Friday, April 5, 2013

Tired of cheating

Americans generally regard cheating as a scandal, not a crime, but that may be changing.

This week, the city of Atlanta’s school district made headlines when arrest warrants were issue for 35 educators, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall who has been nationally recognized for improving student results in her district.

The teachers and administrators are charged with conspiring to make students’ academic proficiency appear stronger than it really is by altering scores on achievement tests. The potential penalties could include a whopping 47 years in jail, and bonds have been set as high as $7.5 million. This scorched earth reaction is puzzling.

It’s not exactly breaking news that cheating occurs in school. Many of us have peeked at notes or a classmate’s paper.

According to a 2006 study released by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, students pursuing MBAs cheat more than other U.S. graduate students. Close behind the 56 percent who acknowledged having done so were 54 percent of engineering, 48 percent of education and 45 percent of law school students.

Athletes from recruits to all stars have been caught receiving cash or gifts in violation of NCAA rules. Even military service academies, where cadets pledge themselves to honor codes like West Point’s “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do,” have exposed cheating conspiracies.

People cheat for a number of reasons. They cheat because everybody else is doing it. They cheat because they have too much work and not enough time to do it. They cheat because they are under pressure, often to do what they perceive as impossible. Cheaters in grad school, cheaters in Hollywood, cheaters on Wall Street, receive accolades and millions of dollars. The cultural power of cheating is formidable.

What’s unusual in Atlanta is that the cheating scandals involve the test givers, not the takers. These are school districtwide “high stakes tests” mandated under federal laws like “No Child Left Behind” of the Bush era and “Race to the Top” of the Obama administration. Results can seriously jeopardize district funding, administrators’ career prospects and teachers’ jobs even though disputes exist over whether the tests used actually measure individual student progress.

If the cheating allegations prove true, those reasons will be no excuse, especially given the role-model nature of teachers. The extreme nature of the charges and potential penalties do seem out of proportion, however. On the other hand, perhaps we’re all tired of cheating and have finally found a group that is simply not too big to fail.



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