Why students cheat

Academic dishonesty is not on the rise, James M. Lang argues, despite periodic media flurries suggesting otherwise in the wake of various high-profile cheating scandals. InsideHigher Ed review’s Lang’s newest book, reporting

“Data on cheating are typically self-reported, and may not be fully reliable, but there is no real reason to think that today’s college students are any less honest than their predecessors.imgres

“Still, evidence indicates that most students cheat at least once over the course of their college careers — a fact that may be most concerning, Lang writes, because it means that many classes are failing to help students really learn.

“In his new book, Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty (Harvard University Press), Lang reviews research on both academic dishonesty and human learning to build a case that the most effective instructional strategies to minimize cheating are the same ones that will best help students to understand and retain the course material. When students are able to grasp the subject matter, Lang believes, they have little motivation to cheat.

“Lang — who is associate professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Assumption College, as well as a longtime columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education — answered e-mailed questions about his new book, offering advice for both faculty members and administrators on how they can reduce cheating and, better yet, help students get the most out of their classes.

“Q: How would you summarize the relationship between student learning and academic honesty (or dishonesty)? What do you think might explain this relationship?

“A: Cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student.  Both sides of that sentence are important. It’s inappropriate, which means that we have to hold the student accountable for the dishonest action, and ensure that we maintain high standards of academic integrity.  But it’s equally true that something in that learning environment doesn’t seem to be working for that student. He might see the course as a curricular requirement that means nothing to him; he might be confused by the assignment or see it as busywork; he might see himself as not having the knowledge or skills he needs to complete the assignment.  Continue reading “Why students cheat”

Teaching to the test…and failing

It’s a terrible time for advocates of market-driven reform in public education. images-1For more than a decade, their strategy—which makes teachers’ careers turn on student gains in reading and math tests, and promotes competition through charter schools and vouchers—has been the dominant policy mantra. But now the cracks are showing. That’s a good thing because this isn’t a proven—or even a promising—way to make schools better.

Here’s a litany of recent setbacks: In the latest Los Angeles school board election, a candidate who dared to question the overreliance on test results in evaluating teachers and the unseemly rush to approve charter schools won despite $4 million amassed to defeat him, including $1 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Former Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall, feted for boosting her students’ test scores at all costs, has been indicted in a massive cheating scandal. Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. school chief who is the darling of the accountability crowd,faces accusations, based on a memo released by veteran PBS correspondent John Merrow, that she knew about, and did nothing to stop, widespread cheating. In a Washington Post op-ed, Bill Gates, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting high-stakes, test-driven teacher evaluation, did an about-face and urged a kinder, gentler approach that teachers could embrace. And parents in New York State staged a rebellion, telling their kids not to take a new and untested achievement exam. Continue reading “Teaching to the test…and failing”