about 25% of academic subject teachers in secondary public schools “lacked academic qualifications in the subject they teach, particularly in poorer school districts.” (Jerald, C., Ingersoll, R. 2002: New York Times. 2002, August 22. In: New York Times, A12).  This is striking considering that younger; less experienced teachers were more likely to cheat than teachers with more experience and those who graduated from more prestigious universities (Jacob and Levitt, 2003). 
  • Segal (2005) noted that the “consequences of fraud and waste on learning can be devastating.” Based upon her research, Segal concluded that “the most academically beleaguered school systems tend to be the ones with the longest most serious, most systematic investigative records” (page, xxii) 
  • Ferraz et. Al (2011) examined federal education misappropriation data from Brazil’s local government and determined that fund leakages impact educational attainment. Further, it was concluded based upon evidence from 56 countries whose students participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), that reductions in educational resources resulting from funding misappropriations can reduce educational quality and that “there was a strong negative association between a country’s corruption level and its performance on the international standardized exams.” (Kaufmann, Kraay, & Mastruzzi, 2009, p. 24)

Considering that Gore et al (2007) found that minority students from lower socio-economic backgrounds benefited the most from instructors who held high expectations rooted in sound ethical and moral principles, this author posits that the converse is also true. In light of the aforementioned literature review cited above, fraud and educator misconduct has a disparate and disproportionate impact on minorities and students of color.