Cheating in School

Dear Friends,

Cheating in school seems to be an epidemic these days — everywhere you look there is news about cheating incidents in high schools and universities. Students told ABC News that cheating in school is just a dress rehearsal for life. What’s going on?

Let’s look at the statistics first. reports that 80-85% of high school graduates admit that they cheated at least once in school. The Educational Testing Service reports that 75-98% of college students admit that they cheated in high school. And in middle school, ETS reports that 90% of students state they have copied another student’s homework., a site for teachers that checks papers for plagiarism, reports that 30% of all papers submitted to their site have been plagiarized to a significant degree. We have a problem!

Experts agree that there are two areas that contribute significantly to the cheating epidemic in our schools.

First, we have come to a place in which grades and test scores matter more than education and learning. Many students who cheat in middle school and high school are doing so for the good grades they need to get ahead — the end justifies the means. And just like athletes, students who believe that others are cheating are much more likely to cheat themselves to avoid being left behind. Here’s the attitude: Cheating is expedient and everybody does it!

The second area of influence has to do with modern American culture. Let’s face it, folks – moral expectations are very low. Cheating has become acceptable in business, in politics, in sports……and often in our own personal lives. Our children have become worldly and cynical, and cheating is contagious.

Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and education professor who specializes in character education. He points out the many ways in which parents help children cheat in school! Think about it — we do their projects, finish their homework, sign reading logs regardless of whether any reading has been done, type homework, and dictate answers. We call it “helping with homework”, but there’s a fine line between helping with our children’s homework and doing their homework!

What can parents do? Here are some ideas from Dr. Lickona and Gary Niels, an educator who has written a widely read paper on culture and cheating.

-Model integrity in your own life. Your children are watching.

-Don’t assume that children understand that cheating is wrong! Talk about how cheating violates trust and damages relationships, and how it lowers self-respect.

-Let your words and behavior show your children that knowledge is more important than grades, and that school learning is important in the real world — we really do need to know this stuff!
-If your child is caught cheating, sit down and figure out why. Do after-school activities eat into homework time? Drop one or two. Is Algebra II too much of a struggle? Go to math lab and look into getting a tutor. Are friends pressuring her to let them copy homework? Talk about friendship and then role-play how to handle the situation. Did he try to write the whole English paper in one night and end up copying an online essay? Work on time-management skills. You get the picture — be disappointed and apply a consequence, but help solve the problem too.

-Have a family meeting and set up a Family Honor Code. State your family values and moral expectations. For example: “Our family does not lie, cheat, or steal. We respect ourselves and others. We take responsibility for our actions and accept the consequences. We believe in the Golden Rule.”

-And finally, sit down as a family and talk about Dr. Lickona’s Ethics-in-Action Quiz:

Ethics-in-Action Self-Quiz
Should I cheat on an exam or assignment? Look the other way when I see someone being bullied? Spread negative things about people through texting, Facebook, gossip, etc.? Go to a party that I know my parents wouldn’t approve of? Engage in risky behavior (sex, drugs, drinking)? Would my action pass these tests?:
1. Best Self Test: Does this action represent my “best self”? Does it reflect the kind of person I want to be?
2. Universal Ethical Values Test: Does this action violate any ethical values— such as integrity, respect, fairness, or kindness—that all people should live by?
3. ConsequencesTest: Will this have negative consequences—be hurtful to some¬one else or myself— that I will come to regret?
4. ConscienceTest: Does this go against what my conscience tells me is right? If I do this, will I feel guilty or lose self-respect?
5. Parent/Teacher/Coach Test: If I were to ask my parents, teachers, coaches, or any other adults I respect, would they approve of my doing this?
6. Golden Rule (Reversibility) Test: Would I want someone to do this to me?
7. What-if-Everybody-Did-This Test: Would I want to live in a world where everybody did this (lied, cheated, stole, disrespected or used others, etc.)?
8. Truth Test: Am I telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth—no lies, no omissions, and no half-truths?
9. Internet Test: Would I want this made public through Facebook, You-Tube, texting, etc., and seen by my teachers, parents, employers, or future spouse?
1. Religion Test: If I have religious beliefs, what do they teach about whether this action is right or wrong?
© 2011 excellence & ethics, Center for the 4th and 5th Rs. May be copied without permission. Adapted from Thomas Lickona’s Character Matters and reprinted in Smart & Good High Schools,

Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind. Get the book at:
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