Tutors or cheaters?

Wealthy parents are hiring “tutors” to do their children’s work through private school — and sometimes college, reports the New York Post. Eager to get their kids into elite colleges by any means necessary, parents go online to find “legit and not-so-legit tutors, homework helpers and ghostwriters.”

“Charles” put himself through medical school and put a down payment on an apartment with $150,000 he earned over six years of ghostwriting for a single student.

The mother — a college professor — demanded Charles “tutor” her 15-year-old sophomore son by completing every homework assignment and writing every paper and college essay. . . .

Once the boy was off to his out-of-state private university, he flunked out after less than one year without the coddling of a tutor.

. . . And when the student was enrolled at a less-competitive school back in New York, Charles was pulled back in at the mother’s urging: “I was back in the picture in the same way as before: coming over five or six days a week. They paid for my apartment,” he says.

Teachers notice when mediocre students turn in “grad-school-like” papers, a private school teacher tells the Post.

“We would have staff meetings to discuss tutors: How do we grade this essay, knowing a tutor is crafting it? It puts teachers in an awkward position, because you don’t want to accuse the kid. Teachers can’t keep up with all the ways kids are cheating these days.”

It sounds as though private schools don’t want to confront parents who are paying the tuition bill as well as the ghost-writer’s bill.

College admissions officers also see a lot of ghost-written or mom-written essays. I wonder if there’s any point in requiring an essay.

About Joanne


  1. lightly seasoned says:

    The problem with ghostwritten essays is that you have no proof other than “usually your kid is a lousy writer.” It’s hard enough to confront parents when the plagiarism is word-for-word and highlighted in red by Turnitin — they still don’t believe it — so without proof, forget it. As an English Dept chair in a *public* school I spend hours and hours of my life on this issue — I can’t imagine doing it with those nuts in the NYC private schools.

    Also as a public school teacher, I hope they still keep using those tutors for the rich kids. My students write their own essays and they shine as human beings in them. Yes, we work through lots of drafts and edits, but those essays give them an advantage. I’ve seen several notes from admissions officers specifically praising them.

  2. Gee, I wonder if the faculty ever have staff meetings on why students need outside help? Unwilling to admit the fact that the educational establishment evidently fails to prepare vast numbers of students for real scholarship and/or the world of work, schools instead double down on the blame-the-student meme. Not every student is stupid, nor is every student lazy.

    That is not to say that the given example is not cheating – passing off someone else’s work as your own is the essence of plagiarism. But for every student who uses a tutor to cheat, there are many more who are merely trying to fill the knowledge and skills gaps created by their academic experience. The Asian community, in particular, is not satisfied with the “average is good enough” mentality, and is therefore especially vigilant about making sure their progeny are sufficiently challenged academically. Hence the popularity of after-school tutoring. In South Korea, for example, stand on any street corner in any city, and you can’t swing a cat without hitting at least a dozen “hagwon” (after-school tutoring centers). The Koreans who immigrate to this country maintain these greater academic expectations of their kids. Schools are letting them down.

    As long as the educational establishment continues to play around with shiny objects and faddish theories, there will be job security for private tutors.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Why wouldn’t teachers if they suspected and wanted to prevent this type of cheating assign in class short answer essays? It could be rationalized as test (SAT) prep. Assign a greater weight to these than the out of class type.

    My town has one of those very exclusive and very expensive private schools, and my son works (as a lifeguard) and socializes with many of these kids. I find it highly doubtful that this is a widespread practice. Most of these kids are, in my opinion, genuinely capable and smart and not particularly lazy. The silly stereotypes of lazy, entitled, dimwitted rich kid or over-stressed, hyper competitive over-achiever are self-satisfied indulgences to rationalize hating on the rich.

    Any parent stupid enough to hire this type of tutor after paying incredible tuition at private schools deserve the obvious (loser) outcome. Paying for a credential instead of an education usually – or should – result in ultimate failure.

  4. One of the pitfalls of an alleged solution, school privatization and choice: it’s hard to tell the customer (here, students and parents) what they don’t want to hear. There are upsides to having a state monopoly on education. The same is true with respect to religion: once the Protestants demolished the Catholic lock on doctrine, the moral content of Christianity started to evaporate. Today we have myriad customer-pleasing ministers who say nothing about sin or Hell; just believe and you’re saved. Morality now consists of having a lot of heterosexual sex and avoiding abortions. So challenging! (I’m not saying the monopoly Catholic Church was flawless, just that its replacement has its own grave problems).

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Interestingly, most of of those Protestants who “demolished the Catholic lock on doctrine” were more puritanical than the former monopoly. Hey, where do you think that word “puritanical” came from?

      Monopolies often lower their standards as time goes by and convince themselves that what they want is what is really best for everyone.

  5. “Teachers notice when mediocre students turn in “grad-school-like” papers, a private school teacher tells the Post.”

    Yeah, unless the kid always hands in high-quality papers written by his tutor. “I don’t test well. That’s why my tests are subpar.”

  6. heh…I don’t test well is a excuse when they actually don’t know the material in question. They won’t be able to use that excuse during a licensing examination, professional examination, or industry certification exam…You either know it, or you don’t…:)

  7. There should be many more in-class quizzes (math/sci/foreign languages) and essays (English, History, foreign languages) and they should be weighted higher than out-of-class work. Write a quote/citation/event on the board and the kids need to identify and discuss meaning and significance – i page; graded for content, grammar and style. A pile of such work would not only help the kids’ writing ability but would provide ammunition to back up questions about authorship of out-of-class work.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      And the great thing is, the school would hire a new person to grade them all.

      Oh, wait …

  8. I think a lot of the comments are missing an important point. The question is not really how to keep rich kids from cheating. If so we could keep all the their writing in class. But long writing assignments are an important thing for people to learn to do. I don’t think we want to say that we shouldn’t assign writing just because it is easy for people to fake these things with tutors or online paper-writing services. There is a possible solution that would re-emphasize the importance of writing as a bonus. Instead of grading just the final paper, make each stage of the writing process an assignment that needs to be turned in for a grade, from notes through outline through various drafts. That would be harder to fake especially if there was a component of oral quiz worked in there. Doing this would elevate the assignment from one assignment among many in the semester to a major chunk of the work (for the teacher as well as the student). I don’t think anyone will do this, however. From what I have seen of writing instruction in public junior highs, there is none. Moreover, teachers do not want to think about drafts or outlines. It is all just supposed to happen magically behind the scenes. And then get graded.

  9. “The Asian community, in particular, is not satisfied with the ‘average is good enough’ mentality, and is therefore especially vigilant about making sure their progeny are sufficiently challenged academically.”

    You evidently have your head in the sand when it comes to the rampant widespread cheating of Asians in high schools and colleges. One Chinese mother once told me, “If it gets him into a better university, then I want my son to cheat.” I used to have Taiwanese roommates. They told me all about the cheating among Chinese going on in their community college and university. I know that Asians are morally superior to everyone else, but let’s not exaggerate their purity.

    • bky, I am an English teacher. All of my students must write their papers in stages, turned in as they go, and they must do a great deal of composing and editing before my eyes in Google docs (a program in which we can both type at once). None of them can possibly fool me, but none of them want to cheat: They are homeschoolers with academic ambitions whose parents are letting them fall through the cracks. I am their only hope, and they are making the most of their opportunity to study with me.

      I wish my methods could be copied in public schools, but I can’t imagine how this one-on-one attention could ever be possible in that setting. They’d need a very competent teacher and a room lined with blackboards. The teacher could patrol the room, observing the children writing their brainstorming, rough drafts, revisions, and final copies on the boards, giving guidance and gentle critique through every step of the process. Once the essay was approved, the child could finally copy it onto his paper (which the teacher would initial as being authentically his).

      I suppose the students would also have to be as self-motivated as my students to work so hard on each paper, but if they were, would any of these innovative supervisory techniques even be necessary?

    • Thanks for presuming to know enough about my experience to erect a straw man. I didn’t say Asians are immune to cheating, but I know whereof I speak when I say that Asians have a completely different mindset regarding tutoring than have most Americans. When Americans think of after-school tutoring, it is nearly exclusively for remediation; when Asians think of after-school tutoring, it is nearly exclusively for academic advancement and to get a leg up on everyone else. That is why the average American will balk at the prospect of plunking down $50+/hour for tutoring and will only do it as a last resort, whereas Asian families will bust their butts working overtime in their small businesses or wherever they work to give their kids every opportunity for academic success by signing them up for after-school tutoring on a regular basis.

      Consider this: the average American would be satisfied if Junior pulled a respectable 85 on his algebra test – maybe they might encourage him to shoot for an A, but they’re probably not going to lose sleep if he doesn’t and just keeps that 85 average. But if an Asian kid gets an 85 on that same algebra test, he will probably catch hell for it and be berated for not getting at least a 95. Leaving off the issue of the “tiger mom” treatment, the point is that Asians, for better or for worse, assume that their children are capable of meeting greater academic challenges than those provided by the schools, and they push their kids accordingly.

      Might some kids in such a situation be tempted to cheat? Yes, but no more than any other ethnicity, which is hardly justification for engaging in stereotyping. I can tell you that the honest, hard-working ones outnumber the cheaters – which I believe to hold true regardless of ethnicity.

      I have extensive ties to the immigrant Asian community and thus have the background and experience to be able to compare/contrast its culture to the dominant American one.

  10. “It sounds as though private schools don’t want to confront parents who are paying the tuition bill as well as the ghost-writer’s bill.”

    My children’s boarding schools expel students for cheating and lying. They expel kids for copying from the internet; hiring someone to write your essays is harder to prove, but a guaranteed ticket out. If a student’s expelled, the parents still owe tuition. Any parent unethical enough to pay someone else to write their children’s papers would do well to buy tuition insurance. Although now that I think of it, I’m not certain there might not be a clause in the insurance policy which excludes being expelled for disciplinary issues.

    At a boarding school, the school’s IT department controls the internet. If a teacher were to suspect such cheating, it would be easy to check a student’s email and web browsing pattern. The problem might arise when students go home to “supportive” parents, but now that I think of it, my kids don’t come home with significant writing assignments due after break.

    Then again, this is New York, which is the lunatic fringe of the college admissions rat race. Anisha Lakhani wrote a novel about the tutoring phenomenon. She claimed that many of the tutors were teachers at _other_ private schools. According to this NY Post interview, she drew on her own experience: http://www.nypost.com/pagesixmag/issues/20080803/Confessions+Private+School+Teacher?page=2#axzz2Dv4ijwML.

    “But, Anisha says, it also stymies students from learning how to complete work on their own. ‘I tutored kids that went to schools like Horace Mann and Spence, and then later, when they came home from college, they still needed me to tutor them. If you have someone do your homework for you throughout high school, maybe you can get into Stanford, but you can’t hack it there on your own.'”