The Cheating Culture, part 3: My parents made me do it
My pal EdWonk links to an article in the San Jose Mercury-News that talks about the prevalence of cheating in today's high schools. There's this:
The Advanced Placement government assignment over the summer was to read and analyze political commentator Chris Matthews' book "Hardball.'' So four friends at American High School in Fremont did what they say everyone else was doing: divvied up the 13 questions about the book and exchanged answers via e-mail. They each altered the text slightly, then handed in their individual papers.
The students call it collaboration. The teachers call it cheating.
As technology makes it easier than ever to cheat, educators are combating the intractable problem on at least three fronts: setting clear standards, using technology to fight back, and talking with students and parents about ethics and pressure.
Many students use e-mail to share work and program iPods and cell phones to cheat in class in new ways. On the flip side, schools can hire services that use computers to scan essays for plagiarism; one leading service claims its business is doubling every year.
Throughout the South Bay and across the Peninsula, schools are banning electronic devices and stiffening penalties. Turning around attitudes is more challenging.
In a Rutgers University study released last year, 70 percent of 18,000 high school students across the country admitted to "serious test cheating,'' and 60 percent said they had plagiarized. The study's author says the real numbers are probably higher because students today have narrowed how they define cheating.
Many of them see it as OK -- and even necessary -- to get through boring or demanding course work.
"We're so used to it, it doesn't feel like cheating,'' said Alexi Dagan, a junior at Palo Alto High School.
...Leland High in San Jose in recent years has prohibited cell phones, which some students have used to snap photo images of exam papers, call up online dictionaries as test aids and text-message answers to friends.
In Fremont, Mission San Jose High bans graphing calculators, which display and analyze mathematical function graphs, because students have programmed in answers. Now, "we make multiple versions of multiple tests,'' said Kay Barton, a government and economics teacher.
Elsewhere, students describe classmates scrolling through iPods with test answers substituted for song titles.
Trying to fight technology with technology, Palo Alto High School just began subscribing to Turnitin.com, a service that vets student papers for originality. Previously, "the way we checked was kind of by the seat of our pants. If something sounded weird, we typed it into Google,'' said Eric Bloom, chairman of the history/social science department.
Paly joins 4,000-plus high schools nationwide, many in Silicon Valley, using the Oakland-based service to guard against cheating. Turnitin, the largest of the plagiarism checking services, charges 80 cents annually per student; for a 1,700-student school like Paly, the cost would be $1,360.
Of more than 60,000 term papers submitted daily by teachers and students across the country, Turnitin finds about 30 percent are "less than original,'' meaning more than one-quarter of the text is identical to a paper in its database. That database includes 10,000 periodicals, 8 billion Web pages and 22 million student papers, said John Barrie, chief executive of parent company iParadigms.
Use of Turnitin, created in 1998, is more than doubling every 12 months, Barrie said. Many local teachers say they rely on the company.
Students can submit their papers to the service, a process that immediately teaches them that copying and pasting from the Internet or borrowing your older brother's paper doesn't qualify as original work. For those used to copying, ``It's really hard to know when you're plagiarizing or not, because it's so technical,'' said Kandace Arens, a senior at Presentation High School in San Jose.
But technology doesn't solve what students say remains the most common kind of cheating -- old-fashioned copying on tests and homework. And while teachers can reduce opportunities to cheat, reforming attitudes is harder.
Some students regard it as insurance -- give today, ask tomorrow, as a sophomore at Kennedy High in Fremont put it.
Others say they cheat to ease the load of "busy-work'' or cope with heavy course loads. "There's just not enough hours in the day to do all the work,'' said Shiv Kachru, a senior at Gunn High in Palo Alto.
He and others trace the pressure to take on all that work to families. "Parents tell kids to be honest, be good, but the same parents make kids pile on classes.''
Educators say they meet resistance from parents when trying to get struggling students to ease up or drop out of honors classes. "Heavens, you'd think we gave them a death sentence,'' said Alda O'Neill, who teaches pre-calculus and Algebra II at Mission San Jose.
Parents often refuse and say they'll hire a tutor. "We need to change the parents' ethics,'' O'Neill said.
First of all, a kid who cheats makes that decision for herself. If the parent has told the kid that cheating is okay, either directly or indirectly, that's one thing. I see kids competing with each other-- and parents competing with each other-- to see who takes the most challenging coursework. Often, once students are there, they expect high grades for a minimal amount of work. Or, I get that kids are taking a lot of classes, so I should ease up. I have pared down my classes to the minimum I feel is necessary to give kids a shot at a good score on the AP exam. I will not drop it any lower so that a kid can be overscheduled. (It doesn't make things easy when the other AP teacher assigns a fraction of the reading and uses my tests, but that's a gripe for another day....) I explain to my students that they will be competing with kids who have read four books of historical analysis in addition to the text and the primary sources. If they expect me to lower my expectations any more, they need to rethink what they're trying to get from my AP class. Cachet is not being offered here.
(I also like a kid stating that an assignment is "busy work"-- but apparently they can't complete it.)
There is this thing called opportunity cost. You cannot do everything, and do it well-- short of having a nervous breakdown. Most of my students understand that even if they get away with cheating, they're really cheating themselves, becuse they will not know that material on the exams they will face. And I do use different versions of exams to cut down on temptation. Before finals, I require my students to pull their cellphones out, turn them off in front of me, and place them on a desk in the center of the room, so that they won't forget them when evryone is done with their test. We also use turnitin.com in our district, another change for which I pushed. I don't have 15 minutes per paper to type sentences into google.
EdWonk also linked to this interesting story from Joanne Jacobs, who linked a WaPo article:
A plagiarism detective service, Turnitin, is under fire from Virginia high school students who claim their intellectual property rights in their school assignments are being violated.
The for-profit service known as Turnitin checks student work against a database of more than 22 million papers written by students around the world, as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals.
. . . But some McLean High students are rebelling. Members of the new Committee for Students' Rights said they do not cheat or condone cheating. But they object to Turnitin's automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights.
Students also objected to the presumption of guilt.
Thousands of colleges and high schools submit papers to Turnitin, which adds 60,000 student assignments to the database daily. At some schools, students can submit their drafts to the service to get an "originality report."
In the article Jacob cites, one student compared storing their papers for the turnitin database to searching every car in the school parking lot. This analogy doesn't work, because their papers are not sitting in their own locked property. With SEVENTY PERCENT of high school students admitting to cheating, I don't see how this complaint will wash. I am also dubious about the intellectual property claims. The papers are not being published-- they are simply being used to make sure Johnny doesn't give Sherry his paper-- which turnitin caught one of my students doing last year, much to my disgust. Most high school students do not do the kind of original work required of graduate students, either.
I do like the rough draft idea that shows up later in the same article, though:
Dan Kent, a Loudoun County social studies teacher, called Turnitin necessary in a "cut-and-paste world." When Kent became department chair at Ashburn's Broad Run High School in 1999, he said, many teachers were reluctant to assign complex research papers because of the difficulty they encountered in checking for plagiarism.
These days, many Loudoun students submit rough drafts to Turnitin. They receive an "originality report" that identifies similarities to other sources and alerts the student and teacher. Teachers then eyeball the paper and decide if the material is properly cited.
Broad Run uncovered three instances of serious plagiarism in the first year it used Turnitin, Kent said, and other cases of poor paraphrasing that students failed to recognize as inappropriate. Since 2002, he said, the service has rooted out only three additional plagiarism cases at the school.
Carney said McLean High will use a similar approach. Students will be allowed to submit unlimited numbers of drafts to the service to catch intentional or accidental overlaps. Only the final version will be graded. Students who refuse to use Turnitin will be given a zero on the assignment.
Carney predicted that McLean students would embrace the system eventually. "They'll see it's not a 'gotcha,' " she said.
The only problem I can see with this system is the time it would require. I really don't have two weeks to devote to checking one paper.
I've previously written about young people's attitutdes toward cheating here. There's also another interesting article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal here. Maybe I am hopelessly ethically obsessed, but there were times in school when I didn't finish papers, but I never thought it was cool to copy someone else's work. It's just obviously wrong. But I know that cheating is not viewed with the same averion by society. (Some day I'll tell you about the bookstore clerk who openly ridiculed me for going back into the store and telling him he hadn't charged me for two books, but that's also a post for another day.)
It would be nice if correct behavior didn't have to be verified. I would, for instance, LOVE it if the police would stop patrolling the highway when I drive home. After all, I PROMISE that I'll do the speed limit.
Cross my heart. They should just have faith in me. The fact that Jim Croce's song "Speedball Tucker" is blaring from my stereo doesn't mean anything. Now those truckers are another matter altogether....