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Article #2: Teachers Cheat

How I Helped Teachers Cheat

November 9, 2013

FROM 2001 to 2010, I worked as an academic ghostwriter, helping students cheat in college and grad school. Inevitably, over a decade there were a few unsatisfied customers.

Once, I completed an assignment for a student in a teaching course. The objective was to create a single-unit lesson plan that could be implemented in a classroom of fourth-grade science students. I did my best, considering the last science class I attended probably involved a LaserDisc showing of “The Manhattan Project.”

Anyway, the customer did not care for my work at all. He requested a revision, noting that “I have reviewed the paper and I believe that it is poorly written. The professor will quickly see through the ‘excessive wording’ that I have no idea what I’m talking about ... Even though this is at the master’s level it does not have to consist of unnecessary use of wording.”

Clearly, this guy was going to make a great teacher.

During those years, I learned a lot about what you needed to know to be a teacher. I wrote lesson plans and developed “I.E.P.s” — Individualized Education Programs — for imaginary students. I even wrote up classroom observations — for classes I’d never been in, of course. In return, I was paid by would-be educators, developing teachers and even aspiring principals.

So you can imagine my complete lack of surprise every time a newspaper headline reports another teacher cheating scandal.

Teachers are under intense pressure to make sure their students pass state proficiency tests. It turns out that one of the best ways to help otherwise deficient students pass these tests is to erase their incorrect answers and replace them with the right ones. Episodes of this “wrong-to-right” mode of cheating have been well publicized in cities like Washington, Los Angeles and Atlanta. In the last case, nearly 200 educators from more than 40 schools took part in systematic cheating. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some teachers actually gathered together on the weekends for pizza and eraser parties.

(For teachers who are simply too ethical to cheat, there are other options. In 2004, it was revealed that more than 500 students in a Birmingham, Ala., high school had been urged by teachers or principals to drop out of school before the test, for fear they would bring the school’s scores down. So that’s one way to go.)

Where do teachers learn this kind of behavior? Well, like everybody else, teachers start out as students. In a recent survey by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, roughly 74 percent of students admitted that they’d copied another student’s work, and 51 percent said they’d cheated on a test in the past year. Students cheat because so much is at stake: good grades, good college, good pay, a good future. Teachers do it for the same reason: Their jobs, their mortgages, and the well-being of their families are all on the line.

I live in Philadelphia, where the school system borders on a post-apocalyptic Blade Runner-like reality of violence, blight and decay. I have a friend who works as a public school teacher here. She tells me the students have named some of the larger and more charming cockroaches with whom they share classroom space. This year, after a budget shortfall of $304 million forced the school district to cut nursing staff by some 40 percent, a 12-year-old girl died of an asthma attack.

To say that Philadelphia’s students aren’t getting what they need is an offensive understatement. But blaming teachers for the fact that students perform poorly under these conditions is like blaming the weatherman for an umbrella shortage.

In 2010 and 2011, Philadelphia had its own wrong-to-right teacher cheating scandal. What happened when the school districts cracked down? The most notable effect was a terrific drop in scores, in one case by as much as 70 percent.

Using standardized tests to make evaluations is fine. But we are using them as a replacement for real education, to prod educators toward unrealistic goals, and to punish and reward: These are the conditions that make cheating a pragmatic solution for so many. We can’t stop cheating but we can do a lot to reduce its incentives. We need to return to a focus on the enrichment and creativity that make learning as well as teaching worthwhile.

Until then, we’ll have more students cheating their way to college and more teachers helping them do it. Then, when these students show up at their various universities and realize no one is going to fudge the answers for them, they’ll have to fudge those answers themselves. Some of these struggling students even aspire to become teachers (why, I haven’t the foggiest). And that’s when they call up someone like me.

Indeed, somehow or another, all of my former ghostwriting customers found their way into college and, some, into professional education programs. The following is a revision request I once received from a customer taking a course in educational leadership: “Thank you for help me to complete my paper. Could I request to rewrite it because my teacher asked me to rewrite and show some mistakes in term grammar and cohesion in contain.”

That guy is somebody’s teacher now. If you can live with that, don’t change a thing.

Dave Tomar is the author of “The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/how-i-helped-teachers-cheat.html?adxnnl=1&src=recg&adxnnlx=1384111562-LxWsSqCdydovOwnqlUq3qQ