Monday, July 25, 2011

Performance Management and The Atlanta Public School System

Our Atlanta City Public School System has been in the news lately for its highly publicized cheating scandal. You can read about this here and here.

Being an Atlanta native, it breaks my heart on many levels, the worst being what this has done to our children and all for what? More dollars in the bonus checks of high-ranking APS employees. I cringe every time I see that logo. "Our focus...Student Success," at what cost?

I do not have all the facts in this case, all I know is what I have read and heard on our local and national news on the subject. But at the heart of the matter, these teachers and schools were being rated and bonused based on CRCT standardized test scores.

Of course, that made me think as performance management is something I do know a little something about. Did anyone at APS ever hear that, "What gets measured gets done?" And just sometimes employees take this to the extreme to make more money.

I have no idea what the teacher's and principal's performance management system looks like. I do know that there are many other factors that play into this mess, like integrity and chain of command issues and culture. But I also know that a balanced set of performance measures might have tipped some folks off that something wasn't right.

I think about performance management systems for our military, it is very structured and highly technical like our men in uniform. A one size all approach is definitely not the answer at APS or really anywhere I can think of.

One article cited above stated that the "culture of fear" and "higher than attainable growth targets" as the root causes for the crisis. I am sure this situation will be dissected to near death, but at the end of the have some management basics that were either ignored or not acted on. WHAT A SHAME!

When you are designing performance management systems you must consider these basics:
1) What is at stake (revenue, profits, people's lives, children, homeless individuals, etc.)?
2) What behavior do I want repeated in a consistent manner?
3) How do I incent that desired behavior and keep that going?
4) How do I measure desired behavior and other business results (operational, customer, etc.)?
5) How do I stop/track/punish unwanted behaviors (cheating, dishonesty, etc)?
6) Goal setting is an art and a science. You set them too low and you have under performance, you set them too high....and you can have an even worse situation given the right circumstances.

I don't think that a performance management system could have prevented this debacle as there are many things that led to something like this. But, if you have great leadership, that instills a culture of TRUE accountability, with rock solid VALUES that are rewarded though a highly customized performance managements system....then you have won about half the battle.

The other half is that you must HIRE the people that can execute ON and IN the above described situation.

And if they don't fire them instead of promoting them! me!


An HR Weaver said...

Cathy, the test was designed to measure the performance of the children, not the teachers or administrators. Honest results would have indicated the need for remedial measures. We can criticize ourselves for being naive in thinking that results could so easily be achieved, we can discuss the fairness of the tests or the pressures on the teachers, but we cannot forget that every one of those teachers knew they were cheating and made a conscious decision to do so.

Unknown said...


I wholeheartedly agree, they were dishonest and it was shameful. The interesting part for me is...what drove them to be dishonest or was it just their character to begin with. I mean that was about 170+dishonest people....I just wonder how such widespread dishonesty started and continued.

Thanks for reading and I hope you and Lisa are doing well!

Cathy said...

Hi Cathy from uphere in Montana mountains, I hope that the punishment fits the crime since the children are watching and will take this into their memory banks for life. After all they are there to learn from our teachers and what we sow we reap!!

Good article, thanks Ed

Unknown said...

Hi Ed:

Thanks for reading in Montana, hope you and Charlotte are having a nice time. I agree with you the students are watching this to see what happens when you get caught cheating as they have ben told for years, not to do!

See you all soon-

Anonymous said...


This is a great article. I am in an industry where there is quite a bit of migration of executives from plant to plant. The executives bonuses are based upon short term indicators. Since they will only be in their positions for about 3 years, there focus of the organization is short term only. While this is not akin to cheating, it is another way that the structure of performance metrics brings out the worst in people.


Unknown said...

Hi Bruce:

Thanks for reading and you point out another issue with performance management. Short term goal what cost? Many times short sighted managers do not way the long term impacts on short term gains. In the words of Dr. Covey, think wit the end in mind.....

I believe you have to have balance long and short term goals making sure the eye is on both.

Thanks for bringing the point up!


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