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Cheating in Palo Alto High Schools: Is there a solution?

Uploaded: Sep 9, 2015
The Post's article today (Sept 9, 2015) on concern over cheating in the public high schools (wonder how it compares with private schools?) brings to a harsh light something that may not have an easy solution, or any at all. That cheating exists even amongst that elite percentile of students who have the most challenging course loads is a sobering thought, but makes sense. It's good to see that the school district is taking a serious look at what appears to be going on. The question is, how long will it remain focused enough to do something positive about it.

While home to extremely high achieving and motivated students, (whether by self or parental unit), it remains a fact that the only thing that gets rewarded in our school system (and 99.9% of all others) is academic achievement. That solitary measure of one's worth has a built-in mechanism for encouraging cheating (and perhaps we should add in here the use of study-drugs.) It also leads to a growing portion of students who stop putting out much effort at all, as they feel "why bother – those 'smart kids' are better at math, science, language etc. than I am." This defeated feeling results in avoidant behavior: cutting classes, drug use (self-medication), and cheating sometimes just to avoid flunking out.

There is another way. There's a school back East (and there may be others – I hope?) that gives two grades for every subject. One grade is for academic achievement. The other is for effort. The two combine to form the final subject grade. The effect is to elicit maximum effort from all students who know their efforts will always be rewarded. And guess what: learning to give maximum effort leads to high academic achievement, and certainly the highest level each student is capable of.

One of the keys to the success of this system of grading and education is that the parents need to buy into the concept of reward for always doing your best. They need to understand that always doing your best is a stronger indicator of future success in career and life than where their kid goes to college. This is probably a radical notion for many, but you ask recruiters, hiring-managers and execs and they will tell you the same thing. And you also can ask (if you get the chance) those highly successful few who dropped out of college and went on to world acclaim.

There are of course other factors that will determine future success. Things like developing a definiteness of purpose; a positive mental attitude; acquiring specialized knowledge rather than generalized knowledge; being able to apply that knowledge vs having your head filled up with facts and figures, but never having learned how to use synthetic and creative imagination to turn those facts and figures into productive endeavors.

OK. I guess I haven't solved the cheating problem. Good luck to those who try. It really does start with parental pressure and spirals from there, cheered on by the achievement-only oriented school system. The re-education of the parents would appear to be the place to start. If children could feel the unconditional love from their parents and their appreciation for always giving maximum effort, I truly believe something good will always come of that.
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Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Kathy, a resident of another community,
on Sep 9, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Once again--Thanks for this great post.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Any Ol Name, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Sep 10, 2015 at 1:17 pm

26 year old here.

Honestly, cheating is so prevalent and I hate it. One of the major issues is the lack of punishment for cheating. I went to Menlo Atherton High School, and I know multiple people who got caught for cheating. I even reported a person for cheating. That person had copied their homework for one class literally every day for 3 months of school. THREE MONTHS. Their punishment? "Don't do that again please" Guess what they immediately began doing one week later. Yup, cheating.

At our school, all the teachers had signs up saying the dire consequences for cheating, and I only heard of one time that those rules were followed out, by the resident hard-ass.

At my college, some students were found to be copying old homework solutions. This time, the teacher wanted their asses, he wanted to fail them all. What did the school do? The school said all he could do was give them a 0 on the single assignment they got caught for. His syllabus that everyone agreed to said that if you cheat, you fail, and it didn't matter.

It's so prevalent, people have no idea. I never cheated because I have morals, and actually want to learn. And you don't report cheating because you're told that the punishments are SO dire, that you don't want to ruin someone's life. But then it gets found out and nobody is even punished, who cares if you keep cheating?

It doesn't matter what school you are at, the shitty kids will cheat. Straight A students will cheat, and the straight C students will cheat, and honestly they have no issue with it except if they get caught.

What can be done? ENFORCEMENT OF RULES. It's not that hard to punish someone who gets caught, and if people have negative consequences for their actions they tend not to do those actions.

What else? I don't really know, its a hard topic.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by BP dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 10, 2015 at 9:15 pm

How else can those students take 3-5 AP classes, still get As, do after school sports, or other activities? Isn't there a reality check going on at Gunn?? Don't they see the clusters of students who are together all the time? Individual students don't take the tests, teams take the tests.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by BP dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 10, 2015 at 9:15 pm

How else can those students take 3-5 AP classes, still get As, do after school sports, or other activities? Isn't there a reality check going on at Gunn?? Don't they see the clusters of students who are together all the time? Individual students don't take the tests, teams take the tests.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 10, 2015 at 9:19 pm

My Daughter takes online classes where it's self-paced and she's the only person she knows taking the class. There's no curve in the grading and no cheating.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by OnST, a resident of Meadow Park,
on Sep 10, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Shouldn't universities doubt the character and achievements of students from cheater-haven schools? Once a cheater, always a cheater. If schools aren't enforcing their honor codes then the school's honor should come into question and its students credentials be evaluated with strict scrutiny. I like the idea of giving a separate grade for effort, but couldn't that sort of evaluation also be falsified, especially in a school culture that tolerates lying and cheating?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Johnny, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 11, 2015 at 9:41 am

As long as the school system is driven by rankings, prestige, government subsidies and money over the students' interests... it's the student that is being conned and cheated.

We need to end the myth that cheating in high school indicates moral corruption or laziness. Since we focus on degrees and credentials over the education itself, then of course students become bitter early on and realize that they're just "playing a game".

I would postulate that students who are defiant enough to cheat value their time more; are natural critical thinkers; and are more innovative.

The rest are cowed into student loan debts and long strenuous hours of inefficient "studying".

In Palo alto high schools, youth are disrespected and marginalized by the administration so cheating is a natural response to that.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by One Dad, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:24 am

As long as colleges state that they primarily look at grades (and expect applicants to take the most rigorous courses their high school offers), cheating will be a problem. Throw in the perception that one needs to attend a "top" university to achieve "success" in life, and there will be incentive to cheat in high school (and, probably in college too). The cheaters aren't lazy, they're either trying to just merely stay in the game or gain a competitive edge. When students look all around them and see the aggressive risk-takers in our society garner the vast majority of the praise and rewards, the seemingly small risk of getting caught (and the even smaller risk of receiving a punishment of any real consequence) almost makes cheating seem like a viable strategy.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Anotehr data, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 11, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Cheating isn't the root problem. The insane levels of homework and stress, being imposed by teachers and administrators, is the problem. Kids are being run ragged by a system out of control.

Save the 2008 has been talking about excess homework for a long time, yet they were largely ignored. The school turned a deaf ear to the issue.

Kids made videos, wrote articles, begging for the adults to back off the stress levels. Largely ignored. Parents fight and scream...ignored.

Then when we talk about "cheating" the press and pundits suddenly make a big fuss. Gosh, suddenly it's big news.

Palo Altons will do anything to blame the kids first, and ignore the guilt of the teachers and administrators. The levels of hypocrisy in the Palo Also school debate is beyond belief.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by One Dad, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Sep 11, 2015 at 5:53 pm

I refuse to hold the school (teachers or administration) responsible. Sure, there is always one pedantic twit who grades on an insane curve, but the vast majority of school staff deeply care about teaching content to the children in a compassionate manner. If you have ever looked into the eyes of the staff after a tragedy, you can see they are more torn up about it than many of the students, precisely because they have the adult perspective and life experience to know that seemingly desperate or hopeless teenage issues can, for the most part, be resolved (or treated).

What I do blame is our oligarchical system, whereby the individuals at the top of the economic pyramid (1) act as if they earned and deserve their rewards, and (2) manage to convince the rest of the population that if they "work hard and put their nose to the grindstone" they can be successful too (you know, "pull themselves up by their bootstraps").

Schools reflect the desires, aspirations, and values of their community.

"[It's t]he economy, stupid." -James Carville


 +   2 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 12, 2015 at 8:45 am

Not a new subject. Cheating in PA schools was so common and often in plain site when I went through the school district in the 90's. I always wondered how certain female students got passing grades even with poor attendance.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Another data, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 12, 2015 at 11:43 am

@onedad

You are entitled to your opining, but I disagree.

In fact we MUST hold the schools, teachers, and administrators responsible. They are in positions of power. They make policy decisions that affect the lives of tens of thousands of children. They choose the policy and spend uncounted millions of dollars in tax money to enforce those policies. I as a parent have almost zero input. The kids have zero input...they are completely powerless.

There are schools in other states (not in California that I know of) that actually are forcing parents to give ADHD meds to kids, against parent's concerns.

You are telling me we should let the schools run scot-free with that kind of power? Sorry, that's ridiculous.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Another data, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 12, 2015 at 11:43 am

@onedad

You are entitled to your opining, but I disagree.

In fact we MUST hold the schools, teachers, and administrators responsible. They are in positions of power. They make policy decisions that affect the lives of tens of thousands of children. They choose the policy and spend uncounted millions of dollars in tax money to enforce those policies. I as a parent have almost zero input. The kids have zero input...they are completely powerless.

There are schools in other states (not in California that I know of) that actually are forcing parents to give ADHD meds to kids, against parent's concerns.

You are telling me we should let the schools run scot-free with that kind of power? Sorry, that's ridiculous.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by WakeUpCall, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 12, 2015 at 10:36 pm

Most of these kids will get a wake-up call in college. We had an english writing class Freshman year, and after all papers had been graded, they announced that they had brought in extra help to examine all the papers for plagiarism. On the day they returned the papers you had a choice:

- stay in your seat if you did not plagiarize.
- If you did plagiarize - admit your mistake, pick up your paper, and take an 'F' for the class
- If you did plagiarize - don't admit your mistake, stay in your seat, and be expelled from the University.

A few people took their papers, accepted an 'F', and left the class.

One kid was so panicked, he stood up to take an 'F' even though he did not copy; he could not risk expulsion. (They told him to sit down).

The rest of us sat there - completely freaked out. They handed out the papers and everyone with a paper was asked to leave. The remaining kids without papers (the cheaters) were never seen again.

Out of a class of 30 kids, there were about 6 cheaters (and one panicked kid). Sad, but effective. The rest of us sat next to their empty desks for the rest of the semester - nobody sat there. It was eerie.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anon 2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 13, 2015 at 12:23 am

I agree, great essay - one of your best posts.

@Anonymous,
"My Daughter takes online classes where it's self-paced and she's the only person she knows taking the class. There's no curve in the grading and no cheating."

So does my kid, and it's great -- DC chose to take an advanced online AP class that gives no grades, and the kids use all kinds of other resources. The class gets rave reviews from the kids and always has a waiting list. Without the grades or extrinsic drivers, it's all about personal interest. (I hear kids still do well on the exam if they choose to take it.) I don't think DC will get AP credit on a transcript but doesn't care, however, may take the exam.

I wish everyone could have this - unstressed kiddos just working hard to learn, with adults around supporting and keeping life sane. We're still working on undoing all kinds of horrible beliefs and habits from school, such as thinking there is something wrong with getting editing help from another person, or expecting to write perfectly-formed prose on the first try. (I love Ann Lamott's advice on writing: Write really Sh^*(*%y first drafts. Sorry, her words, not mine. But such great advice. Kids who have to pump out essays for standardized tests or for school can't afford to do that.) It will probably take all year to undo DCs math education in PAUSD. The current teacher gives all answer keys with all materials - when the journey is purely about learning, if you do traditional worksheets, you want to know if you made any errors and correct them right there.

Much of the behavior that leads to cheating is purely about this need to grade kids all the time. Is it really what's best for their education? Personally, I don't think it helps, and I've seen too many smart kids feel like failures because of it.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Marc Vincenti, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Sep 13, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Dear PA Onliners,

What a fine contribution from Mr. Greenberg (!) on a dismaying problem.

I agree about the desperation involved in cheating, the need to enlist parents in prevention, and share Mr. Greenberg's humane values.

At the risk of taking up too much space, I'll save people some double-clicks by pasting in, below, the Save the 2,008 proposal on cheating.

It's from our website: savethe2008.com

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 ? creating hope for our high-schoolers



Save the 2,008, STEP SIX:

End the anxious climate of cheating?the degraded atmosphere that kids feel obliged to inhale, just to run the academic race. Spurred by outsized workloads and enabled by too many parents, the rampant fraud erodes self-esteem and churns up so much angst?with every assignment?that it?s an issue of mental health.

What:

? Replacing a longtime culture of cheating?rife with anxiety, collusion, and distrust?with a secure, proud culture of honesty necessitates:

a) raising the awareness of, and supporting in advance, all stakeholders (students, parents, administrators, counselors, teachers);

b) writing an honor code?not as a strategy for ?catching cheaters? but as a plan for teaching integrity?that includes both students and teachers, and spells out a precise definition of cheating as well as definitive, sure consequences for violations;

c) yearly, ongoing education of all stakeholders, on and off campus, about the new culture of honor, the definition of cheating, and the sure consequences.

? The education of parents and students should include statements in newsletters, in the school newspaper, at assemblies, in class, the posting of the honor code and school motto of integrity, and a letter mailed home and returned that requires the signatures of the student and a parent or guardian as agreement to abide by the honor code.
This letter should be clear about what parents may and may not do which may constitute cheating on behalf of their child. It should be clear that we are undoing a culture that goes way back?that has included parents? doing projects and homework for their children since early grade-school.

? Since cheating exists largely as a way for students to survive outsized workloads, outsized classes (where it?s hard to get teacher help), and a culture that emphasizes grades, there should be no sudden ?crackdown? on cheating. Its elimination should instead transpire as a complement to the Save the 2,008 measures that will ease homework, APs, class-size, and grade-reporting.

? Parents and students new to the school should be given a grace period in which violations will not go on a student?s permanent record. After that, there is no ?get out of jail free? card?as students may simply cheat until they?re caught for the first time.

? The school should create and use a motto that captures its pride in its own integrity?along the lines of ?Cheating? Not In Our School? or ?Titans are True-Blue? or ?In Vikings, Veritas.?

? Teachers should be asked to: include reminders about academic integrity in their syllabi or course overviews; stress their belief in and commitment to the honor code; and speak from the heart to their students about how personally wounding and discouraging it is to receive dishonest work.

? A student judicial committee should work with violators to make sure they know what cheating is, and to help them make ethical decisions.

? Violations should go on the student?s permanent record. Admissions officers are capable of distinguishing a ?youthful indiscretion? from a serious offense. Room must be made in the District budget for legal assistance as needed.

Join this cause at: savethe2008.com





 +   5 people like this
Posted by Another Dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 14, 2015 at 8:27 am

@MarcVincente

Marc, I am saddened to see your post.

I have always supported Savethe2008 but in this post you seem to be going over to "the dark side".

I'm distressed that, in your post, you have 8 bullet points, and only 1 of those bullet points talks about the root cause...stress.

The other 7 bullet points are, essentially, "blame the kids/parents". Those 7 bullet points emphasis stopping cheating using enforcement and guilt/shame tactics.

That 7 to 1 ratio clearly indicates to any media-savvy person, that you really don't believe in reducing school pressure. You've made it such a low priority in your statements.

That 7 to 1 ration shows us that you are just going to do the same thing that the schools have already been doing for years: shut down the voices of kids and parents.

"If the kids are cheaters, then we can ignore their cries for help". That seems to be the new message of Savethe2008.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Anon 2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 14, 2015 at 10:11 am

"Since cheating exists largely as a way for students to survive outsized workloads, outsized classes (where it's hard to get teacher help), and a culture that emphasizes grades, there should be no sudden "crackdown" on cheating."

I think I would single out the educational model and culture that emphasizes grades over learning.

It's highly problematic, in addressing cheating or coming up with an honor code, that the school defines cheating or negative academic behavior for the purposes of its grading system. In real life, things like collaboration, outside feedback, and even immediately checking your own work with the answers as soon as you've done the problem, are all positive or even necessary parts of learning and getting the job done. School teaches kids really bad habits in relationship to learning. Driving home the belief that those behaviors is cheating would IMHO handicap our kids if the goal is creating lifelong learners.

Cheating should be restricted to things like plagiarism, taking credit for work that isn't yours (which is different than collaborating and acknowledging the collaboration or help). Fixing the grades-over-learning educational approach, teaching kids that learning is the most important thing and also making a healthier definition of cheating should be done before any measures to crack down.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Sep 14, 2015 at 12:35 pm

I would like to see teachers being made to stop grading on the curve. So much of the competition to get ahead of peers would disappear if this was done. If all the students in a class who deserve an A for their work, got the A, then the competitiveness would diminish. Student peers are struggling for anything that will get them ahead of their classmates.

Apart from this, in my opinion a teacher who is able to award 95% of the class an A is a terrific teacher. One who can't see that is not interested in educating children but is only interested in their own ego.

Get rid of the curve grading and see how that improves the stress and the cheating.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Taking Responsibility, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 14, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Saying that cheating should be expected because achievement is highly valued is analogous to claiming that we should expect people to steal because money is highly valued.

Parents, we are responsible for the moral development of our kids. They will inevitably make mistakes, but when we turn a blind eye to this, we are becoming part of the problem.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Mute, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 14, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Come on people, stop laying all the blame on the teachers. Parents put huge pressure on their kids to outdo their peers. Listen to the bragging that goes on amoungst parents. It is sickening. I have heard teachers say they wouldn't give this much homework expect they are pressured by the parents to do so. There is constant pressure to raise the standard because parents want to be assured their kid is given the best chance to go to some Ivy League or top school.

Stopping the cheating starts at home. Letting kids know they are alright being who they are and their worth is not based on grades is a good start.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Stoptheinsanity, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 14, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Kids cheat because they are so pressured to get into the "right" school. If parents would back off on where they go to College and if the schools would hold this kids accountable, there would be an end to cheating.

In addition, lighten up on the work load and truly look at why do you want your kid to take AP courses so they can be further ahead in their college work?

There is a college for every kid and they will be successful if they do not go to an IVY or Stanford. So parents, lighten up. Schools make kids accountable.

The race for wealth has taken away integrity, responsibility and accountability.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Anon 2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

@Mute,
Actually, teachers are perfectly capable of rebuffing any "pressure" from parents they don't like. We were treated very badly for trying to address TOO MUCH homework. Sorry, can't blame this on parents. The teachers assign the homework and control the educational program. The fact is, schools treat kids' time after school as if it's some kind of slush fund for the school day. Until families can enforce a harder boundary between the school day and their own time, this problem will continue.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Another dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 15, 2015 at 9:43 pm

@mute

"Come on people, stop laying all the blame on the teachers"

The teachers (and the administrators who push them) are entirely to blame. It is that simple.

The school has the money, the power, the legal authority. They don't listen to parents. We parents have seen that over and over again.

There is war happening right now in this city and in this state. Parents are mobilizing to protect their kids from school systems that are using wholesale, relentless child abuse to drive up test scores.



 +   1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 16, 2015 at 1:34 pm

My kids are now in college, but I have had discussions over the years with many of their teachers regarding homework. Their feedback is that for every parent who wants less homework, there is a parent who wants more. I totally agree that students have too much homework and school totally controls a family's whole life, starting in Kindergarten, but some families are happy with that. (We weren't one of them..)

I'm hoping Mr. McGee will enforce the homework policy because it is best for the students just like his decision on Zero Period academic classes (who on earth lets their students sign up for 9 or 10 classes, which is what Zero Period often allowed!)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kattiekhiba, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 16, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Just last week I had a conversation with the parent of a third grader at Escondido who is so upset the school reduced homework that he joined the Site Council to try to get the homework increased. His daughter was in first grade when the reduction happened and he is outraged that she isn't give more homework. First grade!!!

The idea that teachers are the ONLY ones to blame for the stress on kids and level of homework is ludicrous. How can you have a district with more than 10,000 kids and say not a single parent is to blame for the stress and pressure on kids? Go to a Site Council meeting when they are talking about homework and see if it is true that not a single parent wants more homework.

What we need is some actual data that gives insight into the source of stress and pressure: opinion research with parents on desired level of homework; surveys of teachers in both high schools on how many grade on a curve; surveys with kids that ask what their main sources of stress are. These debates just go on and on and on with people lobbing blame and making blanket statements without any meaningful data to back it up.


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