Cheaters prosper

Everybody cheats, cheaters tell the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s no big deal.

Well, not to them anyhow.

Not only is cheating on the rise nationally – a 2005 Duke University study found that 75 percent of high school students admit to cheating, and if you include copying another person’s homework, that number climbs to 90 percent – but there has also been a cultural shift in who cheats and why.

It used to be that cheating was done by the few, and most often they were the weaker students who couldn’t get good grades on their own. There was fear of reprisal and shame if apprehended. Today, there is no stigma left. It is accepted as a normal part of school life, and is more likely to be done by the good students, who are fully capable of getting high marks without cheating. “It’s not the dumb kids who cheat,” one Bay Area prep school student told me. “It’s the kids with a 4.6 grade-point average who are under so much pressure to keep their grades up and get into the best colleges. They’re the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to cheat without getting caught.”

According to Denise Pope, a Stanford education professor, “Eighty percent of honors and AP students cheat on a regular basis.” Good students think they have to be perfect.

Athletes, only prone to cheating, believe in winning at all costs.

Some of the cheating involves sharing homework answers, which is encouraged by all the collaborative projects students are assigned. Students think they’re helping each other by “networking.” They don’t see it as cheating.

Technology has made cheating easier: Students may text-message answers to each other, copy questions with their cell phone camera, download formulas into their graphing calculator or turn in essays bought online. Often when students are caught, the punishment is light.

Suppose someone gets to the end of several hours of homework and it’s 10 p.m. and she still has an English paper to write. If she turns in nothing, she knows it’s a guaranteed zero. If she downloads a paper from the Internet, she might get caught and get a zero. But if she doesn’t get caught, she might get an A. So it seems worth it to many to turn in the plagiarized paper.

I don’t recall feeling a need to be perfect when I was in high school or college. I did feel a need to manage my time so I didn’t leave things to the last minute.

Via math teacher Darren, an ex-cheater.

About Joanne


  1. This is the kind of thing that will eventually drive me from the professoriate, I suspect. I was raised to believe cheating was wrong. I never cheated in school, even if it meant accepting a lower grade than I’d like. But there’s kind of a down-the-rabbit-hole feeling: sometimes, when I catch students cheating, it seems the only remorse is for the fact that they got caught.

    I’ve also had colleagues who had students challenge them – say basically, “Of course I have to cheat; your standards are too high.”

  2. Hell, I just committed plagiarism in this very comment!

  3. My wife teaches 11th-grade AP English in a magnet school for highly-gifted students. Virtually every graduate goes on to an elite university — either a highly-ranked private or one of the top UC campuses (Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego). As you can imagine, there is a high level of competition among the students. Plagiarism has been a major problem for years.

    My wife’s plagiarism rules are simple: If you write something that you plan to turn in, and if it did not come full-blown out of your own head, you must source it. If you do not source it, you have plagiarized. If you have plagiarized, you will received an F on that piece of written work. If you plagiarize again, you will received an F for the course. She and her English-teacher colleagues run everything through, and are pretty confident that it catches most plagiarism. In addition, she will not write recommendation letters for students who have cheated in any way — which is significant, because her recommendations carry a lot of weight with college admissions departments* and her students know it.

    As to other forms of cheating, about all she and her colleagues can do is ensure that students’ cell phones are off during class (students do not bring laptops to class), and give different versions of tests so that students from an earlier period don’t supply the questions to those in a later period. And at the beginning of every semester she goes over the rules with each class, and every student — and his or her parents — signs off on a written copy of the rules. That helps prevent, though it by no means completely prevents, threats of litigation from parents whose children are caught.

    Cheating is a very frustrating fact of her life.
    *She knows this to be true because college admissions folks have told her so (“YOU’re Dr. XXX? Your letters are so good!” — that kind of thing.)

  4. In the district where I teach, we used to have a policy that if students were caught plagiarizing, they received an F in the course.

    Several year ago, the county office personnel decided this was too strict. Students should just be given a zero for the particular assignment, and if they earned a passing grade with the zero, they should pass the class.

    So today, just as JJ notes in her post, if a student hasn’t done an assignment or has done it very poorly, there isn’t much of a real consequence for attempting to cheat since the worst case outcome is just the zero that he or she would have gotten for not turning one in at all.

    I tried to explain before the change was made that such a policy would be similar to making giving back the money the only worst consequence for bank robbery, but it fell of deaf ears.

  5. Personally, I think that the UVa method is correct: the only acceptable punishment for cheating (certainly at the high-school level or beyond) is expulsion.

  6. I seem to recall a week ago you got huffy when someone pointed out that Asian kids are far more likely to cheat. (I added to it that kids with high GPAs almost certainly cheat.)I trust you’ll accept you didn’t quite know what you were talking about.

    “I don’t recall feeling a need to be perfect when I was in high school or college.”

    That was 40 years ago, or thereabouts. What on earth makes you think your experience has relevance today?

    Affirmative action has resulted in an obscene overemphasis on grades. Grades have little to do with ability and everything to do with adherence to the teacher’s rules. And remember, odds are the teacher isn’t all that bright to begin with. The day when bright kids were given As for acing the tests are long since gone. Now the slow kids are more likely to get As for trying hard than smart kids who think homework is a waste.

  7. Cal, I didn’t respond to the accusation that Asian-American students are prone to cheating. I’ve heard that said, but I’ve seen no proof that it’s true. I’ve also seen no evidence that slow kids get A’s for trying hard but not learning. Effort without achievement may get a C,or even a B, but rarely an A.

  8. The point is – and I try to drive this home to my students but I don’t think most of them believe me – is that it’s possible to receive an “honest C” in a class and know the material better than to have gotten an A by cheating.

    And, when you get out on the job, isn’t knowing your stuff going to be more important than what grade you got? Maybe I have a different perspective, because I’m a college prof in the sciences teaching people sampling techniques and stuff they will need to use in their careers. Maybe someone could make an argument that my belief doesn’t apply in, say, 10th grade English. But still. I suppose cheating in school is not unlike sports stars using steroids or other “enhancers” – it’s not really (or at least not totally) their effort that got them there, but as long as they’re getting the accolades, they don’t care. And they don’t care that they’ve made it seem OK for others, and they don’t care that they’ve put people who want to be honest at an immediate disadvantage.

    It’s too bad that plagiarizing papers doesn’t shrivel your nards like steroid use does….

  9. Very timely for this discussion:–+Education

    Headline: “School cheating scandal divides N.H. town”

  10. I kind of doubt most kids do this because they want better grades. I’m sure that accounts for some, but certainly not most of it. My sense is that the kids don’t view the work as being important enough to waste time on if they don’t have to. Some of that is the result of an over-reliance on busy work in schools. Much of it also comes from raising our kids with a very materialist view of the world where what really matters is not understanding, wisdom, philosophy, the ability to think well and deeply, but what you can get. If all that really matters is what can be aquired in the material world (either actual material goods or the admiration and envy of those around you), then honest work for the sake of something not related to such gain seems pointless.

  11. “Effort without achievement may get a C,or even a B, but rarely an A.”

    Who do you suppose is getting straight As in lousy urban schools, with SAT scores in the low 400s?

    But it’s not just in poor schools. There is next to no correlation between AP test scores and AP grades, as Geiser’s study showed. I personally know dozens of students who got As in AP classes despite not taking the test, or taking the test and getting a 3. I know even more students who got Bs or Cs in AP classes, despite getting a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. This happens all the time.

    Every single study that compares grades to standardized tests as a measure of achievement has demonstrated conclusively that test scores are a far more accurate metric than grades.

    Why? Because teachers don’t grade on ability. They grade on immediate test scores, without ever testing retention, and they grade on things like showing up for class and homework. They grade almost exclusively on effort.

    Thus, hardworking students who turn in their homework and do extra credit will get As, regardless of their actual knowledge. Likewise, smart students who care about their grades will turn in their homework no matter what. They aren’t smart because they do their homework. They do their homework because they want an A. Thus, they feel no qualms about copying someone else’s homework. They just know it’s a pro forma ritual to make the teacher happy.

    And it’s not “Asian students cheat” but rather “Students who want As turn in all their homework, and students who turn in all their homework are all invariably cheating on low-impact homework”. Students who want As are predominantly Asians and white females. If white males cared about grades, then they’d be cheating more often, too. The necessary condition is “wants an A bad enough to turn in useless homework no matter what”.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    Cal,you had me until “students who turn in all their homework are all invariably cheating on low-impact homework.” Invariably? I believe there are plenty of cheaters, but I won’t believe every single student who gets an A is a cheater. Heck, some of those A students are hopelessly lacking in social skills and wouldn’t know how to hook up with other students to cheat.

  13. I don’t believe that nearly all students, or good students are cheaters. Yes, I know a lot of people are cheating, but it’s the cheaters who are replying, “Everybody’s doing it.” Someone didn’t ask enough of the non-cheaters. I teach third grade, and values are developed between the ages of six and nine or ten. Once you start trying to teach values above ten years old, it’s actually too late, because values are already formed. You have to instill those values when they’re young (and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do in third grade). I feel I’m having a lot of success with my classes in instilling honest values (meaning 80 percent success).

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  14. I not sure that my remarks will add to this discussion but misery loves company so here is some more company. I caught a Senior (girl) cheating on a Social Studies test. I gave her a zero and moved her seat to both get her away from her enabling friends and give me a better view. She complained to the Principal. I was informed that I could only give her a fifty. In addition she was given an opportunity to retake the test and the fifty was averaged into her subsequent score. Also I could not have her change seats because it would embarass her.
    I never turned anyone in for cheating again.


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