Cheaters Never Win

Richmond City Public Schools hired Kiwana Yates in 2012 to be the principal of George W. Carver Elementary. Carver Elementary School is located in Richmond, Virginia. In particular, many of the students attending Carver live in public housing communities such as Gilpin Court. People living in Richmond often refer to Gilpin Court as being one of the most dangerous and crime filled neighborhoods in the city. The Richmond City school board began having concerns about the elementary school because standardized test scores were increasing rapidly at Carver when the surrounding schools were severely struggling. Children from similar demographics and neighborhoods were attending other schools in the same area but were not producing scores anywhere close to the testing scores at Carver. Historically, the passing rate at Carver Elementary School was below average in comparison to other Virginia schools. Since Yates became principal, Carver produced almost perfect passing rates (Hipolit, 2018). National school board officials even honored Carver as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2016. Receiving this award is an extremely high honor because only six other Virginian schools attained this status in 2016. Schools are awarded the honor based on their testing scores or on their progress in decreasing achievement gaps (Llovio, 2016).

Most of the students at Carver Elementary School are districted to attend Albert Hill Middle School after elementary school. When Carver students went to middle school, there were major red flags when looking at the difference between the student’s elementary school SOL scores in comparison to their middle school SOL scores. A report looked at a cohort of students from Spring 2014-Spring 2018. When the students were in 5th grade, 100% of the students were passing the SOL for reading. On the contrary, the statistic significantly changed when they reached 6th and 7th grade. In 6th grade, 63% of those students who were supposedly passing the reading SOL in 5th grade, were now failing the SOL in 6th grade. Another red flag involved students who transferred from Carver to different city schools. Many of the transfer students could no longer pass the SOL at their new schools even though they passed the SOL easily at Carver (Hipolit, 2018).

Investigations began to take place after the results of students moving onto middle school and transferring schools proved to be suspicious. The VDOE decided Carver should be added to the list of schools were SOL audits could potentially occur during the spring of 2018. The VDOE staff ended up going to audit the SOL testing at Carver which included observing the administration of testing sessions and conducting interviews with different staff members and students at the school. After investigation, Carver was found to have testing irregularities which included: teachers giving assistance to students, teachers not following testing protocol, and accommodations given to students who did not have an IEP. The results of these actions fell back on principal Kiwana Yates because after interviewing staff at Carver, staff reported Yates had a special in-group. The group consisted of only teachers who were allowed to administer tests. If the teachers were not getting high enough scores, Yates would dismiss from their ability to proctor tests. Yates gave special incentives and benefits to the teachers who administered tests (Hipolit, 2018). After investigation, it was clear Yates was not performing her job as a principal in an effective manner. While Kiwana Yates might not have had the intentions of being a cheating principal, her desire for power yielded unethical actions which were shown through the lens of casting shadows, the leader follower theory, volitional versus cognitive leadership, and the Bathsheba Syndrome.

First, Kiwana Yates casted multiple shadows throughout her leadership role including abusing power, hoarding privileges, and being inconsistent. According to Johnson (2018), leaders have an obligation to behave ethically while performing different tasks. Far too often, leaders do not behave in ways aligning with moral ethics. The shadow of power refers to a leader desiring more control and influence but misusing the power in relation to the leader and follower relationship. Power is often split up into five different categories. In this situation, Kiwana Yates abused reward power, legitimate power, and coercive power in order to fulfill her pride. Reward power involves leaders using their power to give something valuable to followers. It may include bosses giving certain employees extra bonuses or teachers giving certain students higher grades. Legitimate power involves followers showing respect to a leader based on the position or status of the leader. For example, Yates as a principal has power over a teacher because she is in a higher leadership position than a teacher. Coercive power is when leaders take away something desirable or give penalties as a way to punish followers. This power could include actually physically hurting someone or could be more indirect such as lowering someone’s salary or taking away the desired benefit (French & Raven, 1959).

Yates abused reward power because of the way she interacted with the teachers involved in the cheating scandal. The teachers Yates trained to help in the scandal received extra incentives and benefits to follow the orders of Yates whereas other staff members did not receive these perks. Yates provided extra opportunities and monetary incentives. In addition, teachers trained to administer tests were given additional money for new supplies in their classroom and different travel opportunities (Hipolit, 2018).

When interacting with teachers, Yates abused legitimate power. As the head principal, Yates was able to call the shots for Carver Elementary School. She was easily able to manipulate teachers into following her lead just because of her position. The assistant principal, Ms. Joyner, reported Yates often times getting in contact with her late at night and after regular school day hours to talk more about the testing plan and make changes. Joyner stated in the report she felt obligated to follow the requests of Yate’s because Yates called all the shots for the school. Many of the teachers at the school knew something suspicious was happening but never reported anything in fear of making Yates angry or potentially losing their job. Her position as the head principal gave her the power over just a normal classroom teacher and allowed her to engage in unethical decision making in regards to testing irregularities (Hipolit, 2018).

In addition to abusing reward and legitimate power, Yates also abused coercive power. She abused coercive power in relation to punishments and penalties. Not only did Yates reward the teachers who were willing to comply with her wishes, she took away privileges from teachers who did not comply with her cheating scandal in order to penalize them. She did not allow all of the teachers to administer the tests because she referred to some of the teachers as not being positive enough for the students. In reality, those teachers were the teachers who were not willing to help the students cheat. One staff reported no longer being able to administer SOL tests because of not helping students answer the questions correctly which produced poor testing performance. The teacher was just following Virginia Department of Education testing rules and standards. In essence, the teachers who did not test students were not treated or given the same benefits. They had their usual teacher responsibilities taken away from them showing the coercive power Yates used (Hipolit, 2018).

According to Johnson, leaders always have access to more privileges than their followers (2018). The idea of increased privileges is often times why leaders continue to abuse power. In the case regarding Yates, she hoarded privileges because she kept getting rewards for Carver’s results even though the results were being produced from a cheating scandal. Carver was named a National Blue Ribbon School and was the only school in all of Richmond to achieve the honor. Schools awarded the Blue Ribbon distinction represent what other schools should be striving to achieve. Often times, a school receives extra benefits such as additional financial help and business partners. Teachers and principals may be asked to attend special conferences to give presentations on their strategies and leadership methods to help their students obtain academic excellence (Kesler, 2016). Yates was receiving valuable benefits and recognition for becoming a Blue Ribbon School, but she only achieved the status through dishonesty.

Lastly, Yates abused the power of being inconsistent. Inconsistency involves treating followers unequally. The idea of inconsistency among followers relates to the leader-member exchange theory. The theory consists of a dyad, and it allows for different relationships to develop between the leader and different followers. The leader often forms a stronger relationship with some of their subordinates in comparison to others. Ultimately, the LMX produces an in- group and an out-group. The in-group consists of the followers who have the closest relationship with the leader. The out-group refers to the followers who are on the outskirts of the leader’s decision making processes. Members of the in-group are considered the most trusted followers and are often given greater rewards and benefits (Lunenburg, 2010). For Yates, her in-group consisted of teachers from 3rd-5th grade because those are the only grades involved in SOL testing. Many of the Carver staff interviewed about the situation stated directly how they felt there was an inner circle, but they were in the outer circle. Staff reported how they believed the inner circle teachers were the only teachers allowed to administer tests. There was only a small percentage of teachers in the school who Yates gave permission to administer tests (Hipolit, 2018).

In addition to Yates losing her job, four teachers resigned including Ms. Cartwright, Ms. Golds, Ms. Cotman, Ms. Alexis. The assistant principal Ms. Joyner also resigned. These five employees consisted of her trusted in-group. They were the staff Yates had trained to help achieve her desirable test scores. In the report, students often mentioned the names of these teachers when referring to the help they received during SOL testing. The students reported teachers smiling if the answer was correct or frowning if the answer was incorrect. They were also told to go back and review their answers if they had wrong answers (Hipolit, 2018).

Often times, leaders make exceptions and deviate from the correct way of behaving when internally looking at themselves. There is a difference between a leader makes a mistake with the full knowledge and awareness of what is happening or if the mistake is an accident and the leader is unaware. Many people believe intentions of leaders are a good indicator of the uprightness of the leader. According to Terry Price, volitional and cognitive leaders are two types of leaders in opposition of each other (2004). A leader is volitional when actions are based off of egotistical behavior and serving the self rather than thinking about others. A volitional leader knows what the morally correct decision is but still decides to make unethical decisions. A conscious choice is made to behave wrongly. The leader knows what should be done, but does not follow through with the right actions because the desire and temptations are too great. On the contrary, the cognitive approach involves a mistake rather than an unjust action. Specifically, it involves either content mistakes or scope mistakes. Content mistakes are mistakes where the leader has a different belief about what actions are considered morally acceptable. Leaders oftentimes find themselves making a content mistakes because they have been conformed to a group and base decisions off of what the group considers moral. A scope mistake refers to a mistake based off of being a member of a group. The more power and status a leader has in a group, the greater the amount of expectations. A cognitive leader is able to rationalize decisions because of particular circumstances while a volitional leader acts rashly and makes a conscious choice to act unethically (Price, 2004).

In this case, Yates was acting as a volitional leader. She is a volitional leader because she knew she was acting unethically. The decision to involve Carver in a cheating scandal was a conscious choice. Testing rules and regulations are clearly discussed with teachers and administrators. There would be know way Yates could argue she was not consciously aware she was making an immoral decision. No school system would consider the behavior to be acceptable or consider the behavior to not be cheating. Yates may have been experiencing a slippery slope without knowing how to get out of the situation. Once she started achieving such high test scores, it would have been hard to stop the cheating because kids would not have been passing the way they were which would make the situation suspicious. Yates may have liked the advantages she was receiving from having such high test scores. She was getting recognition as a principal and the school was getting public recognition. She shows egotistical personality traits escalating her into becoming a volitional leader because of the conscious, wrong choices she made.

In addition, volitional leadership is closely tied with the Bathsheba Syndrome which Yates also portrayed. The Bathsheba Syndrome suggests leaders often behave unethically due to success and are not able to manage their success and power in an acceptable manner. The name of this syndrome originates from the story of David and Bathsheba in the Bible. David was a King with an abundant amount of power and influence over others. Unfortunately, David has a dramatic downfall because of his decision to sleep with Bathsheba which results in his leadership position spiraling downhill. When looking at the Bathsheba Syndrome, leaders who exhibit the syndrome often become complacent and lose focus.

Next, success usually leads to privileged access and unrestrained control. Lastly, success makes leaders believe they can personally alter or determine outcomes (Ludwig & Longenecker, 1993). In this situation, Yates portrayed the Bathsheba Syndrome because her position and success led to destruction. She lost the focus of being a principal and making sure her students actually learned because she was too tied up with making herself and the school look successful. From the outside, Carver exemplified a picture perfect school representing an underdog story of a city school attaining Blue Ribbon Status. In reality, the students were failing miserably and not actually learning the necessary information. Next, she has privileged access and control of resources because she is the principal of the school. She is able to determine the decisions made because of her position and control over the other employees. Yates portrayed an inflated belief in her personal ability because as stated before, she was a volitional leader who knew her actions were wrong but still thought she would get away with the actions. Her decision making ability and her judgement were masked because of her drive for power and success even if the success was fake success (Hipolit, 2018).

In regards to ethical decision making, Yates behaved in a misaligning manner by abusing her power to gain recognition. In 1994, James Rest proposed a four-piece ethical decision making model involving: moral sensitivity, moral judgement, moral motivation, and moral courage. Each component is an important piece in order for a leader to make an unethical decision. Moral sensitivity refers to the recognition of a moral issue and understanding a leader’s actions have the ability to help or harm other people. Moral judgement involves the leader pondering the possible benefits and consequences to inform ethical or unethical decision making. Deciding to make the right decision even when another appealing decision is on the table is represented by moral motivation. Moral courage looks at the leader’s specific behavior when deciding to make a moral decision or not (Lincoln & Holmes, 2011).

In the case of Yates, she did not follow Rest’s four pieces leading to ethical decision making resulting in her making spiraling unethical decisions. For Yates to possess these moral characteristics, she needed to recognize the harm her actions could have had on others, thought about potential consequences, decided to do what is morally right rather than increasing her own power. She also needed to possess the will power to make the morally correct decision. Yates fell into a deep hole by not showing moral motivation by picking the appealing choice rather than the right choice. It is crucial for individuals, leaders in particular, to think about the decisions in front of them and make decisions aligning with their morals and values (Lincoln & Holmes, 2011).

In relation to ethical decision making, the Foursquare Protocol could have been used to evaluate the ethical decision making of Yates. The first protocol involves a description of the situation and figuring out the facts. When school board officials began investigating Yates, they first observed the facts presented to them such as seeing the misaligning test scores between students going to Albert Hill Middle School who previously attended Yates. The second protocol involves gathering experience from similar situations. It does not appear Yates took action on this step. Carver Elementary is a school historically known to not produce high testing rates, but rather than trying to attain passing rights in an ethical manner, she involved the teachers and students in a cheating scandal. The school board officials needed to react to this situation because it is not something excusable. Schools should not be able to get away with this sort of behavior leading to the punishment and exposure of Yates. The third protocol involves recognizing the significant difference between the current problem and past problems.

Carver Elementary is not the only school involved in standardized test cheating scandals, and the situation needs to be taken seriously so other schools do not follow in the same footsteps. The cheating is unfair to the students because the students are not actually able to learn and know the correct information without cheating. Yates should have thought about past situations involving teachers and administrators cheating because then she would have realized schools get caught for actions not reflective of the school systems. Protocol four involves making an actual decisions and analyzing the choice. Yates needed to think more critically about her conscious decision to train her staff to help students cheat on standardized tests. She needed to evaluate the morality of her decisions rather than making a decision and finding herself in a spiral downhill unable to stop acting unethically. It does not appear Yates used any ethical decision making models when deciding to make her school a school involving cheating otherwise she would not have performed the deceptive actions (Johnson, 2018).

In conclusion, the actions of Kiwana Yates could have easily been prevented if she would have spent more time trying to align her actions with ethical decisions. She failed to be an effective leader because of the way she allowed her egoism and temptations to overrule her judgement. James MacGregor Burns suggests a large issue with leaders is the irresponsibility of leaders (1978). Yates acted in an irresponsible way and abused her power as a school administrator in order to fulfill her personal desire for achievement. Often times, unethical decisions are deceptive allowing the leader to believe lies. Yates may have believed the lie she could get away with the cheating scandal or might have even tried to justify her actions to herself. Deep down, she was aware her actions were unacceptable though. For a few years, Yates was able to portray her school as an underdog story of students from extreme poverty rising above the situation in order to achieve academic excellence, and she achieved recognition for the accomplishment. On the contrary, she also received recognition a few years later for being a principal who trained her teachers to help students cheat and the blue ribbon status was revoked shortly afterwards. Her desire for power and her egotistical personality made her cast shadows, develop a strict in-group of teachers, act in a volitional way, and portray the Bathsheba Syndrome. Her career was ended because of irresponsible choices she made in a leadership position. Yates provides an example for other leaders to not follow because she gave into her temptations rather than using her platform as a way to help shape the minds of the children at Carver Elementary.

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