In early spring, The Baltimore Sun revealed that city schools administrators spent $320,000 to hire and train test monitors to prevent cheating during the state’s annual standardized test. That story came soon after a friend had passed on to me “The Shadow Scholar” a first-hand account on The Chronicle of Higher Education website by a writer who churns out papers for college cheaters. All this was a sad reminder of rumors that swirled last year about a Baltimore senior who had been caught cheating. I witnessed parents clash over dinner about how the school handled it (suspension not expulsion).
“Race to Nowhere” a new documentary that was screened this winter at Park School sheds some light on the problem. The documentary follows over-achievers and their driven parents in the high-income central coast of California, but the angst and dysfunction of the students could easily be found at any affluent neighborhood in any city across the country, including Baltimore. Teens admit on camera to cheating and say they feel like every test, every grade, every paper is do or die and they just can’t always do their best after rising early for a full day of school, followed by hours of grueling athletics and late nights of strenuous homework. Yet they can’t fathom losing their place at the top of the class. Similarly, when someone at Baltimore’s George Washington Elementary School tampered with test booklets in 2008, was it fear of job loss that motivated the behavior? (The principal at the school was removed and the new teacher and current staff are doing their best to raise scores legitimately. See the George Washington Elementary rap “My Pencil” about passing the MSA starring teacher Mr. McCraw on our video landing below.)
I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m trying to understand the shift in our culture. Or has there been a shift? A friend pointed out that cheaters have been around since the beginning of time. Fair enough. But doesn’t it seem more rampant? Ask your kids. I hear it is more widespread, but what are you hearing? More importantly, what do we do about it?