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Cheating 301 (Final of Four)

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"Cheating has become not just a way of life, but a career for some students," says a professor at California State University, Fullerton, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Actually, she's right. If you do a very quick and cursory check of the web, plugging in something as simple as "how to cheat in school," the results are endless. Students can watch videos, read testimonials and follow detailed instructions on how to cheat on tests and homework with or without the help of technology on sites with paid advertisers. Cheating is just a click away. 2010-04-14-images.jpeg

One site waxes so poetic about cheating, it would appear the founder believes it's the Holy Grail: "'When you cheat, you're really cheating yourself.' Is this true? I say: HELL NO! If you get away with cheating in school, GOOD GOING. I have cheated on tests, homework, projects and other assignments all through my scholastic career, beginning (at least from what I can recall) the 3rd grade, up through college. It's something I take pride in."

On this particular site and dozens of others, students are taught how to cheat using coke bottles, T-shirts, baseball caps, audio devices, body parts - the list is endless.

"They write the info on the inside of the label and as they drink down the beverage, they can see the content they've written," says the CSU professor. "We hand out the exams one-by-one to make sure there aren't any extra copies floating around. It's serious business. We monitor students to make sure that they aren't taking pictures of the exam and then also ones that audio-record it. It looks like they're talking to themselves, but they're really reading the content ... then they transcribe it to sell it."

When giving tests, this CSU professor and her TA's constantly and diligently patrol the classroom. Tables are cleared of everything but a pen. No hats, sunglasses, bottles of any kind. And this is in college.

It doesn't surprise Gregory J. Cizek, a professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, since his research on academic cheating shows that by the time students graduate from high school, 80 to 85-percent of them have cheated.

Eric M. Anderman, who studies cheating at Ohio State University in Columbus, says the numbers are alarming and schools need a prescription to curb cheating. He suggests the following:

1) Allow teachers to teach: Allow teachers to teach so that learning is for the sake of learning not for mastery of upcoming test material. "Teachers who talk about why students are learning what they are learning, why the material is important, why it's important to be able to do math or understand poetry or speak French do not have high percentages of cheating in their classrooms," says Anderman. His research shows that the same students who don't cheat in classrooms where learning is valued over testing, will cheat in a classrooms where teachers focus on learning only to pass an upcoming test.

2) Teach teachers how to teach differently: "When I was a new teacher I got a text book and I thought, 'I have to do everything in the text book or I will be short changing my kids.' I look back now and think, 'that was a crappy text book, I should have done other things.' But as a new teacher I didn't know any better. My kids were probably bored to death. But that's how I was taught to teach. They weren't very interested in what I was doing so cheating may have been the shortest way to get from point A to point B."

In the January/February issue of Atlantic Magazine, writer Amanda Ripley takes a look at "What Makes A Great Teacher."

Ripley writes, "First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students [and] great teachers ... constantly reevaluate what they are doing ... These exceptional teachers do not, as had always been believed, posses a 'magical' quality but rather 'a kind of relentless approach to the problem,' says Timothy Daly of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a non-profit organization which through years of research, interviews and analysis has defined four specific qualities that separate the "superstar" teachers from the pack." These "tendencies" enable them to take underperforming students who are sinking below grade level to above grade level often in less than one school year. Defining TNTP's qualities, Ripley writes, "They avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully--for the next day or the year ahead--by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls."

3) Allow Retakes: "There wouldn't be cheating if kids were able to take retakes," says Anderman. "It would be more work for the teachers so many school systems say 'we can't do that, that's not the way it's done'."

4) Parent-Teacher Dialogue: Parents need to advocate for their children. They need to start a dialogue with teachers and "demand," says Anderman, that coursework is relevant and more interesting for the kids. "You will not have as much cheating if the kids are engaged all the time during the lessons," says Anderman. "Making it interesting will enable kids to learn it better which means they would be less likely to cheat."

5) Find Better Ways to Measure Productivity: No Child Left Behind has created an environment that encourages cheating because, "we just judge teachers too much on how many kids do well on a certain test. We need to find other ways to judge a school's productivity," says Anderman.

6) End Public Humiliation: Anderman believes that local newspapers need to stop reporting school test scores. He suggests that the public humiliation of publishing test scores encourages schools to do anything they can to increase test scores. "It's the kind of thing that drives the schools to make their kids do well no matter how they do it."

7) Define the Punishment: "Every school system should have an honor code," says Cizek. "Freshman year, they should be told, 'here's the behavior that you should adhere to.' It has an effect. It gets everyone on the same ethical page. It deters people and it enables people to report. The question that needs to be asked at each school is, 'is there a culture that supports ethical behavior?'" If a school decides that cheating is not tolerated under any circumstances, i.e. a one strike you're out policy, that strong message will mean something to the student and parent body. The problem, says Cizek, is that too many school do not actually have written policies to deal with cheating. "The policies were very clear in the 1960s, for example. Perhaps there was a policy that stated a child caught cheating was expelled. Now, it's not uncommon for a student to be given second chances" or for parents to fight back in defense of their children, to lawyer up and have the matter swept under the rug.

Anderman agrees. "Schools need to have strong, specific policies that specifically state that cheating will not be tolerated. If you want to stop it you need to send a strong message. Teachers have to handle it consistently. It should not be, 'how do I handle it after it has happened, it should be how do I prevent it from happening in the first place.'"

"I find the cheating numbers very telling, says Anderman. "I think it tells us a lot about the culture in schools today. I think people look around and say, 'well everyone else is doing it so its okay if I do it too.' There's a tolerance that didn't exist before."

So what is the answer?

Ditch tolerance and get involved.

Parents should get involved in their children's schools. Talk to the PTA, talk to the principals, talk to Teachers Federation, talk to the Secretary of Education, talk to President Obama! Not to get too dramatic here, but we are schooling our next generation of leaders -- this really shouldn't be taken lightly.

We have the research, but we don't have the action. Not everyone is moving in the right direction and those who are, just aren't moving fast enough. This generation has a sense of entitlement that has been procured by a generation of parents afraid to lay down the law with their children. We need principals, administrators and teachers to call out cheaters and for it not to be so difficult when they do. We need parents to understand that they are not doing their children any favors by "pooh-poohing" their actions. We need to teach parents to say, 'you are right, Johnny broke the rules and Johnny needs to suffer the consequences.'
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Like school nutrition and school bullying, cheating needs a good PR campaign because we need to make sure that students are afraid to cheat.

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