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Parents Could Wage a War Against Cheating


Q. It's so disheartening to learn how much kids are cheating at our school. Teachers are doing what they can to stop it. But what could parents be doing?


Cheating appears to be more widespread than in the past for several reasons:


         The emphasis in schools today on skills rather than the learning process


         Technology which makes cheating easier: Internet term paper "mills" for easy plagiarizing; text messages with multiple choice answers; crib notes electronically embedded in pencils; Internet chat rooms in which students can swap entire papers and projects; computer hackers who can get into school records and change grades on transcripts; "ringers" who take a nationally standardized test in the morning in New York and telephone answers to test-takers on the West Coast who will take the test hours later; tiny cameras which can beam test questions to someone outside the class who can then silently page back the answers;


         Excessive pressure from parents to get into a top college


         An overall erosion of conscience and character in American society, as kids see athletes, musicians, business people, husbands and wives who are unfaithful, and politicians who take bribes and get favors constantly violating ethical standards and getting away with it


That's the bad news. The good news is, parents have the power to cut 'way down on cheating if they would take a few simple steps as an organized task force in their own schools and districts.


But first, assessing the problem:


According to a survey conducted by Who's Who Among American High School Students, 80% of our top high-school students admit to having cheated at least once; half said they did not believe cheating was necessarily wrong, and 95 percent said they have never been caught.


According to the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, 75% of college students confess to cheating at least once. And a new U.S. News poll found 90% of college kids believe cheaters always get away with it, and most don't think it's wrong for parents to do their homework for them sometimes.


In many high schools, sad to say, it's the top-level kids who are cheating, probably because of pressure from parents, themselves and their communities to get in to prestigious colleges and universities. It's interesting to note that these were the students in third grade whose science fair projects and History Day presentations were sooooo much better than everybody else's, to the point at which you could tell their parents must have come up with the ideas and done most of the work.


But widespread cheating discredits the many, many high school scholars who have resisted the temptation to cheat, and often drops them much lower in the class rankings than they should have been, because kids who leap over them in the rankings have cheated to get there.


Here's what parents could do to stem the tide of cheating:


         Oftentimes, the kids just don't know that they're cheating. As an organized parent-group task force, develop a list what is cheating, and what is not: copying homework is cheating, but collaborating on homework is not; peeking at someone's answers is cheating but comparing answers after everyone has taken the test is not; pretending to be sick on test day and getting the questions from a friend before taking a makeup test is cheating, but offering to do an alternative project to demonstrate mastery of the material if you missed the test, so that the teacher knows you didn't cheat, is a great idea.


         Schedule a meeting on your list with parents, students and teachers to add and subtract to the list. Circulate the list among all parents; often, it is the parents who are cheating who make things difficult for the non-cheating parents. If you can win the parents over to academic honesty, stopping cheating among the kids will be a snap.


         Investigate ways that teachers can deter and detect cheating; for instance, burned-out older teachers often use the same assignments and tests from year to year so it's easy for kids to develop a "bank" of old tests to copy, and those teachers should be exposed and made to develop new tests; similarly, a teacher who suspects that a piece of writing is not the student's own work might be coached to ask the student to pronounce, spell and define a word from his or her own paper, and if the student cannot, then the teacher has grounds for suspicion of plagiarism; some teachers might not know how to detect Internet plagiarism and could be taught that skill by more tech-savvy parents.


         Have your list included in the student handbook and make sure a statement about excessive parental involvement in homework and projects is in there.


         Develop an honor code for your school, and work out consequences for breaking it. The younger the students, the less serious the consequences probably should be. Instilling honesty is a process like every other one. But anticipate the issues: should any cheating offense result in a zero grade on that one assignment, or should the student automatically receive an "F" for the semester? Is just one offense enough to bar a student from being in National Honor Society? Would it take two offenses to exclude a student from the graduation ceremony? A good idea is to send a violator to an ethics workshop, the way a speeder is often sentenced to a motor vehicle safety class.


         Work to add a line to your school's mission statement that morality and character are more important than grades and academic skills.


Homework: Get the book, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life by Sissela Bok.



By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 45 2008



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