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By Max Greenberg

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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