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Editorial: Calling out cheating

Original post made on Sep 11, 2015

Parents and students didn't agree on much at Tuesday's school board meeting on what further reforms would improve the learning environment and emotional health for Palo Alto teens, but they did speak with a single voice on one issue: cheating.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 11, 2015, 12:00 AM

Comments (39)

Posted by Our Students Good at Cheating
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 8:59 am

I watched the board meeting, and heard Paly Principal say that our students are very good at cheating. However the consequences from cheating did not sound discouraging at all. This explains the high number of admissions of PAUSD students to elite colleges. Should we feel proud or ashamed that only 13% said that they do not cheat. PAUSD High School Students get an "A" on cheating, an important skill that will become handy in college.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:22 am

What needs to be said is that many of the parents are supporting their kids cheating and in fact showing or enabling them how to do it.

There is also a question as to what constitutes cheating and what does not. Many think of cheating as copying homework or being given the answers for a test, but getting help as not cheating.

In many cultures it is much more common to cheat. In other cultures, getting a copy of last year's test is not considered cheating but is considered a good practice for this year's test which is going to be different. In many test orientated systems, publishing a book containing previous year's tests is done by the examining boards. The secrecy of tests after the test when the test questions are taken out of the exam room is normal in many systems.

The ethics of cheating may be clouded, but the students should know exactly what is cheating and what the consequences will be if caught. Turning in homework which has not been done by the student but by the parent happens in elementary school. How can students who have grown up with so much parental input can suddenly realize that everything has to be their own work differentiate?

Many science fairs at the elementary schools were done by parents as were the mission building projects. Stop the cheating at elementary schools and the ripple effects will be that high school students will know the difference.

Posted by compass
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:51 am

The previous comments - posted by Palo Alto parents - illustrate the disturbing lack of ethics evident among some of the members of our community. It is a sad but real development that requires district leadership and intervention.

Posted by former student
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:55 am

Many teachers in many disciplines in many locations do not rely on using test questions over and over again. That makes obtaining old tests an earnest and obvious form of review and learning instead of a method of cheating. We need to press the PAUSD staff on why they cannot make up new tests from year to year. Another disadvantage of this laziness is that students cannot keep their tests to review for the final exams. This cultural situation is not unique to Palo Alto. It is, however, a large contributor to stress.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Posted by Notify the Colleges
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2015 at 12:10 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 12:14 pm

"Stop the cheating at elementary schools and the ripple effects will be that high school students will know the difference."

Oh, please. Students know that cheating is wrong. Parents know that cheating is wrong.

Cheating occurs because:

- The stakes for college admissions are so high and there is grade deflation in PAUSD.
- Some teachers limit the amount of "A"s they distribute to 1-3 per class.
- Some students take too many honors/AP classes so there isn't enough time to study/complete homework.
- Students need to have extracurricular(s) and community service for college applications so they have less time to study.
- Students have to spend time studying for the SAT/ACT
- Students are sleep-deprived (self-induced, too much homework, too busy padding the resume, school start time too early) so they are less alert/productive.
- Teachers expect too much from the students so the parents need to help for the students to obtain a good grade - either too much homework or expectations so high that no high school student could complete it to their standards.
- Teachers don't teach well so the parents have to help or hire tutors
- Teachers are inaccessible to help students after school due to personal/family reasons and some aren't even available at Tutorial.
- Teachers don't answer questions via email.

There are some excellent teachers at Paly who get it all right - they teach well, are accessible, are structured (not ambiguous) answer emails quickly, don't stress-out the students, don't write weeder tests, give enough homework to learn the subject and teach in generalities, are okay if everyone deserves "A"s, don't expect college level work. They aren't necessarily "easy A - no homework" teachers but they are reasonable. My children actually learned and retained the information from those teachers because the teacher wasn't the enemy, but was their ally. Those are the teachers who teach because they enjoy it, not because it's a day job or because they just want the 6-figure income or because they have issues with themselves so they want to show the students that they are the boss.

Solutions? Later school day start time, analyze the distribution of grades of each teacher, enforce teacher consistency so each teacher of the same subject has the same workload (thanks, McGee, for working on this), enforcement of answering emails, enforcement of accessibility, teacher training on student workloads/life as a high school student.

And require those English teachers to teach the students writing skills and return feedback on papers so the students can learn. Isn't it an unsaid agreement when a teacher decides to teach English that they will spend outside time grading papers?

Ask teachers to reapply for their positions. The teachers who want the best for the students will return. Web Link

Is it possible that some teachers feel they need to justify their 6-figure salaries by having higher standards for our "more capable" students? Yes, they should prepare them for college, but they shouldn't have the same expectations that they would for adult college students. Teenagers are not adults. Teenagers need more sleep than adults. College students only need to worry about grades, not SATs or community service/extracurriculars, or dysfunctional family life.

Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm

"Palo Alto High School Principal Kim Diorio described a school culture of secrecy around cheating"

Depends. If she's talking about cheating on tests, this was absolutely not the case when I was at Paly - everyone knew who cheated in what classes. As for homework... it's a different issue. I don't view working together on an individual assignment as badly as I do cheating on tests. Sure - the kind of work where people divvy up work 'you do 1-5' 'I'll do 6-10' and then copy eachother is egregious and in the same category but from what I've seen it's not all that common. It's often faster to just do the work yourself than copy someone else's, especially if they approach the problem in a different way. But the more common 'Hey I noticed you got x = 5 midway through the problem I have 6 and I think it's because you dropped a 1' from two people comparing individual assignments is a much more blurry line.

Posted by concerned
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Why would Townsend choose to question the data and the two high school principals? We can’t just pretend this is not an issue.

Posted by What's wrong with this picture
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:04 pm

I doubt students willingly cheat - they are doing it out of desperation. There should be a limit on number of APS taken - colleges will see the limit on the school profile.

Teachers have the summer off and if they teach from 8:15-3:25 (minus the 40 minute lunch), they are teaching 7 hours. Tyes days, school ends at 3:00, and on Thursdays, school ends as early as 1:50. Where is the 40 hour work week when they have 3 months off in the summer? There should be mandatory time on campus for students to access teachers, teachers to correct homework. Teachers in this district have high salaries. Usually people who earn such high salaries put in more time and expect to work after hours too instead of punching the clock.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:48 pm

You ask when Townsend would question the data and challenge the insights of both of our high school principals. I found Townsend's position consistent with her entire tenure on the school board. As a principle champion of the miss-guided values that PAUSD had slipped into over the years, she has been the strongest rear guard opponent to the positive reforms that have been occurring under Dr McGee and the current board majority.
Thanks to all those who are working toward a better definition of success and a healthier school environment that is key to the well being and greater success in life for our kids.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Yeah, I'm uncertain that collaborating on homework should be construed as cheating the same way cheating on a test is. We emphasize teamwork and collaborating on homework can be constructive--one of the ways you cement knowledge is by teaching it to someone else. I'd think working together--consulting rather than copying answers--shouldn't normally be considered cheating.

The survey's questions didn't seem to make the homework issue all that clear. If you do your homework with a tutor is that cheating?

Posted by Love learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:51 pm

"In other cultures, getting a copy of last year's test is not considered cheating but is considered a good practice for this year's test which is going to be different. "

At MIT, the profs used to hand out many years of tests with answers so students could have at it and work as many problems as they wanted before a test. In almost every test I took there, you could bring whatever you wanted with you and it was open book (though there was usually no way to learn something new that would help at the last minute, you not only had to be prepared, usually it helped to make a summary sheet of things you would probably need to help solve the problems on the test so you didn't have to use any books). Most of the tests were written so that you could solve it if you really understood but if you didn't, more time wouldn't help you.

I'm really discouraged that our supposedly high quality school district would have such a poor attitude toward learning that such practices as described above would even be considered. Education should develop life-long learners.

Much of what kids still seem to be taught in school seems geared to grading, for example, the way kids learn how to write is ridiculous. All the most helpful advice I got later in life from more advanced writing professionals was to undo all the counterproductive stuff I learned in school. The way kids learn to write in school seems most appropriate for people who have to take standardized tests and hand in school essays. Bleh.

Posted by concerned
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:59 pm

@What’s wrong: I agree that students cheat out of desperation, and I love the idea of limiting the number of APs taken. Although I don’t think cheating is only done in AP classes.
We have some great teachers in this district, and some not-so-great. As far as their hours, it seems to me that many teachers spend hours outside the classroom preparing for lessons, grading work, returning the gazillion emails from parents, etc. As far as mandatory time on campus for students to access teachers, we do have that, at least at Gunn. There is 1 hour on Tuesdays and 1 on Thursdays dedicated just for that. Teachers are required to be in their classrooms and any student can go in for help. I know my children often see their teachers at lunchtime as well for extra help. My children sometimes prefer that time and many teachers are willing to accommodate.

Posted by Love learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2015 at 3:10 pm

"returning the gazillion emails from parents"

We were seriously discouraged from exchanging emails with teachers. With maybe one exception, if we exchanged more than a dozen with any teacher over the past two years I'd be surprised. (Having been accused of sending too many emails, I actually used my mail program once to count them. The person who had accused us of it had received 5 emails in total from us that year.) If there was a problem to work out, any additional email was held against us. If we were lied to, there was no way to resolve it. It seemed to us that teachers who answered lots of emails did so because they wanted to. For anyone else, it was too bad. So I'm not sure I see this.

Teachers being available at lunch is another thing I'm not so keen about. The teachers do need a break and so do the kids, and lunch isn't that long. As near as I can see, we're teaching kids to eat poorly and not take time for meals. The kids who are struggling the most are usually the ones who most need the break.

Posted by concerned
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 3:52 pm

@Love learning
That’s why I said we have many great teachers, and some not-so-much. I’m sure it depends on who you have. I’ve had relatively good luck emailing with teachers. Maybe that’s it… maybe I was just lucky. But I hate to see people generalize and say that all teachers are not worth their salary. I just haven’t found that to be the case in my own experience. You obviously had a very different experience, and that’s not ok. It’s good you voiced that.
As far as lunch, I agree there should be a break. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way with various schedules. Sometimes my kids couldn’t stay after school, sometimes the teacher couldn’t. With an upcoming test, or stressing over homework that was due and not making sense, my kids found it worth missing some lunch time to get their questions answered. I’m not suggesting everyone should forgo lunch, but the fact that the teachers were willing to meet during lunch said a lot to me.

Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 4:01 pm

It's infuriating that when "cheating" and "excessive homework" are brought up as topics, people somehow magically ignore the "excessive homework" topic and obsess over cheating.

They are linked. In fact, they are intimately linked.

I'm sick of hearing people pontificate about "ethics" and yet refuse to talk about the massive homework excess.

This is typical of the hypocrisy in Palo Alto schools.

Posted by AP limits
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Limiting AP classes is a fun buzz-topic, but I doubt it would do much good. Assuming AP limits were imposed on a yearly basis (say, 2 APs/year), all parents would do is rush their kids through the system, and have them start taking AP classes earlier in their high school careers, in order to fit more in.

If AP limits were imposed not by year, but for the cumulative four years (for example, students can take a max of four AP classes over four years), then you run into conflicts with mandatory classes. Some kids would literally run out of classes to take--for example, what do you tell a kid who completes Precalculus as a junior but has already reached the AP limit? They need to take a math class, but the only progression is to AB Calculus. Furthermore, limiting the number of AP courses taken simply encourages parents to pay for tutors to teach their children AP material outside of class, so they can pass the tests.

In addition, AP limits assume that all AP courses are equal. They're not. AP Environmental Science is considered an exceptionally easy course, AP Chemistry is considered extremely difficult. AP Statistics is certainly easier than honors and some regular math courses (Alg2/TrigA, Alg2/TrigH, and Analysis, for example). AP economics often has a lighter homework-load than regular economics, as AP is a 2-semester class whereas regular is 1 semester (the Gunn course selection catalogue lists AP Economics as having 0 - 3 hours hw/week, with regular Economics having a consistent 2 hours/week).

To give an example of this, let's take two students. Student A might be taking AP English, AP French, AP Statistics, AP EnviroSci, and AP Economics. Student B might be taking BC Calculus, regular econ, regular English, APC Physics, and AP Computer Science. Student B is taking fewer AP classes, and has a far more difficult schedule. The "AP" title alone is not a good indicator of how difficult or time consuming a student's schedule is.

Finally, limiting the number of AP classes students can take will serve to worsen the curves in non-AP classes. If a student who's completely qualified to take Physics C, but because of the arbitrary AP limit cannot do so, takes Physics 1, s/he'll wreck any possibility of test curves for the rest of the class. If a student is absolutely capable of taking AP English, but is forced into regular English, s/he'll easily outperform other students, and get far less out of the class than they would in a college level course.

Of course, we need to strike a balance. Students shouldn't be taking all-AP schedules. Students shouldn't feel pressure to take courses that they're not genuinely interested in. Students shouldn't have to feel that they need to take five, six, or seven AP courses to be competitive for college admissions. But placing an arbitrary limit on AP courses is a quick nostrum that scapegoats AP courses rather than addressing the real culture problems that are at fault.

Posted by Megan Fogarty
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Cheating is wrong. Shoplifting is wrong. Lewd behavior is wrong. Period. I support all efforts to teach our young people integrity and honesty and help them mature into adults who will lead our community, our country and our world. We should expect nothing less. Thank you to all who are working to engage with our youth in positive ways.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 11, 2015 at 4:31 pm

I agree with the editorial and think things should be taken a step further. This may sound extreme, but I think we should be doing polygraph tests of students each semester to see if they have been cheating. Such tests may seem expensive, but they would help us stop this problem in an innovative way. And we're a community that pushes for innovation. Let's take a bold step forward and do this. We can do better, Palo Alto!

Posted by Life Long Leaner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Maters of a subject find near infinite ways to probe knowledge. If they can't, they're not masters, and they don't deserve to teach IMHO.

It would be unfathomable for a college professor to give the same test each year. Expecting students to keep the test confidential after the test is over goes against their duty to teach. All teachers should be held to the same standard.

Tests are tools for not only measuring, but also teaching. If a student doesn't ponder, dwell, analyze, discuss, and grasp their mistakes (on a test), they haven't been taught. Hiding tests from parents, peers, and the students and further confidentiality on it is an immense disservice to both teachers and students.

Teachers need to not only stop treating tests as confidential intellectual property, but they need to proactively give out old tests and review them in class before the test. The teachers will be better teachers and the students will be better learners.

Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 6:55 pm

@AP limits: Students at Paly cannot take AP classes prior to 11th & 12th grade. As far as "worsening curves", if the teachers give out "A"s to those who deserve them instead of using a curve or limiting the number of "A"s, there won't be an issue. Allowing students unlimited AP classes adds to the stress and pressure to keep up with other students and the myth that it's required for elite college acceptance. When colleges look at how many AP classes are offered, they expect students to take a lot if a lot are offered. Paly offers a lot. But if there is an AP limit, they will understand why more AP classes aren't on the transcript. One doesn't need to take more than 4-5 AP classes to be accepted into an elite college.

Castilleja eliminated AP classes.

Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm

@Megan Fogarty

The levels of stress and insane homework loads that the schools dump on kids is WRONG. It is destructive, abusive, and inappropriate, and it needs to be called out.

Please add that to your "wrong" list right next to cheating.

Otherwise, finger-pointed and shouting out "WRONG" leads us nowhere.

Posted by AP Limits
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:28 pm

@Experienced Parent: Giving As to students who deserve them is an excellent concept, but it can be difficult to do well objectively graded classes (math, math-based sciences). What do you do for kids that are clearly putting in tremendous effort but just having trouble grasping the material? Attempts can be made, through offerings of test corrections, participation grades, and whatnot, and I completely and totally support implementing those options.

Removing AP classes (in more than just name--the Casti "removal" of AP courses meant classes lost the "AP" label, and gain a small amount of flexibility in coursework--many students still take the AP tests) and pushing kids who are capable of succeeding in advanced classes into mid-level classes creates environments that are just as stressful and pressured as an environment of unlimited AP classes. It just shifts the burden of stress from those who were B/B- students in AP classes to those who were the B/B- students, or even the A-/B+ students, in regular classes--students who are now in classes with kids who could complete the AP material.

Again, I think steps should be taken to combat grade deflation, and addressing the grade-deflationary practices, especially in the high level math and science courses at Gunn (and I assume at Paly as well), would go a long way towards lessening the rampant cheating in the schools, and fostering a more supportive and less stressful environment. But I am also convinced that limiting or removing AP labels is not the way things should be done. Instead, hit the problem issues--for example, I have known of students in, say, AP Chemistry, who received Cs in the class and 4s and 5s on the AP test. The same goes for BC Calculus--kids get Cs in the class and then 5s on the AP. This should not be happening, but it is not a problem with the classes having an AP title, it is a problem with sheer difficulty of some classes at Gunn/Paly, combined with curve-based grading practices.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Receiving a 4 or 5 on some AP tests does not show mastery of the subject. Some schools do not accept AP's for college credit and either make the student take the subject again or administer their own exams.

This real question is "Are you taking this class to learn?" or to check some box.

Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Firstly, my posts apply to regular lane classes too. Some regular lane teachers have extremely high expectations. I've heard parents laugh about helping their children with homework and not receiving an "A" when the parent has an advanced degree in the subject.

@AP Limits: If the curve is removed and AP students are competing with regular lane students, then both have access to "A"s unless the teacher increases the rigor to account for the AP students because the teacher doesn't want to give out too many "A"s. That's exactly what has occurred in PAUSD - our teachers expect more from our students because they know they can handle more. I'll bet money that the majority of public schools nationwide don't expect as much from their students. That's why other students are obtaining 4.05 GPAs (UCSB freshman average Web Link while our Paly students struggle to get a 3.6 GPA. Sure, they say the colleges know Paly is rigorous, but do they all REALLY KNOW? That anxiety of wondering all 4 years if their GPA is "good enough" for that former party/beach college is stressful. Students can still be taught advanced material, but the grading needs to be more lenient.

@anonymous: Correct, a passing grade of 3 on an AP exam means the student scored a 50% while scoring a 5 equates to about 65% correct answers.

I posted on the other cheating thread:

Yes, why not give all "A"s if the students deserve it? Some teachers are generous with "A"s but others have their egos and refuse to give out more than 3.

The worst is when the student earns a "C" in the AP class, yet earns a 5 on the AP exam. Apparently, to earn a 5 on the Calc AP, one only needs to earn 60% or so, which explains it. Still, there are other schools where students are earning an "A" AND a 5 on the exam. My child's AP Calc teacher kept pridefully telling them that they will thank him when they get to college, and that his past students are texting in class in college because they already learned it at Paly. The majority of students were struggling in his class. What's with the distorted view that it's okay to blemish their transcript so they can be grateful to him in college later? Maybe they aren't accepted into the college of choice because of their lower grade in his class!

Posted by Stop, you're killing me
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 12, 2015 at 8:42 am

It says something pretty damning and pretty sad about this community and about this forum, that in a major article about STUDENTS cheating at school, there is a very vocal contingent of people who are hell-bent on convincing you that it's the fault of the TEACHERS. Sheesh. :-(

Posted by Blame the Parents!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2015 at 9:31 am

The parents and their self-righteous beliefs, especially the ones about " it isn't cheating, it's advancement ", and actually HELPING and abetting the cheating, are totally to blame for this epidemic.

There have been a few articles in the New York Times about this, and how this problem has increased radically and exponentially since students from the PRoC, where cheating is the norm and actually encouraged, began attending schools and universities in America.

Foreign families MUSTbe educated that if they wish to live here, they must follow the rules and laws of this country and it's institutions. As judicial officials are fond of saying, " Ignorance is no excuse".

Posted by WellBecause
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

@Stop,YourKilling writes: "in a major article about STUDENTS cheating at school, there is a very vocal contingent of people who are hell-bent on convincing you that it's the fault of the TEACHERS."

Well, because it is largely under the control of the teachers. Anyone who would look at the students and conclude it is 100% their fault have a very naive view of the pressures that occur in this broken system. Who broke the system? Well, largely the teachers. You own it, you broke it, you have to fix it. As long as teachers remain the primary power structure in the schools they are accountable for the faults.

How? Well, let's look at some things that teachers COULD do, but largely do NOT do:

1) Mix it up. My teachers often passed out multiple tests during class. Often they were the same questions in different orders on different pages. Sometimes they were similar questions with slight differences. You cheat off your neighbor and you got the wrong answer. And they made it clear.

2) Pay attention. My history teacher would prowl the classroom during exams looking for cheat sheets, copiers, wandering eyes, etc. I have heard from multiple sources that some of today's teachers sit at their desk and surf the web during exams. (And that was corroborated by a student teacher I know, who was watching over the teachers shoulder).

3) Make it new. I was surprised when our kids Jordan 8th Grade Science teacher would not return tests so that kids could see where they went wrong. There is no learning from your mistakes. When I asked her why - ' I cannot hand out tests, or they will leak out, then I cannot use them next year!'. Really? That lazy? Physics tests are about the easiest thing in the world to change a few parameters and cook a new test. Come on, put in a little effort. There are multiple teachers with the same subject, same book, same curriculum, perhaps you could mix up questions by splitting the load and making common tests with variation between classes, within class, and new questions. Cooperate. It's part of common core. Time to learn.

4) See the work. When you assign work to take home, you lose visibility into how it is getting done - tutors, parents, friends. Collaboration, cheating, whatever. You choose to put it out of sight, you own the results. Move the work into the classroom where you can see it being done. Lower the point value on out-of-class work, and raise the value of in-class work. Drive up the cost of cheating. Or make all out of class work collaborative. Tell them to work together - they need that anyhow. If the value of out-of-class work drops and it is thoughtfully constructed for collaboration, then all the better.

5) Lighten the load. The giant, enormous soul-crushing pile of homework assigned every day simply overwhelms kids. I know many of you get this, but many do NOT. Believe it or not, these kids are working 13hrs/day on school. It is too much. They have to cut corners somewhere to make this work. Failing to recognize this is just inhumane. Here are the main ways kids cut corners: a) sacrifice sleep to get it all done b) cut corners on the quality of work c) cheat. And before you go all high and mighty on AP classes, let's just put that aside right now - this is happening in the LOW lanes. I know, my kid was there.

6) Cultivation vs. Desperation. The schools (Jordan Middle School in particular, but the High Schools as well) do not cultivate an environment of intellectual learning. There is little emphasis put on discovery, inquiry, accomplishment, positive feedback, and encouragement. It is not a positive experience for many kids. One of my kids went an entire year without a single kind word by a teacher. Do you think that creates an environment where kids want to follow your rules? The culture of deprivation, desperation, and overwork is the message they get. This causes kids to check out. They just don't care about learning goals when they have 5 more hours of homework ahead of them. Kids who have checked out are not going to care about higher goals of integrity, following the rules, etc. They are going to do whatever it takes to end the pain for that day. Cheating is the easy way out. Did you see the video of the Gunn kids - do they look like motivated encouraged learners? Or does it look like kids desperate for an end to the pain? The blank look, overtired, disengaged - that is a sign that you have created an environment of desperation, not cultivation. But make no mistake: it is teachers that create the environment. These kids don't have that look over the summer. It's school that does it to them.

7) Spread the word. Let them know that cheating has a cost. Let them know all the things you are doing to reduce the benefits of cheating and raise the costs of cheating. Let them know you value integrity, and so do colleges and the working world. It is a good character to aspire to.

8) Kindness. If a kid is overloaded, let them know you would rather grant them extra time, or lower their workload rather than see them cheat. How many teachers do you think have ever said that: "I would rather you skip this assignment, get 8 hrs sleep and NOT cheat. I value your integrity more than this assignment. I won't give you a zero - just let me know". How many? None for my first kid. Perhaps two for my second kid. Dozens more teachers just don't demonstrate any kindness at all.

Can the parents do more? Yes. In some families they don't even try to encourage honesty. Some families do. You can help the ones that do.

Our family doesn't tolerate cheating. At all. But you see, we can enforce that because we are doing everything we can to prevent it as well: limit AP's, take a prep period, lighten the load, write your own work, etc.

You see, we approach the problem with some credibility, and the kids see that, and respect it. That allows us to set boundaries.

When teachers take the first steps to reduce cheating, create an environment that discourages cheating, escalates the cost and difficulty of cheating, THEN you have credibility. When you created an environment that cultivates learning, then students 'get it' - cheating is not learning. Combining the right environment with your renewed credibility and you can now lay down the law: Cheating will earn you and 'F'. Don't do it. There are easier pathways.

Without an environment of encouraged learning, and without any effort on your part to put an end to it, you can exhort the students all day long and it won't work. When you send them home with 5 hours of homework - guess what happens? It works against your message of honesty.

Get it? Teachers control the system. Teachers create the culture, the environment. Teachers are a LARGE part of the solution.

Parents - we will be right by your side when you have taken the first steps. We don't want our kids to lose their integrity. But there has to be a path to success first. You can create that path.

Posted by Oh Boy...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2015 at 3:10 pm


Yes, that does sound extreme. And expensive. And demoralizing. I can't imagine a worse way to approach this problem than by accusing every kid of cheating and demanding a polygraph to prove their innocence.

Posted by results
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 12, 2015 at 3:25 pm

From the other thread on the Gunn survey results:

- No significant difference in cheating, amount of homework, or stress by the number of AP/honors vs. regular classes taken. Gunn students seem to be doing a good job of self-regulating - not taking too many AP/honors classes - or, like one of the posters posted, its APs/honors courses aren't harder than regular classes (some are easier).

- In fact, AP/honors courses appear to be good for Gunn students. Those taking them are more engaged and worry less about academics than students who take fewer or none.

- Gunn students have 8 free hours a day after school and homework to fill with extra sleep (beyond the 7 hours average) and whatever they like to do including extra curriculars which almost all said they enjoy doing.

While 3-1/2 hours of homework a night sounds high - and is more than 10 minutes a grade - while those Gunn students are toiling over the books they are email/chat/texting (41%), social networking (36%), on their phones (30%), and/or watching TV or videos (28%) so it's not all work.

- What is really high is 41% who missed more than a day of school that month due to a stress-related health problem. This should be confirmed with info from Gunn's attendance records. If the stats don't match, something is wrong with the survey question or how the survey data was tabulated.

- Most troublesome though is the data on cheating but it is hard to understand this data. Considered cheating: "working on an assignment with others when the instructor asked for individual work." Many teachers tell students to do both, work together on the assignment in class or during tutorial i.e., ask each other questions if they are stuck, but turn in their own answers. Is it cheating when a teacher tells you it's OK?

Posted by Bias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2015 at 8:08 pm

PALY Principal's comment is a slap on the face of hardworking conscientious students. What data does she have to prove that it is the 'A' students who are more likely to cheat? If that is what the Principal thinks of my son who works to earn his grade, it is a sad commentary on the where PALY is headed.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 13, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Sunday afternoon, Sept. 13th

Dear PA Onliners,

What a timely, welcome editorial!

For too long, cheating has been as described in 2013 by the editor-in-chief of Paly's Campanile: "the elephant in the room."

The Weekly is spot-on in observing that the most insidious element of cheating is "the stress and anguish" that it exposes our kids to.

And not only is "Shall I cheat?" a nightly, anxious conundrum, but as our kids do their homework they receive incoming messages, asking for cheating help. Then the painful question is: "Shall I help my friend cheat—or lose a friend?"

If we move on this, let's be careful not to ADD to our kids' "stress and anguish"—the effect of a "crackdown" unaccompanied by relief from onerous workloads, overemphasis on grades, and lack of access to teachers. (Save the 2,008 simultaneously addresses these problems.)

At the risk of taking up more than my share of space here (!), maybe I can save folks some double-clicks by pasting in the Save the 2,008 proposal on cheating.

It's from I hope it helps.

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.


• 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 mean to undo a culture that goes way back—that has included parents' doing homework for their children since early grade-school.

• 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.

Posted by WellBecause
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 13, 2015 at 5:44 pm

@MarcVincenti -- I like my list better:

1) Mix it up.

2) Pay attention.

3) Make it new.

4) See the work.

5) Lighten the load.

6) Cultivation vs. Desperation.

7) Spread the word.

8) Kindness.

(See above)

Your list focuses almost entirely on exhortation and criminalization. It does not really change the system that pushed kids to cheat. Do you think they want to abandon their integrity? Probably not. More likely they are forced into it.

In fact, your list seems devoid of any real action for the teachers. And as the primary power holders in the classroom, are a large part of the system they have broken. Why not ask more of them?

Really - look at your list: "Teachers should be asked to: include reminders about academic integrity in their syllabi"

You want them to include a pamphlet. Careful - thats asking a lot.

How about they stop creating an environment of desperation and deprivation with homework overload?

The more posts I read from you, the more it looks like a teacher's union solution to every problem - less work for teachers, more pressure on students.

They don't need the cheater police indicting them before college; rather they need some compassion, and relief from the dystopian mess created in our schools to destroy interest in learning, destroy integrity, and destroy childhood.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 13, 2015 at 9:34 pm

My thoughts on the matter, we have to be careful about helping our high school children with homework and getting to the stage of doing so much of it ourselves that it might be construed as cheating. The schools do not seem to make a very clear line and what might be helping to one teacher, may indeed be cheating as far as another teacher is concerned. Indeed what one student may think of as getting help or even giving help to a friend, may to someone else appear as cheating.

Anyway, if a child is asking for help with homework from a parent, I think it should be given. If a child is preferring to do the homework by themselves, then they should be left alone to do it

Posted by Big
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 13, 2015 at 11:51 pm

In China you have to do what you have to do. Same in Palo Alto.

Posted by Mute
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 14, 2015 at 9:03 am

I know of kids who wrote on their arms and legs before a test. There is such a fear of failure, failure being not getting as good a grade as everyone else in the class. There are rumors that if you pay Think Tank enough money they guarantee your child's placement into an Ivy League or top college however they also write the application essay for the child. I heard a friend's child say, if he could, he would pay someone to write his college application essay.

I agree with the people who point out that parents do homework for their kids in elementary school, even if the kid is writing the answer the parent is telling the kid what to write. The message is clear, they can't do it on their own and need to cheat. There is so much pressure on these kids to be perfect, it comes mostly from the parents who also pressure the teachers and the schools for the same level of perfection and high standard, all the while doing the homework for the kids.

I can say most teachers don't teach, they just deliver information from a book. As for homework, I don't see my kids having too much, but then they are not doing AP classes or honors or advanced. They are enjoying life with the right amount of challenge and don't feel a need to cheat.

Posted by MH
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 14, 2015 at 2:29 pm


Are you advocating that it is alright to cheat?

Posted by Buddy
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm

If a student has problems and gets a teacher to help em, is that cheating?
The only thing different than teachers collaborating with students and students collaborating on homework, the teacher is getting paid while students are just helping each other
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