Commentary: Yet Another School Cheating Scandal

Another prominent American school is suffering a cheating scandal. What’s the problem?

Posted: 07/12/2012 04:59 PM EDT
Stuyvesant High School in New York

A cheating scandal is rocking the lives of dozens of children at one of America's most prestigious public schools. On June 18, 70 students at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, which was exposed last year as having a tremendously low Black population, were caught exchanging via cellphone questions and answers to a citywide language exam.

Reports Al Baker at The New York Times:

Cellphones are not permitted in city schools, and when officials looked into the student’s phone, they found a trail of text messages, including photos of test pages, that suggested pupils had been sharing information about state Regents exams while they were taking them. 

Sixty-nine students had received the messages and responded to them, the department said.

Luckily for the students, the majority will be punished by only having to retake the exam. But  the student who originally started the text-message thread is facing suspension from Stuyvesant and, in the worst case, expulsion.

The Stuyvesant shakeup, while shocking, is not unheard of. In Atlanta earlier this year, a similar cheating scandal found not just students under the microscope, but teachers and administrators as well.

“A panel of educators voted to fire former Parks Middle School teacher Damany Lewis after the teacher confessed Wednesday to cheating for four straight years,” BET.com reported back in March. “Damany admitted to using a razor blade to cut into test booklets and make copies for other teachers to provide to their students. Lewis is not alone, however. Last July, 179 other teachers and principals in the school district were accused of giving answers to students or changing answers once their Criterion-Reference Competency Tests were completed.”

If you listen to some outlets, all this cheating might lead some to think these cheating teachers, students and principals are rotten snakes out to get a free pass while others work hard. There is some truth to the idea that cheaters are out to take the easy route, but it’s important to consider what puts them on that track.

According to the Georgia state inquest into the Atlanta cheating scandal, “Fear of termination and public ridicule in faculty and principals' meetings drove numerous educators to cross ethical lines. Further, because targets rose annually, teachers found it increasingly difficult to achieve them.”

At Stuyvesant, where standards are high, and where the competition to go to the best colleges is higher, fear is also at play, with kids worried that they’re going to get left behind academically and lead mediocre lives.

Many Americans, even President Obama himself, are in a state of worry that nations such as India and China are leaving behind America when it comes to subjects like science and math, meaning that one day all the “important” careers and advancements will be abroad. But what many of those hand-wringing forget is that perhaps India and China’s successes are coming at too great a cost. In a Pew study from last year, nearly 70 percent of Chinese citizens said that Chinese culture puts too much pressure on children to succeed in school. In India, 44 percent of people agreed.

Pursuing the successes of Chinese and Indian children is something that should be commended. But let’s not forget that pressure to achieve high test scores rather than learn can also be crippling, so much so that it turns kids and the people charged with educating those kids into people who will do anything to win, even cheat.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Courtesy of NewsOne.com)

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