Education, News

Is There a Cheating Crisis in U.S. Schools?

According to many educators and researchers, there is a cheating crisis in American schools. While cheating in school has always been an option for desperate students, today’s technology makes it even easier, and maybe even more tempting.

Cheating scandals have exploded across the nation in recent years, from teachers changing test scores to students colluding to pass a difficult exam.


Who Cheats?

There does not seem to be a specific group of students that cheat on examinations or term papers. Studies show that all students cheat sometimes, even high achievers. Research appears to indicate that all socio-economic groups, all ages and those from traditional, private and alternative schools have or will cheat in school. A 2002 survey of 12,000 high school students found that 74% said they had cheated on an exam in the past year.  Cheating is only increasing, according to a 2010 study by the Josephson Institute, Center for Youth Ethics.

How Does the Internet Help?

Plagiarism is the borrowing of another one’s work and passing it off as your own. There are many ways to plagiarize another’s work: A student may use an idea or phrasing without citing the original work or he or she may “lift” pages, phrases, content without references or simply copy the entire paper. Papers might also have been written by someone else or bought, only to be passed off as the student’s own.

The internet makes it easier for to locate articles, and the copy-paste function is literally at a student’s fingertips. Companies online provide papers on just about any subject for a price. For exams, students can download information on to cell phones or other mobile devices. These mini computers can hold a lot more information than notes students used to scribble on the palms of their hands!

Why Cheat?

The question is not how much students cheat, but why they do it — and the answer isn’t easy. For one, the internet makes it easy. Studies have shown that a motivator for bad behavior is how easy or hard it is.

But, the answer doesn’t end there. In 2002, 28 out of 118 students at a high school had stolen parts of their essay on botany from off the internet. When the teacher reprimanded them, the parents were outraged and protested what the teacher had done. Many saw nothing wrong with the practice.

Some say that few place emphasis on academic integrity, in part because of how our culture has evolved. Perhaps parenting practices have shifted. Few universities prioritize educating students on what constitutes unethical academic behavior and what plagiarism is. And when they catch cheating, they don’t always pursue consequences.  A 2010 survey of Yale students showed that most never read the university’s policy on academic dishonesty, according to the New York Times.

Additionally, the pressure to receive good marks is perceived to be higher than ever. With increasing competition to determine what high school, college, university and grad school a student will be eligible to attend, the stress placed on success is high. With the current state of the economy, students may feel they need all the help they can get.

What to do?

Cheating is not an acceptable practice in the schools. Improvements in technology have revolutionized the way students can research and the amount of information they have available at their fingertips — as long as they use it to enhance, rather than fake their learning. Luckily, some teachers and professors are using the technology to their advantage as well. Some programs allow instructors to run papers and written homework through a system that scans for phrasing found elsewhere online. But this alone is not a solution.

What constitutes plagiarism and cheating needs to be clearly defined, and teachers and parents need to emphasize that it is wrong. The consequences for academic dishonesty reach beyond school, and can impact the way a student one day behaves in the professional world. Those caught cheating should face consequences to deter them from doing it again.

Previous post

Why Do High Schools Students do Poorly in Math and Science?

Next post

How to Save Money While in College

The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.